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Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Nevin Martell’s Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Strip has piqued my interest. The author wasn’t able to score an interview with the notoriously reclusive Watterson, but he’s pieced together his life by interviewing Watterson’s friends and family members including his mother and editor at Universal Press Syndicate. Comic Book Resources has an interview with Martell in which he talks about the challenges of writing the book and how he didn’t want to end up with an overwrought biography like the Charles Schulz volume by David Michaelis.

  • By the lack of comments on here, looks like people are being reclusive about speaking out(ha)

    It’s incredible how out-of-the-lime-light Mr. Watterson has been. It’s pretty hard in this day in age.

    Big C&H fan

  • Emily

    Interesting! I look forward to reading this…

  • Jeffrey McAndrew

    I have yet to fully understand why Bill Watterson hates the world so much. I can appreciate that he doesn’t like when intellectual properties are mass merchandised to the point that the original purpose is lost they are an intolerable mess, but the guy seems to resent that anyone likes the work he did. Nobody can accuse the man of being a sell-out, thats for certain.

  • Inkan1969

    Do anyone else of you have a work of art that you fully realize is a masterpiece and an important contribution to humanity, but that you personally hate? I feel that way about “Calvin and Hobbes”. I greatly respect Bill Watterson’s demand for artistic integrity. Indeed, he showed that in a comic strip, an artist could vividly illustrate a dramatic scene and compellingly sketch out a personality, in contrast to the banality of most comic strips. But still, I HATE “Calvin and Hobbes”. I think because I just personally hate Calvin. His personality is so vile: selfish, spiteful. But no one challenges his vile nature, not even Hobbes most of the time. So we only see the detached reality Calvin’s selfishly built for himself, and he never suffers any consequences as a result. So I always found C&H frustrating and enraging. So, yes, I do acknowledge that C&H is one of the best comic strips in recent memory, but I can’t stand to actually read it. :-P

  • Rick

    Yeah, it’s been almost 15 years since the strip ended, and while I have a tome of it in my collection, I think Calvin and Hobbes is destined to be forgotten because of Watterson’s desire to leave it alone.

  • It seems to me that Watterson willfully blinded himself to the fact that syndicated comics are a business like any other and having your work merchandised or licensed doesn’t make you a sell-out.
    One absolutely cannot fault the man for having principles and sticking to them, but I find his attitude pretty antagonistic, especially toward other cartoonists who DO work with the syndicates happily and allow their work to be licensed.

    I also find it wincingly ironic that he once named Peanuts and Pogo as two of his favourite comics – both of which were very heavily merchandised but still completely retained their integrity as comics.

  • Ben

    Calvin will never be forgotten as long as there are t-shirts portraying him peeing on things.

  • I’ve read the book and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

    I don’t know how freely available the transcripts of Watterson’s lectures are on the web but when you read his explanation on his stance on merchandising and how it affects product, it simply rings true.

    I walked away from the book with my utmost admiration for Watterson and Calvin & Hobbes intact.

    I also walked away thinking of Watterson as, perhaps, somewhat of a selfish man.

  • Mike Fontanelli

    It sounds like Roger And Me meets J.D. Salinger! I’m not even sure I know what Watterson looks like. He’s the Garbo of Cartoonists, (along with Steve Ditko.) Although I respect his integrity, I sometimes wish Watterson would reconsider – if only so I never have to see another bootleg windshield decal of Calvin urinating on the Ford logo again.

    BTW, Pogo was not heavily merchandised – certainly not compared to Peanuts.

  • Gerard de Souza

    There’s nothing wrong with an artist exploiting their own creation. That said, Watterson has shown incredible integrity by walking his talk. He strikes me as an individual of great self-assessment. The strip never jumped the shark. He went out on top. He gave us a great work. He owes the public nothing more.

  • CBrew readers might like this 2005 episode of Jawbone Radio:

    “On this episode of Jawbone, I go in search for an American cartooning icon, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson. Out of the public spotlight for a decade, Watterson remains incredibly elusive and private. With my Sony mic and IRiver in tow, I travel to Chagrin Falls, Ohio and try to track down one of the most influential comic artists of the 20th century. And what I get is more than I ever expected.”


    Moderators, can you make that clickable just for ease, please?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    The fact that it’s happening Rick is probably one of the only reasons why I often wish he would have a change of heart by now or in a few years, but as it is, the strip will fall into that void only ever studied by historians of the medium in future generations when trying to ponder it’s initial success and reasons for why such a strip didn’t have ever-lasting familiarity due to the author’s discretion.

  • droosan

    Mike Fontanelli: See any drawing of Calvin’s dad in the strip .. that’s what Bill Watterson looks like.

  • Gerard de Souza

    So are some of you saying it won’t be remembered because there are no TV specials, T-shirts, toys and lunch pails? This is silly. There are volumes of compilations published in virtual perpetuity. The man stuck to one medium. It’s unusual but nothing says he has to whore his ideas.

    I thought Watterson said alot in the complete volumes. He has been consistent from the beginning. IIRC, C&H took 4 years to develop and at one point the syndicate wanted the little boy and his tiger for Robotman. Now Robotman evolved into a funny topical strip which is now Monty but at the time Robotman was a schmaltzy care-bear type character. Can you imagine if Watterson did not have the integrity? For sure C&H would have been forgotten.

  • Dock Miles

    Oh, please — how brainwashed by commerce can you get? (That this book even appears suggests that there’s a least a teensy bit of interest in “Calvin and Hobbes” without ongoing ancillary merchandising.)

    Art works on all cultural levels endure and attract new audiences because of their innate appeal, not because commercial products based on them are hawked at us nonstop.

    Likewise, parodies and crude distortions, whether of the Mona Lisa or Calvin, do nothing to the original works. They are simply signals that the images persist in the public mind.

  • Daniel Shock

    There were rumors … that Watterson was animating Calvin and Hobbes by hand all by himself. Anyone know anything about that?

  • I wish they’d do a book on the guy behind FoxTrot (Bill Amend) and his comic strip.
    That way, I’d know more of why Jason teases Paige, or why he chose family format coinendentally with the advent of the Tracy Ullman “The Simpsons” shorts that were shown before commerical breaks (you know, the weird ones that were short and made before the popular series in 1989/1990). Wikipedia claims that the guy majored in math/physics leading to the development of Jason Fox, but I would like more insight.

    I’d also would like a “Complete Foxtrot”, because I probably have nearly every book execpt for a few and the unavailable Sundays that followed the strip after the daily of Andy saying “…and break the forth wall? Not likely.”(especially my lost “His Code Name Was The Fox”, and “Death by Field Trip” or the treasures that have ’em. As for 90’s strips, I don’t have the strips in “Enormulsy Foxtrot”, and “Take Us to Your Mall”.)

    What Watterson does that Amend doesn’t is put commentary on a daily, Sunday, or serial strips in special edition books. The Tenth Anniversary Book and “Sunday Pages 85-95” for Calvin and Hobbes was good insight on how strips were drawn.

  • Daniel,

    Unless you’re referring to a couple of Sunday strips that could basically be turned into a small flipbook, I really doubt it.

  • Mike Fontanelli

    Very early on in a Comics Journal interview – this would have been around 1986 or so, I think – Watterson mentioned that he’d never sell or give away any originals. As far as I know, he never has. I’ve been collecting original comic art for decades, and I’ve never seen an original C & H daily or Sunday. I just hope he’s safely preserving them, wherever they are – and not incinerating them, like Russell Patterson did (or so I’ve heard. Awful to think about, really.)

  • I have that Comics Journal that Mike Fontanelli is speaking of and it gives a lot of direct insight about the man’s opinions and what should be done to keep the integrity of the comic strip.

    Merchandising *IS* selling-out, there’s no way around it. It’s to what degree you are willing to go that begins to really deteriorate the creation. Watterson obviously sold out to no degree at all, unless you want to count the books. Many artists would disagree or even be angry with Watterson’s views because tons of us love money, but I don’t see the point. As mentioned before though, it is odd that he loves Peanuts so much when next to Garfield, they may have had some of the worst merchandising tactics.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Gerard de Souza. If there’s anything you can say about the man, he definitely walked his talk. You never caught Bill Watterson with his foot in his mouth. He ended up wielding great power over his work and fought for what he thought was right. It’s too bad not too many artists have followed in his footsteps to some degree over the years as there is still time for change in the favor of the artist in the U.S. industry. Sure Calvin and Hobbes is always praised, but the creator himself isn’t praised enough.

    I’m not too upset about Calvin and Hobbes ending, but it really sucks that after the strip was over, Watterson became even more reclusive and never created anything for the public ever again. What is the point of that? Just sort of makes me think Watterson had a mental health problem that only got worse in his later years.

  • If Watterson refuses to part with any original art with no intention of bequeathing it, I think that’s just really sad.

    I know he doesn’t like anyone profiting off Calvin & Hobbes, but imagine how awesome it would be if he donated even a couple of strips a year to select charity auctions.

    Most of us can only dream of leaving the kind of artistic legacy he has, I just think it’s a puzzling shame he seems so resentful of the strip’s fame and the fact that people love his characters enough to want more.

  • Ricardo

    I admire Waterston standing on his artistic principles. I think it’s not really shame of the success, it’s the fear Calvin and Hobbes would turn into just another gimmick for merchandising and also decending into medocrity. No one stays on top of their game forever.

  • Mike Fontanelli,
    Last I heard Watterson loaned all the originals to Ohio State University’s Comics Library.

    I’m not exactly sure on the details. I don’t know if they returned all the originals or if they eventually agreed to have OSU keep them themselves.

  • FP

    The holy trinity of comics: POPEYE, KRAZY KAT, and CALVIN AND HOBBES. I have huge collections of them all and I read them over and over. They’re beautiful work.

    As for Watterson’s opinions about merchandising, who cares. I envy his ability to retire, and not have to do anything ever again, leaving CALVIN as his mark.

  • Michael

    Sean, I agreed with everything you said right up to suggesting that Watterson must have a “mental health problem” for being reclusive. He owes us nothing. He created one of the best comic strips in history and he stuck by his principles, what more do you want? Let the man live in peace with his family now and be happy.

  • elan

    Its *possible* he has a mental health problem, like agoraphobia or anthropophobia.

    Either way, I agree that not wanting to merchandise your property is one thing, but completely and utterly shutting out the world and not even participating in a biography about your famous work is another.

    But whatever, its his prerogative.

  • Ed Thompson

    I don’t know Bill Watterson or anyone who claims to know Mr. Watterson. I try not to make proclamations about sanity, morality, or ethics about people whom I don’t know, have never met, and have never read anything about them written by someone who is in a position to know. I really liked Calvin and Hobbes, and was sorry when he decided to quit. But he quit on top, and on his terms, which is not a bad way to retire. Most people, when shown a lot of money, cave in and take it and I probably would fit into that category myself.

  • Some years ago, the artists and writers of Disney’s Comic Strip Department (when it still existed) wrote to Mr. Watterson praising his work, and offered him the choice of any original Disney comic strip he admired. Mr. Watterson replied quickly with a very nice letter. However, he declined our offer for a Disney freebee.

    Apparently, satisfied with his situation, the man asks for nothing.

  • “Sean, I agreed with everything you said right up to suggesting that Watterson must have a “mental health problem” for being reclusive. He owes us nothing. He created one of the best comic strips in history and he stuck by his principles, what more do you want? Let the man live in peace with his family now and be happy.”

    Well if you are familiar with the story of the book being discussed, the way Watterson has hidden himself from the world seems very unhealthy. He’s sort of done his best to disappear from existence, even doing his best to have his parents make it seem they don’t know of his whereabouts either. I didn’t say he owed us anything, and I thought my sentiment was pretty much opposite of that in my comment. I merely just think it’s a shame he didn’t create anything else for the public to see after Calvin and Hobbes.

    Elan understood me more on what I was trying to say. I have a few family members who have also decided to shut out the world and hardly interact with anyone socially more than the bare minimum to get by. Usually it seems to be a deteriorating thing that’s gone wrong in their life. This is all just my opinion after all.

  • I am so exicted about this book!

    I have always admired Calvin and Hobbes for it’s beautiful art,
    humor, and unique voice. The strip was and is a true masterpiece.

    I have always admired and revered Watterson. Not only for his incredible talent, but for his steadfast integrity and unwillingness to risk compromising the pure integrity of his creation. Rare, indeed.

    I remember reading this incredible account of a fella heading out to Watterson’s Ohio town to search for the famously reclusive cartoonist.
    I believe the gentleman was a Cincinnati or Columbus newspaper writer looking to do an interview wth Watterson. It was such an interesting piece, and it seemed that the entire small town was covering for Watterson, diligently protecting his privacy. They formed a sort of wall around him, it was really an incredible account.

    If I can find the link to the story I will post it here. I believe it was written 7 or 8 years ago.

    I have always wondered this, as well… How hard is it to come back after you create your masterpiece the first time out? That’s gotta be an incredibly daunting thing.

  • Michael

    Sean, it’s just speculative and bizarre to assume that there must be something “wrong” with a person who maybe just prefers privacy. Maybe he’s just weary of being continuously hounded by students and journalists. Gary Larson and Berke Breathed are also considered to be “reclusive” since their strips retired – almost no interviews granted, few things published. I don’t think it’s our place to judge these people for wanting to be left alone.

  • Dock Miles

    “I have a few family members who have also decided to shut out the world and hardly interact with anyone socially more than the bare minimum to get by. Usually it seems to be a deteriorating thing that’s gone wrong in their life. This is all just my opinion after all.”

    Exactly. And this has everything to do with you and nothing to do with Bill Watterson. Ah, the glories of the nonstop, no-boundaries internet interference. The rewards of being a simple private person have never been less.

  • I love Calvin and Hobbes, and I also admire Watterson for maintaining his personal boundaries. He said what he wanted to say in his art. He doesn’t need to be a performing monkey for the press or fans. I know that when people love a work of art they want to get all up in the artist’s business, too, but interviews and appearances don’t make the art any better.

  • It’s probably overboard to assert he must be mentally ill for not giving interviews and not selling merchandise when that’s what most of the rest of us are doing too.

    True, no one wants us to, but…

  • Ricardo

    “I have a few family members who have also decided to shut out the world and hardly interact with anyone socially more than the bare minimum to get by. Usually it seems to be a deteriorating thing that’s gone wrong in their life. This is all just my opinion after all.”

    Oh for the love of god.

  • I am of two thoughts. (Not that it matters as most folks really don’t read the comments – they merely want theirs spoken.)

    First, commercializing and creation are not necessarily adversarial. Peanuts and Pogo began their “commercialitzation” when the public desired to read and remember the strips in easily obtained books. The merchandising of both properties had no effect on the art. The story of Schulz’s demand that Linus read the biblical passage in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is testament to that. And in fact, comic books were born when someone decided to reprint newspaper strips. There is nothing wrong with offering the fans a chance to have a piece of your creation on a cup or in a book.

    Second, as has been mentioned, creators do not “owe” the fans anything. It reminds of the famed story of a legendary Hollywood celebrity who was mobbed by fans leaving an event. The star rushed to their car ignoring all requests for autographs or photos. As the star was stepping into their limo, one fan screamed out “we made you.” The star stopped for second and replied “like hell you did”, got in their limo and was driven away. The star remained a legend until their death. Fans or no fans.

    As for Calvin and Hobbes… it will be a forgotten strip. Those who grew up with it will always remember it. Just as those who grew up with classic Mutt & Jeff, Felix the Cat, Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner and such remember them well. Certainly some students and geeks will always re-discover a forgotten gem. But the general public will lose interest with nothing new to attract their attention.

  • Ron

    Hey John Cawley- I read your comment. :) That story about the Hollywood star is a good one and probably true but there is also the story of Jimmy Stewart: another Hollywood legend. Jimmy would always be nice to fans, sign autographs, talk to people, take pictures- He even baked cookies every day for fans in case they came by his house, which tourists always did in Hollywood. When asked why he did it, he answered “These are the people who buy tickets”. I think it’s part of the reason he stayed a beloved public figure throughout his entire life and for years after he died. Living in LA, many people have a story about meeting Tom Hanks and what a nice guy he is. There are different ways to handle every situation and keep your integrity. I’m not faulting Watterson for not wanting to be bothered. I just agree with you that unfortunately, it means C&H will mostly be known to those who grew up with it.

  • Ricardo

    “He even baked cookies every day for fans in case they came by his house”

    Awesome. I wonder if he made the batter himself. lol

  • Mike Caracappa

    I don’t understand why there has to be this “hunt” for Bill Watterson. Everything you really need to know about him is in the Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary book. Heck, he even tells you his artistic process and the kinds of tools he used. He even describes his process as very low tech. If you really want to know why he was successful at what he did, it was because he followed his interests. That’s all it is. He had no idea he was creating a masterpiece comic strip. He simply wanted to bring back the rich visuals that were seen in comics over 50 years ago, and it paid off when he fought the syndicate over liscencing and got to create his own new sunday format. And what’s amazing is 15 years after C&H ended, his books are still selling, and they’re almost always at the front of every bookstore Sale rack, especially during the holidays. New generations of children and adults can buy his collection books for $5. What a precious gift that is to any child that wants to be a cartoonist. If he were constantly in the limelight, he would be spending his life in interviews answering the same questions over and over again. He doesn’t need it nor does he want it. He did his job, he’s fufilled a need, and he’s moved onto other interests in his life. If you read C&H 10th Anniversary book, everything you need to know about creating a great comic strip is right there.

  • Igor

    I’m surprised by all this “he’s selfish” comments. I guess it shows, this is the “Big Brother” era, where people expect everyone to strip their clothes off in public. What happened to good old privacy?

    If anything, I’d say Watterson shows, he’s a man of principals and has some great values.. something almost unseen this days, when only money and fame means something.
    I whole-hartedly agree with Mike Caracappa’s comment above.

  • Jesse

    I read this book as well. What stuck with me the most was that of all the artwork given to him by comic strip artists and friends (i.e. Berkeley Breathed, Lynn Johnston, Jim Borgman, etc…) he kept absolutely nothing. He threw it all in a box with his “Calvin & Hobbes” strips, put it in the attic, then eventually handed the whole load over to the Museum of Cartoon Art (Ohio). They thought it was a mistake and asked if he wanted the gifted drawings back. He responded that he wanted none of it.

    The whole situation made me feel like he wanted nothing more to do with the comic strip world nor the friendships he cultivated during that time in his life.

    …BUT…it’s hard to be critical of someone whose personality is so clearly different from my own. Especially when that person is Bill Watterson.

  • I understand Watterson’s POV about merchandising, but I think he takes it a little too far. A limited merchandise wouldn’t hurt the strip. I think the merchandising of Jeff Smith’s Bone, for example, is done with good taste.

    And I understand his wish to have a peaceful life too , but I also don’t understand why he wouldn’t even collaborate in a book about his creation.

    I don’t know how these things work and I have never been “famous” or even well-known, but I’m pretty sure you always have time to say “no” to people. It’s not like giving one interview or licensing some limited merchandise means that he will be obliged to do these things frequently.

    Of course he’s not obliged to do it ever either, but it will be a way to satisfy some of his fans.

    Book looks interesting, I wonder if somebody will translate and publish it in Spain.

  • R.J. Laaksonen

    I agree with Mike’s comments, too. But I am still somewhat surprised by Watterson’s positive Wall Street Journal review of the Michaelis biography of Charles M. Schulz. He seems to accept Michaelis’ every attempt to analyse his subject. Isn’t there a discrepancy here?

  • FP

    Leave Britney (Watterson) aloooooone!
    (for those who still remember 2007)

  • Bill K.

    I loved Calvin and Hobbes, but Peanuts, Pogo, Dennis the Menace and Bloom County blew it out of the water.

    All this Bill Watterson worship makes me ill.

  • Case in point! Calvin and Hobbes will never be forgotten as long as passionate sequential arts professors hammer it in as one of the best comic strips ever made. :)

    Perhaps it could fall into obscurity with time, but honestly I agree with Mike Caracappa – look at how his books are always at the front of the comics or humor section of stores! I think when something is truly wonderful, it will find its niche and stay there.

  • Rick

    Yeah, give the works over to the merchandisers and the merchandising will ultimately destroy any memory of what made the work popular. As I watch 3D commercials of Snoopy promoting Met Life, I will not argue.

    But as Roberto points out, limited amounts of Hobbes stuffed animals, (the idea of which, iirc, horrified Watterson) would be a better reminder of the series than all the window decals of Calvin’s water elimination.

    I don’t hate Watterson, and he certainly has every right to do as he pleases, but this path is, as Lauren and others put it, just leading to it being considered precious, good-for-you art in the way opera is to the average kid (assuming I was average as a kid.)

  • Mike Caracappa

    Rick, the reason Watterson didn’t want stuffed Hobbes toys made is that it defies the spirit of the strip. Its not about Hobbes coming to life, or the Hobbes being a doll that’s a product of Calvins imagination. Calvin sees Hobbes one way while the rest of the world sees him another. Watterson said this in his book, and believes this to be true of all relationships. That’s what the whole comic strip is about. If toys were made of his characters, it would go against the spirit of the comic. The reason its never been animated is he doesnt want a voice actor taking the place of how readers would hear the characters in their minds. The entire soul of the comic would become watered down and lose all meaning. He’s not hiding from the world or being stubborn, he has a very good reason for not merchandising his comic, and it makes sense.

  • Bill Amend

    Heh, pretty trippy reading through the comments here as I often do and suddenly seeing my name get mentioned.

    @ ParamountCartoons:
    My publisher and I have been working on a “Best of” FoxTrot book that’ll have some essays and lots of annotations alongside the strips. Was supposed to come out this year, but I have some problems with deadlines, so next fall is the current goal.

    Re the timing of FoxTrot vis-a-vis The Simpsons, I started submitting FoxTrot to the syndicates in 1985-86 and got my contract in late 1987. The Ullman Simpsons started in 1987, so maybe it influenced my syndicate’s decision to pick me up, but it wasn’t on my radar when I first worked out the characters. I was trying to create a more contemporary and less warm-and-fuzzy counter to the family strips that were dominant in papers at the time (Blondie, Hi and Lois, etc.).

  • Dock Miles

    I don’t think there’s any rational, or even sane, way to predict how and how much cartoon icons will persist over time.

    Last week I saw Felix the Cat advertising available office space in Tucson, AZ. He even had his magic bag next to him. Now, most folks probably couldn’t offer many specifics about Felix, but he was used in the ad because the creators were sure he’d be perceived as a vaguely familiar and friendly figure.

    Dick Tracy would have to be placed in some sort of cop context, but I think he’d still work, too.

    Pogo Possum, on the other hand, seems to be fading into the mists of time.

  • I’ll just requote this in response to everyone getting at me for my “mental health” comment:
    “FP says: Leave Britney (Watterson) aloooooone!
    (for those who still remember 2007)”

    Michael, of course I’m being speculative, it’s the internet and this is a comments section, which is very useful for speculating. I don’t see how it’s bizarre to suggest there’s something wrong with someone for being reclusive. It’s obviously not a healthy state of mind. Note the difference between reclusive and wanting your privacy.

    Isn’t it the reclusive and weird notion about this story that makes the whole book interesting? Read any of the interviews and reviews about this book as well as the backstory of Watterson’s hiding… there’s a lot more to this than someone just going for privacy.

    Of course it’s all within his right and I wasn’t saying otherwise.

    Sheesh guys, lighten up. Again, it’s just, like, my opinion, man.

    “robcat2075 says:
    It’s probably overboard to assert he must be mentally ill for not giving interviews and not selling merchandise…”

    Okay, you are twisting my words around. I did not say he was mentally ill for not selling merchandise or giving interviews, in fact I praised him for it. For the rest, see above.

    Anyways, if any of you are fans and have not read Wattersons’ creative rights interview from the Comics Journal interview in 1991, the issue is still available here for $5:

    It’s well worth reading, and like any in depth Comics Journal interview, it goes on for tons of pages. A bonus is the interview is peppered with exclusive art from Watterson himself.

  • your_homework

    I’m disappointed that so many people are questioning the motives of Watterson when the bigger problem is that nobody learned anything from someone who actually had artistic integrity. Calvin and Hobbes should have been an inspiration for comic strip artists but instead people continued their contest to see who could make the most sarcastic animals or most melodramatic, vaguely dysfunctional (yet uncommonly ordinary) families.

  • To Mike Caracappa: Yes I had already read Watterson’s reasons. They are not bad reasons, but come on, I take popular series and cartoon characters pretty serious and I still can’t see why making a stuffed animal of Hobbes (in one form or the other) would destroy the spirit of the strip. I mean, maybe very little kids may believe that these characters are real but we all know that it’s a comic strip, so it really doesn’t matter if there were some real merchandise that represented Hobbes in one way or the other, we would know that was a real toy and not the Hobbes in the strip. Maybe I’m being a lot more prosaic than Watterson here, but that’s reality for you.

    On the other hand I find his views about an animated adaptation more reasonable, if he is a purist of the comic book form and he wants people to create the character’s voices in their heads. Still, some people managed to do very nice adaptations, like this one, that totally reflects the style of the strip IMHO. I wonder what Bill thinks about it.


    I also understand why he didn’t want to use Calvin and Hobbes for commercials.

    I’m just saying that making them appear in some T-Shirts or mugs wouldn’t hurt the spirit of the strip, if I were to admit the stuffed animal reasoning.

    I don’t say all this because I’m demanding Calvin and Hobbes merchandise, although I admit I’d have liked some nice figure, especially in these times in which we see figures that are extremely well done. But I mostly write all this to explain why I think that, in general, merchandising doesn’t hurt a creation too much as long as it’s done in a reasonable dose and with good taste. Which is not the way it’s done usually, but there are some examples. “Bone” is one of those and maybe The Nightmare Before Christmas or Wallace and Gromit…I don’t remember any horrible merchandising with those characters.

    Looney Tunes and The Simpsons, on the other hand, have way too much merchandising and sometimes it’s some poorly done that I think it really hurt the characters in some way or another. It’s like the infamous “gay” Tweety. I’m pretty sure some people think Tweety is really gay cause they remember the posters and postcards better than the real cartoons.

  • I still have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill Watterson. He is one of the most principled men I’ve ever known, and I respect him for that, besides doing my favorite comic-strip besides PEANUTS and PENNY ARCADE. If he wants to retire into the sunset, let him! It’s sad that CALVIN AND HOBBES has ended, but it ended beautifully. And it will at least be famous. CALVIN AND HOBBES is, was, and will forever be a comic-strip, and I couldn’t have it any other way.

    I absolutely love the PEANUTS TV specials and theme music (as equally as the comic-strip), but objectively, they are far more remembered at large than the original comic-strip. (Many of the public even went as far as to say, “The comic is old,” “The comic isn’t funny anymore,” “The comic is pathetic,” etc.) Which I found sad, as a fan of the strip.

    The fun of CALVIN AND HOBBES is using your imagination. Merchandise would not do it justice.

  • Mike Caracappa

    Roberto said: “I mean, maybe very little kids may believe that these characters are real but we all know that it’s a comic strip, so it really doesn’t matter if there were some real merchandise that represented Hobbes in one way or the other, we would know that was a real toy and not the Hobbes in the strip. Maybe I’m being a lot more prosaic than Watterson here, but that’s reality for you.”

    I suppose that’s reality for me. But then again, maybe your adult perspective is blocking you from understanding what Watterson intended with the strip in the first place. The whole comic strip is about perspectives and points of view. And if that aspect of the strip is tarnished because a company wants to make plushies of Hobbes, both his stuffed toy side and his real side, the message becomes lost. It’s on purpose that Watterson did not want merchendising of his characters. If the audience doesn’t believe in the characters as real characters, enough to tap into that child like part of themselves to believe it’s real, the strip loses all its meaning.

    I do not mind other people merchandising their work. I have my own collection of toys from movies and comics that I like. But in the case of Calvin and Hobbes it’s not appropriate. For adults, more of them (myself included) need that child perspective in life, much more than the adult in us likes to tells us it’s unimportant. To make toys out of that to fulfill our own childish needs would destroy everything the strip set out to accomplish in the first place. I think we can live for once to have something out there to remain pure for what it is: a beautiful well made comic strip about the stubborn, demanding, but also loving child in all of us. I think we can all relate to that.

  • messy

    Okay, I think the reason, and it’s only my opinion of what he’s said over the years, is that he hates his fans.

    Having been following licensing for many years, I’ve discovered that unless the original product, is utterly brilliant, nobody would buy the tee shirts, mugs and other stuff. Sometimes maybe a book but, Peanuts, aside as a special case, there’ve been pretty much NO tie-ins that have been successful. How many Foxtrot tees and coffee mugs have you seen out there? Most of the stuff I’ve seen for comics-related stuff were in the half-price bins at the 99ç store.

    Hell, even most of the Disney stuff doesn’t sell. There was a whole bunch of Simpsons and Calvin pirated stuff out there (before Groaning (sic) started licensing) because there was a DEMAND for it. Wearing a tee-shirt with a Superman logo on it shows love for the character.

    By refusing even the most limited licensing program, Watterson was basically witholding the characters from his fans.

  • Mike Caracappa

    “By refusing even the most limited licensing program, Watterson was basically witholding the characters from his fans.”

    You’re right, he was witholding his characters from his fans. Those characters are his children. It’s his own right as to how much exposure he wants to give them, and in all honesty if the book collections aren’t good enough for you, then you’re not really a fan of the comic strip, are you? There are plenty of other franchises, where you can buy as much stuff as you like based on popular characters. The artist of the strip doesn’t owe you anything but a good comic strip, and if the artists purpose from the beginning was to create characters for the sake of selling products, then that artist really doesn’t value the integrity of their own voice. Look what happened to “Garfield”. Who really thinks that comic strip is funny anymore? Davis has a staff of writers who does the strip for him now. The merchendising “demand” for Garfield products came and went and now it’s become a watered-down version of it’s former self. His strip is now a daily joke-factory with no solo voice or meaning. Meanwhile the Calvin and Hobbes books can still be found at the front of just about any bookstore, 15 years after it was retired. If Watterson had any reason to hate his fans, like you say, it’s probably because they spent so much time DEMANDING products from him that would force him to alter the voice of his strip so he can sell them Hobbes plushies or T-shirts. Calvins dad would have to stop making complaints about America becoming over-indulgent and self-centered. The jokes about Calvins own self-centeredness and his satirical comments, like wearing T-shirts with a logo to be a walking billboard for a company, would become a total contridiction. Watterson is an artist, he has a voice, and he loves his characters more than you. Jim Davis has done just what you’ve proposed, and in the process he’s made what was once a great character completely redundant. I wouldn’t be suprised after Garfield is gone and buried that people will still be reading Calvin and Hobbes.

  • messy

    Jim Davis’ Garfield has gone on too long. In the meantime, he produced some excellent work over the years, especially some of the TV specials over the 80s and 90s. Look at Berke Breathed, he did it right, and more than kept his artistic integrity, as do 99% of cartoonists who have the high privilage of actually getting syndicated (which is harder to get than a prime time TV show, BTW).

    “Watterson is an artist, he has a voice…” yeah, so what? I still think he hates his fans, and that’s why he did what he did.

  • Mike Caracappa

    It seems to me that your idea of what makes a successful artist is whether or not a person can get a syndicate contract to sell toys of their characters. The fact that you quote me now, dissmissing watterson right to be an artist on his own terms is both fascinating and ironic. You seem to think that he owes you anything for being a fan of his comic strip. This your own self serving idea of what gives a person artistic integrity. If you can’t except Wattersons own terms for his comic, then either stop reading it or stop complaining that he doesn’t appreciate you or his fans. He’s drawn the comic FOR YOU.

  • Interesting concept, “selling out.” Especially in regards to a comic strip — the most pop of pop entertainment. What does one sell out to or from? Not sure. What I am sure is that it’s all riven with grey areas, impossible to parse, really. Books are not merchandise? A calender… a sort of very short book with holiday information. A T-shirt of Opus: does this make suspect Opus’ mockery of cosmetic nasal implants? Or is there an inherent integrity to striking that position on nasal implants that is threatened by Opus’ head being in the shape of a pencil erasure and sold for 89 cents? Gentle arguers… I originally paused at merchandise myself before coming to this conclusion: job one isn’t to make high art, it’s to please your readers. If they’d like an Opus phone and will be slightly happier in the cosmos with it, bless them and it. But if I’m inclined instinctively to do a series of gags mocking the shitty plastic phone industry and I quietly demure because of my own shitty plastic phones, then I have officially sold out. The selling out happens at the point of our pens and the choices we make with it. Not the selling of the junk. They don’t always go together. But they certainly can. Merchandising isn’t selling out. But it is putting an artist on notice: make the right choice afterwards.

  • Mike Caracappa

    Thanks Berkeley, that was a great response. :)

  • messy

    I’m not dismissing Waterson’s right to do anything. I was discussing his relationship with his fans. He did everything he could do to alienate himself from his fans and showed them contempt.

    Did he have the RIGHT to do this? Sure! The reason that Waterson is still an enigma is the question of why he hates us so. Breathed has his privacy. One of the best things about being a cartoonist is you can have both fame and anyonymity simultaniously.

    Art is never pure. The success of an artist is always measured in money. Sure, Van Gogh died destitute, but his sister-in-law died richer than the Queen of Holland.

    Comics are entertainment. When you put your “babies” out there in th world for them to enjoy, you lose some of their “purity.”

  • Mike Caracappa

    “Art is never pure. The success of an artist is always measured in money. Sure, Van Gogh died destitute, but his sister-in-law died richer than the Queen of Holland. ”

    Except they both died anyway, and Van Gogh is still more popular than his sister-in-law. Figure that one out for me.

  • messy

    Selling his art. She made millions selling the art that was in her basement, something her husband refused to do. I not for her, no one would have a clue as to whom Van Gogh was.

  • Mike Caracappa