Dear Mr. Watterson (2013) Movie Script

A comic strip, to me is a
story. It could be a brief story.
It's like having the opportunity
to get a peek into people,
characters, lives.
And they can make you laugh,
they can make you cry,
just have an impact on you.
For that time that you read it,
it's a world unto itself.
My mom was always
trying to get me to read.
And I wasn't really into books
with words, so to speak.
My dad brought home a couple
of Calvin and Hobbes books.
And he showed me some
comic strips of Calvin and Hobbes.
And I was like, whoa.
- And I can remember
opening it up.
I turn the page and --
Hobbes wanted me to have this,
and from that point on,
it's been me, Calvin, and Hobbes.
I met Calvin and Hobbes
in the paper, I think,
the way most people did.
Looking through the comics
and Calvin and Hobbes was
always one that stood out.
My grandmother is a huge fan
of Calvin and Hobbes.
My first and only crime,
I shoplifted this book.
- And I found this book of
Complete Calvin and Hobbes.
It was in English,
but I said, I don't care.
I'm going to learn this language
just to understand this book.
I was babysitting, and a couple
of the kids that I babysat,
they had some books.
All the books got passed to me,
and ended up in my room for a while,
and we would be trading them
back and forth.
I hadn't seen a strip before,
but I saw the book in a bookstore.
And it was on sale.
It was like $3
or something like that.
So I was like, alright,
I'll look at it.
Fold it open, and the first thing
I saw was the snowmen.
And I burst out laughing
and proceeded to get trouble
in English class.
I remember just reading that thing
over and over and over.
Even now, as I re-read them
and I continue to re-read them,
I discover so many layers now.
And it's never boring or old.
It's just like a living thing,
and I just discover it
and appreciate it more.
Calvin is like the kid
you want to be, you know.
Even if you're a 300-pound
black kid, I mean,
you still want to be Calvin.
- I did want to be Calvin.
I felt like I was Calvin.
We were both six years old
in 1985.
We liked tigers, space,
playing in the snow,
had fathers who loved
building character.
And I took pride in the fact
that my first hairstyle
was quite Calvin-esque.
But the truth is that I don't
really remember
when I first met Calvin and Hobbes.
I'd like to think I was
a reader from day one,
but I know that isn't possible.
My hometown newspaper didn't
even start carrying the strip
until spring of 1988.
The earliest memory that
I can stamp with a date
would be third grade
in Mrs. Smith's classroom,
when I saw a Calvin and Hobbes
in the Scholastic book catalog.
But if I examine my books,
I find that the only one
with a Scholastic logo is
Scientific Progress Goes Boink,
with a copyright of 1991.
If I didn't discover Calvin and Hobbes
until that late in life,
I'm secretly embarrassed.
And I would also blame my parents.
That little boy seemed
kind of naughty,
and I didn't know if I wanted
my son interested
in a naughty comic character.
- Apparently, no thanks to my mom,
Calvin and Hobbes were
just always there.
And I don't really remember
life without them.
I may have fallen in love
with Calvin and Hobbes as a kid,
but it's one of those rare things
that still holds great significance
to me as an adult.
I really can't think of anything else
from my childhood that has retained
so much value.
I don't claim to be an expert
on comics.
I'm not even close.
I never read comic books.
I haven't read the newspaper
comics regularly for years.
And I've only recently started
to reacquaint myself
with what the comics
have to offer now.
But for years I've read and re-read
my Calvin and Hobbes books,
which always put a smile on my face.
And the strip still holds meaning
for so many other readers
around the world.
I know, because I've heard from them,
and they've sent me their stories.
Many people have tried to track down
Bill Watterson over the years.
But I'm not so interested
in the man himself,
but why his simple comic strip
about a boy and his tiger
could somehow have such meaning
and have had such a personal impact
on so many people.
Just as people often find it
a challenge
to describe the strip itself,
I think anybody would have
a hard time distilling the ingredients
that made it what it is.
But we can be sure of one thing:
On November 18, 1985,
Bill Watterson's creation debuted
in just a few dozen newspapers,
and it left an enormous imprint
on countless readers
from across the globe.
The very first Calvin
and Hobbes strip,
Calvin is off to check his tiger trap
that he rigged up
with a tuna fish sandwich,
and sure enough,
in the last frame we see that Hobbes
has fallen for the bait,
and he has his very own tiger friend
for life.
And that is our intro
to Calvin and Hobbes.
I've never met anyone who
doesn't like Calvin and Hobbes,
so I can't say that
about any other strip.
And there are other strips that are
very, very popular, very successful,
most people love them,
but invariably I'll run into someone
that says I just don't get that strip,
or I really don't like that strip.
With Calvin and Hobbes,
it's different.
It just seems to appeal
to all different audiences:
young and old
and men and women
and people in the country,
people in the city.
I mean, really, just all demographics,
it seems to speak to people.
Everyone is united
by their love for this strip,
but everyone has a specific thing
that they love about it
or specific things
that they love about it,
and it's not always the same thing.
I grew up in a
Mexican neighborhood.
I went to a white school,
and I was like 300 pounds.
So I didn't really fit in,
but neither did Calvin.
And it wasn't really a problem.
He was just, I'm weird,
and this is the way I am,
and this is who I'm going to be.
And I think that's one of the things
that really kind of attracted me
to the character.
What really resonated to me was
the whole imagination aspect of it,
and how he just created it
in his head.
And he didn't even see his teacher
or his principal,
he just saw aliens,
and he was Spaceman Spiff.
- It's a very deep,
very philosophical experience
reading a Calvin and Hobbes book.
Even though on the surface
they're just cartoons.
- He's really created characters
that I think have a lot of depth
and are interesting to read about.
Calvin and Hobbes is
such a subversive comic.
But it has a purity to it
that most comics don't,
because it is so joyful and very much
in the imagination of this kid.
And yet he is hyper-aware
of world events and pop culture
and ironies and social concepts.
And I just found that
really, really exciting.
My mom died about 11 years ago
of a heart attack.
And my husband is a huge fan
of Calvin and Hobbes, so he had
a lot of the paperback collections
laying around the house.
And I would just sit at night
and look through those.
And that's how I came to know
Calvin and Hobbes
is through those first three
or four months after she passed.
It's just finding a place
to laugh again.
So I moved out here
to this brand new state,
this brand new house,
brand new neighborhood,
and I knew nobody.
So I was looking for something to
gravitate towards or associate with,
and Calvin and Hobbes became
something I could bond with
on a daily basis when
the newspaper would come.
I didn't understand, sometimes,
the significance of his statements.
But that really pushed me
into research,
and going to the dictionary
or looking for meaning.
It's one of those things that
you just, when you find it,
you want to share it.
And as soon as he could
start reading,
I wanted to give him the books.
And just like I thought it would,
I mean, there's times now
where he'll be reading it
in his bedroom,
and I'll just hear him laughing.
And just that simple act
of hearing him laugh,
as I know what he's reading,
it's like, there you go.
That's what I was hoping for.
I don't know if you know
how Israel was in 2001-2002.
It was pretty crazy.
Open the newspaper and you saw
another bombing everyday.
It was really intense.
So I looked forward
to the Sunday paper
because they would run the strip.
And I cut them out and would
hang them up on my wall.
Even if there was something
horrible in the paper,
I would still get my smile
and a good feeling
from just reading that.
It relieves the stress of living
in that kind of a world.
When you need something
to smile about
you just pull out one of
the old comics and just read it,
and it brings you back.
And I think that's the beauty
of comics, especially Calvin.
For those of you who don't know him,
Calvin is a 6 year old
who some might call a bit
of a troublemaker.
But he's also extremely intelligent
with an endless imagination
and an incredible lust for life.
Hobbes is his ballast,
his voice of reason,
his co-conspirator and loyal companion.
There's Mom and Dad, Susie,
Rosalyn, Moe, Mrs. Wormwood,
and a few other characters.
But nobody else sees
and understands Hobbes
the way Calvin does.
And it seems the reverse
is probably true as well.
If I actually met someone who had
never read Calvin and Hobbes,
which does occasionally happen,
I would probably immediately
just go to my desk, pull a book off,
and say, here, take this.
This will change your life.
It's so hard to just sum it up,
other than to say
this is every one of us.
Certainly it's a family strip.
It's a kid's strip.
In some senses,
it's a gag-a-day kind of strip.
There's always a punch line,
some kind of gag at the end.
But in other ways, I think
it transcends all of those things
because there is a little bit
of philosophy in it.
There's a little bit of commentary
about society.
Certainly there's a lot of humor.
It's a very funny strip.
So it really, I think,
defies categorization.
There have been a lot of strips
out there about younger people,
Dennis the Menace, a whole school
of strips that try to recall youth
and make it relevant to readers
across different ages.
But Bill's take was so fresh
and so simple.
Here he just took this idea
and just blew it up
into this wonderful relationship.
It's the only strip
we've ever launched
that we had editors who hadn't
seen it yet calling us saying,
"Hey, we've heard about this thing
called Calvin and Hobbes.
We want to be sure
we get to see it."
I was just blown away immediately.
It was one of those things
that was so much fun to read.
It drew me in right then.
And I remember getting to the end
of the set and thinking,
where's the rest of it?
I want more.
I want more.
Here was a strip that was
much better drawn
than anything in the papers,
that had a really fresh perspective,
and it just took off.
Within less than a year,
Calvin was taunting Susie.
He was playing at
being Spaceman Spiff.
I think it was within the first year
that he started G.R.0.S.S.,
the Get Rid Of Slimy girlS club
in his tree fort.
And when you look at other strips,
it generally takes an artist
much longer to reach
that kind of maturity
and that kind of understanding
of who his characters are,
what their strengths are,
what their potential is for humor
and for interaction.
And Watterson just had the pen
and ink equivalent
of hitting the ground running.
This was my bedroom
when I was a kid.
When I was 10 years old,
my brother moved to another room
in the house,
and this became my room.
And my dad put in this corkboard wall,
and I had it plastered with things
that sort of represented who I was.
And the main thing was
Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strips.
I'd get the Sunday paper,
dailies too, but mostly the Sunday,
and I'd go and get it right away
and cut out Calvin and Hobbes
and it would go right on the wall.
And even at the end, the ceiling,
all along here,
this was all comic strips
the whole way,
and even on the other side,
just plastered,
plastered with Calvin and Hobbes.
Calvin's world is just huge.
It doesn't stop.
There was Spaceman Spiff.
There was Susie.
There were the snowmen.
- I love the snowmen stuff.
I love the dinosaur stuff,
- He turns into the T-Rex at recess
a lot, and he's going "AAARRRGGGGHHH!!".
- There were the snowballs
as well as the snowmen.
- And there are the mutant killer
monster snow goons,
and that just cracks me up.
- Oh, and then there is
the infamous red wagon.
- And there was getting
jumped by Hobbes.
- Monsters under the bed.
- Tracer Bullet.
- And you see him in black
and white with the hat on
and the dame walked in,
she was hysterical.
- He'd go on a space adventure.
- And the time machine parts.
- Stupendous Man,
Safari Al, I believe.
- And then you have
the Transmogrifier,
when he duplicates himself.
- There was G.R.O.S.S.
- Get Rid Of Slimy girlS.
- Calvin going with his parents
on vacation, going camping.
- The soap opera-esque ones.
- He would draw like Mary Worth
or Rex Morgan, M.D.,
or some ultra-realistic comic.
- One of my favorites with the
teacher is he's in the classroom,
and he's doing whatever.
The teacher calls on him,
and he's imagining
that he's being sentenced
to death.
And he runs out of the classroom
and hides in a cave.
And you see just his eyes
and black screen, and he says,
what's that smell,
or what's that noise?
And all of a sudden you see
the lights go on,
and there are ten monsters --
like hideous monsters behind him.
And he runs out.
Then it cuts back to reality,
and he's snuck into
the teacher's lounge,
which he thought was a cave.
And there's just a little bubble
that says, "Who was that?"
That stuff cracks me up
because it's so dramatic.
Everything is so dramatic
in Calvin's mind,
and to everyone outside,
it's just like,
what's that little kid doing?
That little kid is kind of weird.
So many of Calvin's adventures
take place in far away worlds.
But his everyday reality
looks so familiar to me.
His backyard and the woods
he explored probably looked
just like home to a lot of readers.
And they looked a lot like
the small town
that Bill Watterson grew up in
near Cleveland, Ohio.
We're just outside
of Chagrin Falls.
And we're about to head
to the Fireside Book Shop
where we are going to meet up
with Nevin Martell,
who recently wrote a book
about Bill Watterson.
And if you look around, this is
the type of scenery that you see
in Calvin and Hobbes.
The landscapes, the trees,
the colors, the hills,
these are the landscapes
as you see Calvin and Hobbes sledding
or wagoneering in their backyard.
You look around and it's like
this is the strip in real life.
It's great.
When I first drove into Chagrin Falls,
it was like walking
into a Calvin and Hobbes strip,
because the road in which
I happened to come in on
happened to be from the
same perspective of the image
of Calvin rampaging through
the triangle at the center of town,
while holding the Popcorn Shop
above him like he's a giant Godzilla.
So when I drove into town,
I knew exactly where I was
because I'd seen that before,
except I'd seen it
as one of Watterson's watercolors.
The view is from above
the clock tower here,
at the south end of town,
looking north.
is roughly right here.
And Popcorn Shop, which is
just around the corner,
on the same side as Fireside.
And is usual per Bill, he has
almost completely done
the architectural details
exactly as they are.
I'm not sure what's on fire
back here,
but this is probably
the most popular book we sell
simply because of the local drawing
on the back.
- You came to Chagrin Falls,
the hometown of Bill Watterson,
as a part of your journey.
What was that like?
- When I pitched the book,
I'd always pitched it with the trip
to Chagrin Falls.
And I always knew
that I wanted to come.
When I had pitched it,
it was just kind of like,
and in a dream world,
we'll go to Chagrin Falls
and we'll knock on doors
and we'll talk to people
and we'll see things that have
never been seen.
And so I didn't really know
what I was going to get.
And it turned into a minor bonanza.
I mean, it was a major bonanza
in terms of insight and material.
The book would have been thinner
without it.
- I started at the library here
about three years ago.
And I walked into my office,
and it turns out I've got
an original Calvin and Hobbes
about Calvin going to the library
and having an overdue book.
I was very excited by it.
And as you can tell,
by looking at it really close,
you can actually even see
Wite-Out on it.
- This is the first original
I've ever seen.
It's like the movement.
He decided that he didn't
want you to see that.
The size is so much bigger
than how they're printed
in the newspapers.
You have no idea when
you're reading them in the paper.
And there are papers that would
have printed them smaller than this.
- And there's some pretty
cool stuff on the back, too.
- Bill Watterson grew up
in Chagrin Falls.
His otherwise civic-minded parents
encouraged Bill's slothful habits
until the youth was fit
for no respectable work
and had to go into cartooning.
Calvin and Hobbes was syndicated
a year ago this month,
and now appears in newspapers
across the world
wherever better comic strips are read.
Value $200, and now it says $500.
- We have the Chagrin Herald.
They're bound newspapers
from the 70s and earlier.
In the 70s you'll find some
of Bill Watterson's earlier work.
We'll go back here and see what
we can pull off the shelf for you.
So down here in the catacombs
of the library.
- 1976.
That's a very early one,
Thursday, August 26.
- The kids are going back
to school.
- So, going back to school.
"Coming straight from vacation,
squealing into school."
I gotcha.
Calvin would be headed
the other direction.
So this is January.
- 1978.
- Through December of '78.
There we go.
- Look at that.
- "Watterson on Watterson."
"The Herald Sun's award-winning
cartoonist, Bill Watterson,
turns his satiric pen on himself."
Much longer hair then,
ink all over,
and then his signature.
That almost looks gothic
in a way, or something.
Do you have any 1982?
- Yeah.
Oh, there we go.
They pop out to you.
"He knew the risks when he put
the garbage out early, ma'am."
This actually reminds me
of the Sunday strip,
when the deer pop in with rifles
and shoot Bill or Phil or some guy.
His signature here is a lot more
like his signature
with Calvin and Hobbes.
In the early '80s, Watterson did have
a few opportunities to showcase
his drawing skills
for various publications
while he endured repeated rejection
from the syndicates.
But while he worked hard to make
a living as a cartoonist,
his talents were often wasted
on laying out advertising
in order to pay the bills.
Within months, however,
of quitting that job,
Watterson was becoming
one of the cartoonists
who other professional
and aspiring cartoonists
were looking up to.
It's probably hard to name an artist
who came along in the 1990s onward,
a comic strip artist,
who wasn't influenced in some way
by Calvin and Hobbes.
You can definitely see
his impact in comics today.
And it's not that anyone is
copying his comics, specifically,
or trying to do
exactly what he did.
But you can clearly see that
the creators who are younger
and who are introducing
new comic strips,
you can clearly see that they've read
Calvin and Hobbes
and are influenced by that.
I can tell you when I saw Calvin,
I saw the very first day
in the L.A. Times, I liked it.
And you don't like strips
very often from the first day.
I remember looking at comics
in the newspaper and thinking,
you know, I could probably write
and draw as well as these guys.
I should give a comic strip a shot.
After Calvin and Hobbes came out,
I sort of modified it to,
well, I could probably write and draw
as well as most of these guys.
I had sort of written off
the comic strips at that point.
And when Calvin and Hobbes
came fresh on the scene,
it was brand new
and it was funny.
It captivated me
right off the bat.
I knew that was a good strip,
I said I knew it was a funny strip.
I couldn't wait to read
that strip every single day.
- There was a unique perspective,
a unique voice to it.
That it wasn't generic,
formula gag stuff,
which permeates
most of the comic page.
In every way, shape, and form,
and on every level
it was like comic strip perfection.
And it still is.
- One of my favorite lines came
from Lynn Johnston
who was doing For Better or For Worse,
and she said,
"He inspires all of us
to do a little bit better."
And I think that, on the one side
was a beneficial impact that he had,
not only among artists
who were working at the time,
but on younger people
who were reading comics,
that there was this opportunity
to do different things for the art
and try to push the boundaries
a little bit.
My initial impression
when I saw them was the guy
is making it harder
for the rest of us.
Because he's setting this
ridiculous standard of excellence
that hadn't been seen since
the Pogo years in drawing.
- Most of the time I was just
trying to meet my deadline.
For Bill, it wasn't enough
to just meet the deadline,
you had to sort of move
the bar a little bit
over what you had done previously.
It was a completely
different approach
to the traditional four-panel strip.
There was just something
about it that was very magical.
The way he drew trees,
the way he drew water.
The way he drew movement.
The brushwork just continues
to amaze me and his writing,
which is so concise and yet
so deep and philosophical.
His approach at philosophy
and sort of representing
the human condition was something
that was always bigger
than just a little comic strip.
The conversations had
so many layers of meaning.
And if I could even
come close to that,
I would be absolutely thrilled.
Bill Watterson showed me
that a great, amazing comic
is great writing that can stand
on its own
and great drawing that can stand
on its own.
You take out either one of those
from a Calvin and Hobbes strip
and it's still great to look at.
It's still funny to read.
Put them together, and you have
one of the greatest comic strips
of all time.
Calvin and Hobbes was,
as far as a comic strip goes,
was such a huge influence on me
wanting to become a cartoonist.
It was everything a comic strip
should be.
It's very dynamic.
It's funny.
It's got a strong voice.
The artwork was fabulous.
There wasn't anything
not to like about it.
If he's not the most cited influence,
he's certainly the second
behind Schultz and Peanuts.
But he's up there.
And we get so many
submissions that say,
I've always been a big fan
of Calvin and Hobbes,
so I wanted to try and do this.
I think you can see an influence
of Calvin and Hobbes
to a degree in Zits,
a strip I like very much.
There's a kind of Calvin-esque feel
to the way that Jim Borgman
and Jerry Scott will play
Jeremy Duncan's fantasies
against the reality.
As a professional cartoonist,
I read it now and you just see
a master at his craft.
Someone that puts you to shame,
as far as what you're able to do
in comparison.
I actually have a comic that I had
to do for a class in college
at the School of Visual Arts.
So we had to do a comic
about our biggest influence.
Of course, what else would I pick
but Calvin and Hobbes.
One of the things that I feel
that I've gained the most
as a cartoonist from reading
this strip is learning how to do
such wild and crazy expressions.
Sometimes it's not just
the writing,
it's just the simplest crazy drawing
that will make you laugh
or smile and really influence you.
So I was very happy to get
my inner Calvin on
while working on this strip.
I got a lot of attention for a
resemblance to Calvin and Hobbes.
And some of it was very,
very flattering,
and some of it was less flattering.
And some of it was flat-out mean.
I tried not to take it personally.
I mean, the people who were
outraged that my strip might bear
any resemblance
to Calvin and Hobbes,
I think that was done mostly
out of a passionate love
for Calvin and Hobbes.
And anything that you write is
going to be autobiographical
at its heart.
Same with Frazz.
Frazz is me.
He's cooler than I am because
I can make him that way,
but he's me.
And likewise, ifl learned a whole
bunch from Calvin and Hobbes,
from Bill Watterson,
I'm not going to cover that up.
Honestly, I think it would be rude
to try and say,
"Oh no, I did this
all on my own.
This is all me.
I didn't learn this from anybody."
No, we're all standing
on the shoulders of giants.
Watterson certainly left us
a legacy of great ideas,
great drawing, great, great comics.
But he was last in a long line
of really amazing cartoonists
from the 20th century,
since the real blooming
of the comic strip art form.
And he very much valued
the work of Walt Kelly,
one of the cartoonists that I loved
to read when I was a kid.
If you look at Pogo, you can see
that he very strongly influenced
not only Bill Watterson,
but also Jeff Smith who does Bone.
Pogo was this world similar
to what Watterson created
where there were these animals
and these characters,
and they spoke about things
much bigger than the swamp
that they lived in.
They were possums and alligators
and chicks and all these things,
but they were politicians
and philosophers
and they commented heavily
on society.
So I can imagine why Watterson
found Pogo fascinating to look at,
and it's beautifully drawn.
And Walt Kelly, just no end
of genius in how he created Pogo.
- Schultz is of course such
an important cartoonist
and such a great one, that I think
pretty much any comic strip
that began after the early '50s
was influenced by it.
The scale of the stories
he would tell,
the intimacy of the strip
and of the settings,
the observations of children's lives,
all I think, again, can be seen
as influences on Calvin and Hobbes.
Just the notion of the world
from a child's point of view
was something that Schultz took,
and while other artists had
done things with it before,
Schultz did it so much better
and had so much influence
that, once again, you can see it
flowing into Calvin and Hobbes.
Well, I don't know Bill Watterson,
so I don't want to speak
to his motives,
but it appears to me
in reading his essays
and seeing some of his interviews
about Krazy Kat,
that Krazy Kat set a bar
that he judged his own work by
and would not be satisfied
with his own work
if it wasn't as idiosyncratic,
as imaginative, as personal,
as Krazy Kat was.
Watterson said in his first hiatus
he started to pay more attention
to what Herriman was doing
on those full pages
when the newspaper page
was a blank canvas
and he could have form
be dictated by content
instead of the other way around,
instead of saying,
"You've got eight panels here.
That's gonna be your narrative."
Instead, he could blow it wide open
and have the panels not be panels,
have the adventure,
the narrative flow,
follow whatever course artistically
he wanted to take.
All that stuff that Herriman gave
himself license to do
is right there on the page.
So I think, for a cartoonist,
it represented freedom.
It represented personal,
artistic, visionary freedom.
I think he saw that and saw this was
what he could do too.
There's something else deep
in the basement of the library
in Chagrin Falls.
Watterson lent his photography skills
to his high school yearbook
and his cartoons are
scattered throughout.
One of his drawings is a depiction
of the four photographers on staff.
As the caption reads,
Watterson is the one
on the far right, "blinking."
Perhaps this drawing foreshadows
Watterson's future reputation
for being a man who shied away
from the spotlight
and very much desired his privacy.
I think initially, he was pleased
that so many papers were signing on.
He started getting
a lot of fan mail.
He got a lot of press attention
and he realized,
I think pretty quickly on,
that he had done something special
and I think it didn't take him long
to become a little unnerved
and taken aback by it.
Even with a tiny amount of
success it's a little daunting
how much feedback and comment
and request you get
from the general public.
So, I can only imagine
if I'm Bill Watterson
and I have millions and millions
and millions of adoring fans.
Nobody knows Bill Watterson.
There's like three people on
the planet who have ever seen him.
He won't talk to anybody.
He's the Sasquatch of cartoonists.
People have seen his footprint,
but nobody's ever gotten
a picture of him.
He just wanted to draw
his comic strip.
He didn't really want
to be famous.
He didn't want all the trappings
that went with it.
He just wanted to do a good job
drawing a comic strip.
- Cartooning attracts solitary people,
quiet people, insular people,
because if you are gonna
spend time at your drawing desk
you weren't the kind of person
that dated well in high school.
You know what I mean?
You weren't the kind of person
that was the captain
of the football team.
For the most part, it's people
that used their art
to make their voice to the world.
So, it doesn't surprise me
that he errs on the shier side,
the introverted side,
the reclusive side,
because that's probably
what his life framed him as.
He was probably always shy
and introverted and reclusive
or else he wouldn't have spent
the decades crafting his abilities
as an artist.
He would have been out socializing
and became a regional sales manager
for Midas car parts.
It would have been
a different path in life.
Luckily, Watterson didn't end up
selling car parts
and he did create
Calvin and Hobbes.
By the end of its
decade-long syndication,
it was in over 2,400 newspapers
with a daily readership of millions.
Watterson won the Reuben Award
for Cartoonist of the Year
in 1986 and 1988,
the Harvey Award for Best
Syndicated Comic Strip
SGVGH years in a TOW,
and Calvin and Hobbes was loved
by readers and critics alike.
Eighteen Calvin and Hobbes
book collections
have been published in the US;
selling 45 million copies.
And dozens more have been
published internationally
in at least two dozen languages.
There are frequent homages
and spoofs on the comics pages
and the strip has been referenced
in numerous American TV shows;
including Family Guy,
The Big Bang Theory,
Parks and Recreation,
Portlandia and Robot Chicken.
But, Bill Watterson doesn't seem
to care too much about the numbers
or the awards or the accolades.
His focus was on
the comic strip itself,
which, despite being something
that Watterson has said
he did for himself,
had become very important
to readers worldwide.
Bill Watterson saved almost all
of the original art
from Calvin and Hobbes,
both the dailies and the Sundays
and all of the book art that he did
and he put it on deposit here
at the Billy Ireland
Cartoon & Library Museum.
So we are the caretakers
and we make sure that it's preserved
and kept safe and also
that it's accessible to researchers
and scholars.
So if somebody wants to come
and actually see the original art
they can come to our reading room
and request it and we'll bring it out
and they can look at it.
So, this is what we call the stacks
and this is obviously where we keep
all of our collection.
We operate like a rare books room,
so nothing circulates,
nothing actually leaves
the cartoon library.
If anybody wants to use something
they have to actually come here
and request it and then we bring it
out and you can look at it.
So we have over 400,000
original cartoons
including, of course,
the Bill Watterson deposit collection.
We have many, many books
about cartoons, periodicals,
we have comic books,
we also have archival material;
so we collect the papers and letters
of cartoonists
and other people
related to the business.
This is gonna be all of your books
about cartoons, anthologies,
reprint books, "How-To" books,
journals like Puck or Judge
that have a lot of cartoons in them.
Then, over here we have
our flat files,
which is all of the original art.
So, this is one of
my favorite drawers.
This is our Little Nemos
by Winsor McCay
and these are just
absolutely spectacular.
- That is massive.
- Yes, of course the newspaper
pages were bigger themselves
at the time, but it would have
been smaller than he did it
as the original.
Little Nemo, of course, is a
wonderful comic strip
about a little boy who goes
to sleep every night
and he goes to Slumberland
and has all these amazing
adventures and then,
always in the last panel,
he wakes up and is back in his bed
and is back into reality,
and so you can see how this influenced
Bill Watterson with Calvin and Hobbes.
There were a lot of strips
that were like that
where he's in kind of a fantasy world
and then, in the last panel,
he wakes up or comes back
to reality.
If you had the chance to view
a selection
of Calvin and Hobbes originals,
how would you pick
which strips to see?
Would you pick specific examples
of panel layout or
use of black and white
or line techniques?
Maybe a daily and a Sunday
from each year?
Or would you just narrow it down
to your absolute favorites?
No matter what you finally decide,
once you put on the white gloves
and sit down with the strips,
I don't really think
you could go wrong.
It's admittedly
a strange experience.
You can examine each line
and letter and mistake and alteration
and you can compare the originals
to the printed newspaper
or book version.
The dailies look much
as you might expect,
but the Sunday strips
are another story.
You can explore
Watterson's lush watercolor art,
but the Sunday originals
are black and white.
They're incredible to see
despite the missing color,
but the experience got me thinking
about the art of the comic strip.
Comics are a bit of a unique medium
in that it can be difficult
to define exactly what the
final piece of art actually is.
Watterson's originals are probably
worth tens of thousands of dollars
a piece.
But, it isn't until the Sunday strips
are printed in the paper or in books
that they reach
their final intended state.
If you think for just a moment
about how prevalent comics are
and how many millions of prints of
each daily strip are distributed
across the planet, it might be easy
to understand how comics might be
often categorized as low art.
But it's hard to deny
their high impact.
I think he very quickly grew from
"let me get a package together
that a syndicate will pick up,"
to "gosh, I got picked up
and I'm gonna be syndicated,"
to, "now I have this opportunity
to kind of explore
these different artistic options."
But I think he quickly picked up
the opportunities with color
on Sundays, the ability
to push out the boundaries
on that piece of canvas
on the Sundays
and also, in the dailies,
he tried so many different things
in the dailies
as just from the perspective
of an artist.
- Cartoon art and comic art is
something that was originally seen
as kind of trashy, populist stuff,
almost very childish.
Then, as the years have gone on
people have started to see
the worth in it and that's because
comic strips have tackled
heavier subjects,
the artwork has been elevated
to a massive degree in some cases.
I don't understand the distinction
that people make.
You can have fine art, you can
have these amazing images
that people acknowledge
can speak about any topic
and say great things and reflect
what the artist is trying to do.
You can have literature that does
that too, you can have a great novel
that people respect
and they understand.
But, somehow if you combine
the words and the images
all of a sudden all you get
is something for kids,
and why is that?
If you read through
all of Calvin and Hobbes
you'll see that he really has
very interesting things to say
about society, about humanity,
about relationships, about the world,
and there's no reason why he can't
do that in a comic strip.
That's a perfectly valid form and
I'm thrilled that he chose that form
because I think he could
have done probably anything.
He could have been just a fine artist,
he could have written books,
but he actually chose
to do it as a comic strip
and I'm grateful to him for that
because he did it so well
and he showed how it could
really be done.
My favorite strip, which probably
doesn't surprise you,
is the one where Calvin and Hobbes
are looking at art
and they're talking about
comics versus art
and how you can have high art,
like a painting,
and then you have low art,
which is the comic strip
and it's commercial
and it's hack work.
And then he kind of shows
how absurd that is by saying
"a painting of a comic strip panel,
that's sophisticated irony,
philosophically challenging,
that's high art."
And so then Hobbes says,
"Well, suppose I draw a cartoon
of a painting of a comic strip?"
At that point it's just absurd,
but Calvin says, "Nope!
That's sophomoric,
it's intellectually sterile,
it's low art."
So he's commenting here
exactly on this debate.
What's high art?
What's low art?
And why just because it's printed in
a newspaper and it's a comic strip
is it automatically low art?
I don't think anybody would look
at Calvin and Hobbes
and say that it's not art
or say that it's low art.
But that seems to be a
distinction that comic strip art
has been stuck with.
Comics are self-expression.
Self-expression is art.
I don't give a --- about what
an art critic might say art is
because I know
that I'm creating something.
Art is about creating something.
The end.
If you actually still have
a subscription
you can probably tell newspapers
are hurting simply by stepping out
on your porch to get yours.
Nearly 100% of the time, it isn't
the front page that greets me,
but a full page ad for a
sports equipment retailer.
Then, the state of the perceived value
of the comics is clear
when you try to find
the comics section.
When I was growing up,
depending on how your paperboy
put together your paper,
the Sunday comics section was often
the front page of the Sunday newspaper
when it arrived at your door.
It was the first thing you saw.
Now, it takes me a couple minutes
just to locate it.
And looking back at comic sections
of the past in comparison,
it's clear just how much
the comics are being trimmed.
A typical Calvin and Hobbes
from the 1990's wouldn't even fit
in today's Sunday Funnies.
Watterson had more space
on the page than Stone Soup,
In the Bleachers,
Canderville, Frazz,
and half of Non-Sequitur combined.
The comics page was
shrinking in the 1980s.
It was getting smaller
and smaller and smaller
and cartoonists were rebelling.
It was getting tougher and tougher
to fit really quality content
into the strips.
- I typically avoided looking
at comic pages because I so hated
how mine looked on the page.
Your strips look so beautiful
as they head out.
You draw them this big,
and they're gorgeous
and you see them,
especially 25-30 years ago,
reproduced this big on bad newsprint
often out of alignment.
It was depressing.
It was like, why am I
in this business?
The smaller and smaller
reproductions meant there was
less chance for the visuals,
less chance to draw well,
less chance for the audience
to appreciate good drawing
and imaginative visuals.
If you are working to create
a graphic entity,
a pictorial representation
of something,
you don't want to see it
shrunk down to a postage stamp.
Some of the first comic strips
in America in the early 1900s,
some of those were like
full page comics,
and like, those artists had just
like huge palettes to work with.
And the art was really, really
important, whereas now, you know,
some people are working with,
like, this, and it's black and white,
and everything is
about the simplicity of it.
Clearly his focus was
on the Sundays.
So he approached the Sundays
as an opportunity to do
some dynamite art,
which in the comics has
been a dying thing for decades.
You almost cry a little when you look
at the old comics,
when they had a full page
to do whatever they wanted.
You know, again,
the Nemo in Slumberland.
I mean, good heavens,
it was just unreal.
- When you look at
the great strips of the past,
not only McCay and Herriman
and Milt Caniff and Walt Kelly,
the general standard of draftsmanship
used to be much higher.
You couldn't have
Terry and the Pirates
the same way you did
in the 30s and 40s.
The biggest, most popular
strips were the story strips.
They needed that space
to move the story along.
Well, as they shrunk the comic,
there wasn't that space anymore
for both the art and the dialogue.
Bill's particular problem was
that with the Sunday format,
it could be chopped up
to fit different sizes,
either a half page
or a third of a page
or a quarter of a page.
And he felt trying to configure
it so that it fit into all those sizes
was really an obstruction
for him.
So he came back with one size
proposal, and that was it.
- Once the Sundays were totally
in Watterson's control,
they didn't get moved around
or chopped up,
or they wouldn't lose the top bar.
That really opened up
a whole new world
in the sense that the artwork
could go to another level
because he was working
with a really huge palette,
where it was uninterrupted,
unbreakable half pages.
That was amazing to watch
because it really allowed him
to work in a way that just freed up
his creativity.
- Every three years
at Ohio State University,
the Cartoon Library & Museum
hosts the Festival of Cartoon Art,
which brings together scholars,
cartoonists, fans,
and industry professionals
from around the world
to celebrate comic creators
and their work.
In 1989, Bill Watterson was
a featured speaker at the festival,
and he took the opportunity
to talk about the power
and possibilities of comics
and how the current climate
for cartoonists was failing
the art form.
He gave a speech titled
"The Cheapening of the Comics,"
which was really his way of drawing
a line in the sand and saying,
if we are to take
this art form seriously,
if we are to serve it best,
these are the things
that we should do.
And it was sort of a series
of seven or eight or nine points
that says, look, you cheapen
the comics when you commercialize it.
You cheapen the comics when you
take the artist out of the equation.
You cheapen the comics
when you let it go on a life
beyond what it was intended to do.
You cheapen the comics
when you give the syndicate,
which is sort of the publisher and
the distributor, too much power.
And if we are to truly serve
this art form,
the artist has to come first.
Their voice has to come first.
And the art before commerce
has to come first.
He was essentially throwing down
the gauntlet and said, look,
we've lost something from
the early part of the 20th century,
where the art was
beautifully displayed,
the artists were given
this truly unique voice,
and we need to go
back to a different time,
to a different way of cartooning.
- I think he took a very lofty,
at times even philosophical, look
at the art form.
There's nothing wrong with that
because he held himself
to those own standards,
and I have a lot of respect for him
for doing that.
- I think it was kind of
a brave speech
because Mort Walker took it
very personally,
you know,
of Beatle Bailey fame,
and a few other
bigger names in cartooning
took it personally because
they viewed it as a shot
across the bow of the way
they handled their business,
the way they handled
their cartooning.
Within the crowd, my recollection
was that there was a strong split
among those who were,
"yeah, go get them,
go tell them the way it is,"
and the other side which was,
"who is this kid to tell me
how to do my art
and do what I want with my life
and my business?"
- Watterson was coming more out
of the artistic tradition of,
look, we can raise this art up.
And others were coming from,
look, it has always been
this intersection of art and commerce,
so you cannot deny that.
You know, I've talked to Jeff Smith
of Bone about it.
And he said he literally
walked out of that hall and said,
"l realize that Bone cannot be what
I want it to be in a comic strip form.
I have to forge my own path.
I have to take Bone elsewhere."
My relationship with Bill was
one of letters,
and it's not unique to cartoonists
that we draw in our letters
to each other.
But it's unique that he would
spend as much time as he did
on his drawings,
which is just like him.
He didn't do anything like I did,
which is by the seat of the pants,
extremely quickly.
The source of much of the energy
with the letters and the drawings,
to me, was at my expense.
He and I were the yin and the yang
of the comic strips in the 80s
because I was making these
and he was not.
And as he would draw me,
I was taking the money
and buying gasoline with it,
pumping it into my speed boat,
which he used to put on the bottom
almost of each of the letters
he wrote me.
And the person handing me
the money was the syndicate boss
who he had no appreciation for.
So that's how he saw me,
and that's how he saw the syndicate,
and that's how he saw the
exploitation of one's characters
in a comic strip, all nicely
personified in one drawing.
- We realized that Calvin and Hobbes
was going to be huge in licensing.
We could just tell by the signs,
the response from the public,
but Bill made it clear
that he was not going to do it.
Watterson obviously had
very strong feelings
about merchandising
and the commerce side of comics.
He participated in a way,
just being in the newspaper
is part of that, but he clearly
had very specific ideas
about how merchandising
can change the characters
or change the art
or change the creator
and what their vision is.
The idea of, you know, a stuffed
Hobbes sitting on a shelf somewhere
would basically answer that question
that's always hanging over the strip.
You know, is Hobbes real?
Is he a stuffed toy?
Well, there's a stuffed toy,
you know.
- We've seen many comic strip
characters go from being,
you know, figures you see
in the paper that may give you a laugh
to being kind of a national blight,
in the case of something like
Garfield that at one point was on,
I think, 5,000 different products,
and the character becomes ubiquitous
and begins to feel like a pest,
or something you can't escape,
rather than something you look
forward to encountering.
In a society that is as media
obsessed and money obsessed
as ours is and was then,
his decision seemed strange,
if not almost un-American.
He walked away from literally
tens of millions of dollars
in merchandising because
everything that Snoopy was on,
I'm sure he was offered for Hobbes.
Sparky did feel protective
about being criticized for licensing
because he said people
don't realize, you know,
how it all started,
and that everything was
somebody coming to me
wanting to use the characters.
I drew it for them, and it had
an aspect of kind of fun
and entrepreneurialism about it
that was not to do with business.
It was to do with extending your art,
extending your sentiments.
- When Sparky did what he did,
Sparky had no template,
and I'm talking about the licensing.
Like Percy Crosby had
licensed Skippy,
and Blondie had been licensed,
but nobody had been licensed
anywhere close before or since.
You know, you're talking
$40 million a year empire.
Insofar as that includes
a Snoopy plush that a kid can hold
that looks like Snoopy and doesn't
have sort of a bullshit smile
that Snoopy doesn't have,
it's great.
Insofar as the Peanuts characters
speak for MetLife or any corporation,
I always cringe.
It just strikes me wrong.
I don't want to see Snoopy
selling me insurance.
It's sort of like a cousin who got
really close to you
and you spent all this time together,
and you think you really know them.
And then you're fishing with him
one day, and he says, you know,
"l never said this to you before,
but I sell life insurance."
And your stomach would just drop
because you'd say,
"God, has my whole relationship
been based on that?
Like, were you building
to this point?
Was it all B.S.?"
Something strikes you as false,
and you question the whole friendship.
And I think when a character
advertises, sells you insurance,
I think that hurts your relationship
to the character.
When Watterson did what he did
and he said no licensing whatsoever,
to the extent he meant I don't want
my characters speaking for everybody,
I don't want my characters to be
on every lunch box and every shirt,
I totally understand.
It makes a lot of sense because
it lessens the character.
Insofar as he took a stand,
there can't be a Hobbes doll,
I will never understand that.
If they made a Hobbes doll,
and he had control over it,
it looked exactly like
he wanted it to look,
every kid in the world
would have loved it.
Has there ever been a character
who was more built for licensing
than Hobbes?
It's a stuffed animal in the strip,
and the kid's imagination
can make it come alive,
you know, the whole bit.
What would the harm
have been in that?
And I can't see it.
This leads to my theory of what it is
that Watterson might be doing,
and I suspect that some
of it is about control.
Comic strips are
all about control.
It's the one art form
where you have full control.
It's not collaborative
like a film.
It's not collaborative
even like a book,
where your editor changes things.
I really don't have an editor.
It's just me.
It's not collaborative
like a TV show.
It's not collaborative
like a record album.
It's you.
It's just you.
When you wander into licensing,
it becomes a collaboration.
Somebody at your syndicate
has to approve it.
Somebody at your syndicate
gives suggestions.
Somebody at your syndicate says,
"you know, that's nice,
but it'd be better if he smiled
on the package."
Smiling sells more.
Then it gets in the hands
of the designer.
The designer has their own ideas
how the character should look.
The designer knows
what material sells.
The designer knows
what materials are safe.
Then there's the designer's boss
who may have different ideas
because they give it
to the salesman
and it didn't sell well.
So I've just introduced
seven people into my life
that weren't in my life before.
I don't particularly
like any of them.
They're not my kind of people.
They're commercial people,
and they make your stomach hurt
when you're with them.
So I've introduced an element into
my life of a whole bunch of people
I don't like.
I've got to overcome them all,
even if it's so much as just saying
"l don't think we should
do this" and they say "yes."
I still have to do that
to seven different people.
And that's all a loss of control,
a loss of control
that I never had before.
And imagine if he started licensing.
The first lunch box would've
sold nine billion, right?
The minute that happens,
everybody's going to be on him
for all the more, like this,
that, and the other.
All represents a loss of control.
Then they all sit in your head,
rather than go, as he probably did,
and walk through the forest
that day, he took six phone calls
that he didn't want to take.
They interrupted his day.
They're floating
around in his head.
That's all bad.
You know what I'm saying?
And that's control.
That's not about artistic purity.
That's about control.
You know, contractually,
we had the rights
to license Calvin and Hobbes
to anything and anyone in the world.
We had calls from people
like Steven Spielberg
and Disney Studios and George Lucas.
I can go right down the line.
The potential for products,
worldwide, internationally,
was again huge.
And we recognized that.
It certainly would have been
up there with licensing revenues
from Garfield and Peanuts.
That was not money just for us.
All the revenues would be split
50/50 with Bill,
so the fact that we were
turning down huge opportunities
also meant that he was turning down
huge opportunities too.
Everyone has a different opinion,
but I think the number
is all very, very high, depending on
who you're talking to
and what mood they're in.
I've heard many people say
$300-400 million dollars.
I wouldn't be surprised if it was...
Could be more depending on how far,
you know, Bill was willing to go.
Our discussions were very involved
and sometimes heated.
It weighed heavily on him,
and I think it became apparent
in some of the ways in which
the strip was being worked out.
Some of the story lines
that Bill employed
and the question of commercialism
versus art, and all this stuff,
it was clear that Bill was sending
some messages.
And we realized that we've got
to make a decision
as to are we going to try
to accommodate him and his interests
in a reasonable way within
the context of running a business?
Or are we going to,
in essence,
beat up the most important
cartoonist of his generation?
And we did what we could do
to try to work out
the business arrangement,
and the good news
was we got some more time.
But I do believe he did come close
to just calling one day
and saying that's it.
The clich of building
an entertainment franchise
in any medium is that
you have to merchandise it.
Since he wasn't going to do that,
he had to confront the notion
that people are going to be making
their own merchandise.
My friends and I made a personal
bootlegged Calvin shirt
just for ourselves
and then you started seeing
that Calvin being used in both
religious iconography
on the back of gang vehicles,
I guess, where it's Calvin,
like, mourning the cross,
pouring some out for my dead homies
or Calvin peeing on whatever
import car the driver doesn't like.
Ijust thought,
who has licensed this?
Of course, no one had.
I remember when I was younger
thinking I'm really kind of bummed
that there aren't any Calvin
and Hobbes toys that I can play with,
you know.
And I remember thinking,
"l'm a genius."
That would be, people could
actually make some money
if they made Calvin and Hobbes
action figures.
And I didn't, obviously,
at the time I didn't understand
that Mr. Watterson had made
a decision to not license
and market Calvin and Hobbes.
And as I've grown up,
I respected that, and I realized
that it would probably cheapen
it if Calvin and Hobbes's faces
were on my toothpaste
or whatever, because now, for me,
it exists solely in my books
and with me and my Hobbes
in the backyard.
I think that's one of my favorite
things, is that it's alive to me,
like Hobbes is alive to Calvin.
He made a point of letting
the comic stand on its own.
I know the colors.
I know the sounds.
I have that all in my head,
and I do really appreciate
that it's remained that.
It won't be in the public
particularly with younger people,
as much as we older folks
think it should, but it will
be remembered in the proper way,
which is based on the work
and not because
there are still Hobbes dolls for sale,
you know, at Target.
I definitely think by him not allowing
anyone to merchandise,
the mystique of it grows and
the desire for those kinds of things,
or the care with which
it's taken by people.
You know, people preserve the
memory of Calvin and Hobbes
as something very precious
and personal.
And I think that has a lot to do
directly with the fact
that it wasn't exploited
in stuffed toys or cartoons
or post-it notes or sleeping bags
or anything.
It's pure in its purest form.
It's his, just his lines and his words
and not somebody else's interpretation
of how it should look in plastic
or plush or anything.
- I think it strengthened the strip,
and I think that the legacy
of the strip wouldn't be as strong
as it is if he hadn't focused
everything he had on making
that strip the absolute best strip
that he could make.
- The fact that there isn't Calvin
and Hobbes stuff all over the place
is really, I think that's
the reason why the strip
is still as popular as it is today.
There are two ways to look at Bill,
and I try to keep it as objective
as possible in the book.
There's the people that look
at him as a curmudgeon
and somebody they resent
for not sharing himself
when he was so famous,
and somebody who did not give them
what they wanted in terms of,
that might be like the fact
that he never made
a Saturday morning cartoon special
that they really wanted to see,
or they didn't allow a Hobbes doll
to be made,
and they always wanted one
as a kid.
There's that group of people,
and then there's the group of people
that look at him, and you know,
they respect the choices
that he made when it came to
merchandising and licensing.
They love him as a writer.
They respect him as an artist.
And those are the two people that
I was chasing at the same time.
You know, there was somebody
who is incredibly principled,
who stuck to it, and who also happened
to be incredibly talented.
And then there was a guy
that really turned his back
on this whole
public persona machine
that we've come to expect
as Americans.
So over the course of the journey,
I was rooting for the guy
that was so principled,
and yet I was peeved at the guy
that was like not giving me
what I wanted.
It was frustrating,
and yet at the same time,
I couldn't help but root for him.
I think that he made his decisions,
and I totally respect them.
And any personal wants that I have
from him are selfishly motivated,
and so, that's up to him.
I would say my favorite strips
are my arm.
I made sure I got some snowmen
in there, making fun of girls,
the silly ones, some of
the imagination stuff
where he think he's a crocodile
here and he's swimming.
I tried to get a little bit
of everything.
Stupendous Man.
I actually, when I was getting
this tattoo, I knew a guy
that could get phone numbers, and
I got Bill Watterson's phone number.
I wanted to get permission
to get the tattoo
so I wouldn't be just as bad
as the bootleggers.
But, he didn't return
my phone calls.
I did get it anyway, but I feel
like it's not a bootleg,
it's just a labor of love.
People talk about kind of
the death of cartooning
because of the passing
of newspapers.
But really we're in a time
right now
where it's not just newspapers,
it's media.
Like media is changing
and the way we make money
from media is changing.
Newspaper comics are
especially interesting, though,
because they used to be unified.
Every day you would open up
and your paper would have
one or two pages devoted
to newspaper comics.
And first of all, those pages
are getting cut down
and shrunk more and more
as time goes on
and as newspaper budgets
keep getting cut.
So, you're not coming to
the same collective space every day
to experience the
newspaper comics.
You can go online
if you're interested
and either find the strips
that you already like
or go discover new ones
but it's not the kind of same thing.
You have to go to one page
on GoComics for Calvin and Hobbes,
and then you go to another
independent artist's website
for their webcomic
and then you go to a website
for another webcomic
and then you're surfing,
you know.
But you're never going
to one place to get
all those different perspectives.
That was the cool thing
about comics.
Whether you liked Garfield
or Family Circus or The Wizard of Id
or Calvin and Hobbes,
you could come to one page
in the newspaper
and experience them all.
And because that medium is
disappearing or shrinking,
that experience is
disappearing as well.
There was sort of a high point
for mass distributed arts,
somewhere between the post-war era
and probably somewhere in the mid-90s
and it's been a diminishment
for TV, for film, for albums,
for cartooning, for novels
ever since then.
Because the basic fact is as a culture
the means of distribution
have been so filtered out
and the means of creation
have been so filtered out
that we're now getting
tens of thousands of blogs,
tens of thousands of webcomics,
tens of thousands of small bands
that can distribute directly.
There simply is no way
to concentrate people's attention.
And when it gets concentrated
on something,
it gets concentrated
for a very short period of time.
Probably very intensely.
Everybody is tweeting about it
and watching it on YouTube,
and then it's gone because
the next thing has come along.
You're getting all these
incredible voices
that you never would have
gotten before,
but you no longer have
those water cooler pieces of art
where everybody would know,
everybody would gather around at work
and say, ah yeah,
that's the one.
There will no longer ever be
a Rolling Stones,
there won't be the Beatles,
there won't be an Elvis Presley,
for the same reason there won't be
another Calvin and Hobbes.
The market is digitalizing
and it's atomizing,
so it's being spread over
a far wider surface
but in a much thinner layer.
If The Far Side started or
if Calvin and Hobbes started today
in newspapers,
it would probably do well,
but I don't think it would have the
impact that it had in the late 80s.
If you could name me
a cartoon character
that's been invented since 1985,
that's new from the comic page,
not on television.
If you can name me
a cartoon character
that is a household term
or name throughout this country,
truly, that my mother would know
and that I would know
and that my kids would know,
that anyone through Canada would know,
I would be very shocked.
And I don't think it's going
to happen again.
I think Calvin and Hobbes is
the last great cartoon characters.
So he nailed that.
It's great to be first,
but it's also good to be last.
Calvin and Hobbes was of its age and
you couldn't transplant it elsewhere.
And thankfully it was of its age,
which is another way of looking at it.
Thank God it did appear
when it appeared
and thank God it did run
when it ran and where it ran.
Because I don't think it would
have been near the success
artistically or financially
for its worth creator
had it run any other time.
Which is both sort of amazing
and kind of sad in a way, you know?
If you would have asked me
the question, ten years ago,
how would his lack of licensing
affect the strip?
I would have said, it's ridiculous,
it's going to fail.
It's going to hurt
the long term legacy.
People will forget
the strip quickly.
Because part of Snoopy's
enduring legacy
is that your four year old
can have a plush Snoopy
and then learn about the cartoons
and the strip.
They fall in love
with merchandising first
and then the characters
and the content and the art.
So I'd say the strip is going to go,
vanish, we'll never hear from it again
and there will be people
like me, 40 years from now,
talking about it the same way
we do about Krazy Kat and Pogo.
Brilliant, wonderful;
the public has forgotten.
Not with Calvin and Hobbes.
It's universal.
It has maintained it's quality
and integrity to the point
that kids today,
coming up, are still reading it.
How do they learn about it?
It's in their school libraries.
That was one of the breakthroughs
is that Calvin and Hobbes
was encouraged by the teachers.
Teachers spotted the child
who was Calvin and said,
"You're Calvin,
I want you to read this."
And it got them reading.
And parents encouraged it too.
So I think that made up for a lot
of the merchandising
that would have helped carry it on.
That made up for the animation
that never happened,
is that the comic was just that good
that it could survive without it.
I don't know that
there's a lot like that.
I've lost track of the number
of six and seven year olds
who list Calvin and Hobbes
as their favorite comic strip
and they know about
the Transmogrifier
and they know about
the time machine
and they know how to turn
a cardboard box
into absolutely anything.
I think there's even a generation
of kids named Calvin
because people my age are starting
to become parents
and all it takes really is seeing
that dog-eared copy
of Something Under the Bed
is Drooling,
or Yukon Ho! at your public library
or on your school bookshelf.
- You know people -- I've heard
questions like why are people
still reading that,
why are the books so popular?
He hasn't been in the newspapers
in 15 years,
why are people still talking
about it?
It's like, 'cause it's transcendent,
that's the beauty of it.
And that's, I think why Calvin
will be around 10 years from today,
25, because he talks to us
on a deeper level than just punchline.
It's kind of reflective in the fact
that people can go back
to Calvin and Hobbes
and read them
over and over and over and over again
and they're always joyful.
Even when you know what
the punch line is gonna be
it's still funny.
I feel inspired when I read
a Calvin and Hobbes strip.
As a human being,
Calvin is enjoying life so much,
I wanna go out
and enjoy life that way.
It can't really be contained
by print or panels.
It's a living, breathing thing
and I think it always will be.
He used ink and brushes
and some watercolors
but he created life with that,
which I think is what
every cartoonist aspires to,
but not many of us ever
get to achieve that.
Calvin and Hobbes, there's not
a single element in it
that isn't kind of as current
as it was when it came out.
It's all about being a kid.
It's all about imagination.
Every single thing that's
referenced I don't have to explain
the context to my kids.
They actually live it
in the same way I did.
That's not changing
and to read Doonesbury
or to read Bloom County
or the other, for me,
the most important things
growing up,
you need to have a sense
of the history.
You need to understand
the pop culture of the time
in a very specific way.
Calvin and Hobbes just kind of
requires that you're alive,
which is quite an achievement.
I've been fortunate to work
with some wonderful cartoonists
and certainly, at the top of that list
has to be Bill because he was
so different, so challenging.
He really caused us as a company
and me as an individual
to rethink the ways we dealt
with cartoonists
and what our role was
in helping them get their work out
into the public.
His creativity and the result
of his efforts were up there
with probably two or three or four
of the greatest strips of all time.
I think Calvin is something
that will last and, heaven forbid,
if newspapers were
to disappear tomorrow
and books were not to be printed,
there would be some way
people would want to find his work
and read it again
because I think it's that strong
and that enduring and that special.
Over the years, my favorite
Calvin and Hobbes strip has changed.
When Watterson was still
writing and drawing
my favorite might change weekly,
especially as he continued
to put out some of his greatest work
in the last few years.
I have my collection
of Calvin and Hobbes strips
that I love for one reason or another.
But, looking back at it all,
as much as I love some of the strips
for the humor or the adventure
or the amazing art
or the imaginative place
that the strip took me,
the strip that I can't really forget
is one that nobody else
has ever mentioned to me
as a favorite or even a notable one.
When I've described it to other fans,
I don't often get a look
of recognition.
But, for me, it's unforgettable
and it has a special meaning.
I'll never know exactly what
Bill Watterson's intentions were
with this strip.
I myself can see a few different
possible interpretations.
But I can no longer look at it
without feeling like I've glimpsed
beyond the surface of a comic strip
filled with imagination
and magic and joy and adventure
and friendship
and seen instead a hint
of tremendous disappointment and loss.
Watterson conceived of this strip,
he wrote it, drew it and inked it
using the simplest of tools;
Bristol board, 2H pencils,
a sable brush and India ink.
He handed it over to his syndicate
for publication
in newspapers worldwide
and millions of readers discovered it
in the paper or in one of his books
where we all brought
our individual experiences
and perspectives into the equation.
And Bill Watterson has repeated
this process 3,160 times.
Each of these strips holds
the potential to touch someone,
somewhere, in a unique
and personal way.
Many of Watterson's strips
mean something special to me.
Some bring a huge smile
to my face.
Some challenge me to think.
And a few are more melancholy.
I see some strips differently now
than I did as a kid.
And for me, looking back,
this strip foreshadows the end
of Calvin and Hobbes.
Ijust, I remember
the announcement.
I remember reading
the final comic.
I remember knowing that
that was going to be it
and it was a really poignant way
to end it
and true to everything
he built up before it.
I certainly remembering opening
the comic page that last Sunday
in The Chicago Tribune
and seeing it and being like,
"Wow, it's over."
You just weren't used
to comics ending.
They kept going.
That was part of the deal.
The final strip
was the last hurrah.
All the elements that made
the strip wonderful were there
including the drawing
that was so much a part of it.
There were very few words.
- Everyone who was
a Calvin and Hobbes fan
remembers two strips.
One is that one that spoke to them
individually and the last one,
Let's Go Exploring.
It was just a wonderful way
for him to end it.
- The way he handled it was
so wonderful; with the toboggan ride
which was very much
a staple of the strip.
Going off into just wide open...
it wasn't nothingness,
as I saw it.
It was everythingness.
White is not the absence of color.
White is all colors, and you could
make whatever you wanted
out of that final episode.
Honestly, how else is a cartoonist
going to see the world?
It has to be a big,
wide open world,
because until you draw
your very last strip
you've got to come up
with a brand new story
out of that world
every single day.
You know, it was an end posed
as a beginning, basically.
- There's just something magical
about that particular strip
where it really is just looking
at the world afresh
and I imagine that's what
Bill Watterson must have felt like
when he finished that last strip;
it's a magical world
and now I can move on.
What's next in my life?
He's trying to show us all
that there's more to life
than a comic strip, I think,
and trying to make us feel
a little bit better,
but it doesn't work.
It doesn't work at all.
It gave the impression that
he was going to be exploring
new things and he probably is
exploring new things,
but he's not sharing those publicly.
That's too bad.
- The final strip, for me,
is bittersweet in the sense
that it was the end.
But, the thought that at the end
of it you're being told
"let's go exploring,"
which is something I think
Watterson did throughout
his time in the strip;
whether it was making leaps
in the artwork
so you had to kind of think
what was happening
in the little white space
between the panels,
or whether it was the fact
that an adventure didn't
necessarily end
succinctly at the end of a strip
so you had to kind of imagine what
might have happened afterwards.
He was always telling
his readers to explore.
There's still magic in everyday life
if you know where to look.
Maybe if we look in the right place
there is something else
as wonderful as Calvin and Hobbes
or something that will give us
that daily magic,
but we have to find it.
It may well be out there
as Calvin said.
It's up to us to look for it
and to discover it.
There's that saying that all
good things must come to an end,
but I'm not sure I believe it.
As long as there are new readers
being introduced
to Calvin and Hobbes,
Watterson's legacy will live on.
And with those final three words
that almost every fan can recite,
so many new adventures will begin.
So here's a question for you.
Have you guys or have you written
a letter to Watterson?
If so, what was
the experience like?
- I never have.
Not when I was younger
and not now.
I have a file, a Word file,
on my computer
and it's one line so far.
All it says is,
"Dear Mr. Watterson..."
- Very fitting.
- Nothing else.
- Very fitting.
- Not another word.