wattersoninterview wattersoninterview

Bill Watterson: I Have Zero Interest in Animating “Calvin and Hobbes”

The notoriously reclusive Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, granted an email interview to Jake Rossen of Mental Floss. Watterson doesn’t reveal anything that could be considered news, but he allows his fans to breathe a sigh of relief by reaffirming his commitment to keeping Calvin and Hobbes out of the clutches of Hollywood:

“The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.”

Watterson empathizes with the audience’s natural urge for sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots, but suggests that it’s a creative dead-end for an artist:

“You can’t really blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like. The trade-off, of course, is that predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic.”

He also comments unsparingly on the various unofficial animated versions of his comic that have appeared online in recent years:

“Every artist learns through imitation, but I rather doubt the aim of these things is artistic development. I assume they’re either homages or satiric riffs, and are not intended to be taken too seriously as works in their own right. Otherwise I should be talking to a copyright lawyer.”

It’s easy to dismiss Watterson as a curmudgeon, but his observations in the interview about the future of comics suggest otherwise. Watterson comes across as intelligent, thoughtful, interested and optimistic about the continuing evolution of the art form.

He has achieved something that few artists can claim today, and that is fame and fortune without having to compromise his vision or principles. He puts this all into perspective with self-effacing charm when asked for an opinion about the unofficial “Calvin peeing” car decals:

I figure that, long after the strip is forgotten, those decals are my ticket to immortality.

The complete interview with Watterson will be published in the December print edition of Mental Floss.

  • Beamish Kinowerks

    Watterson is definitely a crank. It kind of boggles me how someone who’s earned a fortune via comic strips has the audacity to slam comic books and graphic novels (read the 10th Anniversary C&H Collection). If done right, comic strips can definitely be transposed to film or television. Look at Gary Larson’s FAR SIDE Halloween one-offs or Garry Trudeau and the Hubleys’ DOONESBURY SPECIAL.

    • mick

      Look at Gary Larson’s FAR SIDE Halloween one-offs or Garry Trudeau and the Hubleys’ DOONESBURY SPECIAL.

      Two great examples of how not to do it. Both disappointing. After encountering the Far Side animations I all but lost the joyous fascination the strips had given me. Images offer something for everyone. An interpretation of the pacing, voices, music will sure narrow the appeal. In the case of Calvin and Hobbes the casting alone will certainly lose (piss off) half the audience

      • GW

        Now that you put it into such plain words, it’s possible to let people change the voices to their own personal preference. If somebody were to make an application, then they could make books and comics where the characters would speak out loud in the way that the reader wanted.

  • IT DOESN’T MATTER that Pixar would make photo-realistic tiger fur and then talk about it ad nauseam throughout the Oscar season.

    IT DOESN’T MATTER that DreamWorks would pay the world’s biggest B-list celebrities millions of dollars/euros/yen for two weeks voice work (or that they’d green-light a Netflix spin-off series before the film even premiered).

    IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER that Disney would give it a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, an interactive dark ride, a ho-hum parade, an embarrassingly earnest ice show and more licensed merch than every Kardashian, sports franchise and Rovio game combined.

    The world does NOT need a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon!

    I know it’s weird to say this on a cartoon site, but damn I’m glad Watterson is not interested in adapting that PERFECT COMIC STRIP!

    • Scott550

      Second only to Peanuts.

      • matthew justice

        I love charlie brown christmas

        • Barrett

          The whole Peanuts spinoff/merchandising phenomenon is probably a big part of *why* Watterson knew from the get-go that he didn’t want to go that route with his creation.

          There was a huge upside and a huge downside to the marketing and adaptations (TV, film, even stage) of Peanuts. Sparky’s cartoon became a global phenomenon, and in the comics & animated specials, the integrity of the work was preserved for the most part. At first. As time went on, things became not so much bad as “routine,” and the specials were often not all that “special” anymore. I would argue that even the merchandise had a certain wit and charm in the 50s and 60s that was gone by the 80s. Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang went through the “Mickey Mouse Effect” wherein the characters became more symbols than personalities. If you want to keep that from happening, you pretty much have to eschew marketing, or keep it very niche and small-scale, such as the limited range of products made for The Venture Bros.

          Making Peanuts a multimedia & marketing juggernaut helped to attract a larger audience to the original strip than would have discovered it if it only lived in the comics pages. That was good. Merchandising it also inevitably led to a watering-down over time of the elements that made the characters and their situations fresh and true to people. Familiarity made them into cliches. It can happen to the best of them. Almost any superhero power or catchphrase from the first 50 years of comics is now a cliche, known by people who don’t even really follow or give a crap about comics. It doesn’t mean the original creation is lessened, but I can see how some creators might see it that way. (I suppose if things go REALLY far, it can reflect badly on the still-good-on-their-own originals, such as with Garfield or the Star Wars universe.)

          Watterson wanted to avoid the whole mess and just do something that stands on its own as a work of art. And I respect him for it. I think the only people out there still delusional enough to want to try to talk him into licensing or adaptations are those who were never really fans, and who are more about marketing than they are about cartoons.

    • GregR

      Even if they ended up making an animated Calvin & Hobbes, Nobody would force you to go see it.

  • “Repetition is the death of magic.” Wow, what words to heed by!

    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      Why a magician only does his trick once for you.

    • Fbt

      Those words gave me goose bumps

  • Nikolas

    Watterson is a wise, strange, and talented man. I hope that some day he’ll permit a book of some of his fine art and watercolors to be published.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I wouldn’t mind that if we can continue pestering him for such a release!

  • Jason Cezar Duncan

    Good interview, but the future of comics is already here. Monolithic superhero/medieval fantasy comics, cheap low brow internet humor comics, and magna. As for newspaper cartoons, like almost everything else with Newspapers, they have become a depressing nostalgia machine (in the US at least). Re-Syndications and safe/campy rehasings of safe/campy dinosaur strips. I like Calvin and Hobbes along with Peanuts and Bloom county. Few things that dared to be bold and followed what their creators believed through deep or strong characters and well written thoughts and stories. Not just some cheezy ass puns to make people feel good for 5 minutes. And once their creator died or said “enough”, that was it.

    • GW

      Actually, I’ve found that there’s quite a few intriguing webcomics. I typed a blog post on it.


      In addition to those, there’s a newer webcomic called Ava’s Demon.

      These are my tastes and I don’t know if you’ll like them, but while most webcomics are either boring or awful, there’s enough out there that aren’t to avoid being too cynical.

      • Jason Cezar Duncan

        I agree, there are a few indie gems I’ve come across. Both things I like and things I don’t like, but respect. I’m talking about the “big scene”. In other words, things people “buy” today. But don’t get me wrong, just like animation, I see it gradually going in the right direction and I am hopeful for tomorrow.

        • Barrett

          One webcomic that has some (usually) pretty kick-ass visuals and an engaging story as well is “Weapon Brown.” The artist takes the sometimes-cliche premise of “what would Charlie Brown and the gang be like grown up?” and goes way past it, crafting a whole intricate post-apocalyptic world where “Chuck” and Snoopy are on a quest they didn’t choose, interacting with many other comic strip characters such as Popeye, Little Orphan Annie, and Calvin, all through the lens of a crazy, violent, and very adult lens. When I write it out, the premise sounds kind of crass and stupid, but it’s anything but. Some beautifully-detailed full-panel B/W art and some real emotional depth and excitement. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it show up more often in discussions of webcomics, it’s one of the best “parody” serials I’ve ever seen.

      • Fbt

        I’ve read lots of web comics that were so awful that even bother to continue but there are also great web comics out there. This is my favourite : http://warrior-u.com/?p=7

    • caricaturist

      The simple fact that most everything is crap has NOTHING to do with the other simple fact that a minority of everything is gold… The future of comics is the same as the future of anything – we all must wade through an ocean of sewage so that we can then relax on the islands of wonder…

    • Chris Sobieniak

      We may never see another Watterson in our lifetime.

      • Jason Cezar Duncan

        Well I sure hope not just as I hope I don’t see another you or another me. It must mean something to be an “individual”.

      • Barrett

        I’d put Watterson up with with Walt Kelly and Charles Schulz. Calvin and Hobbes wasn’t just another better-than-average Sunday funny like For Better or Worse or the first decade or so of Garfield. From beginning to end, Watterson’s strip stood out as a gem both visually and content-wise. It could be funny, insightful, biting, and pensive, sometimes all within four black and white panels. There hasn’t been anything that even approaches its level in the comics pages since.

        Aside from a few graphic novels and perhaps the Venture Brothers animated series, there’s very little I’d seen since that feels so carefully crafted and variously funny, poignant, and brilliant.

    • Marbles471

      Manga are far too varied and diverse to simply mention in passing as an umbrella term to describe the alleged poor state of comics. Don’t let the relatively narrow sampling of material available here fool you. Japanese comics are the most diverse in the world, in every way imaginable.

      • Jason Cezar Duncan

        I’ve been to Japan actually and I agree, but in the west there’s a tendency of fans, readers, and critics alike to pigeon hole it all into it’s own category and I’m not speaking in a way to criticize all manga, just the attitude society has towards cartoons and comics overall. There’s brilliant animated cartoons and comics both old and new from all over the world, but the way mainstream society sees it all at times, well, it’s like casting pearls before swine.

  • Roberto Severino

    Kudos to Bill Watterson for not selling out. There are so many potentials to really mess up an animated Calvin and Hobbes cartoon anyway.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      That’s true, we’d never hear the end of THAT!

  • Alex Irish

    That’s ironic, because I already knew this 13 years ago. Thanks to his extensive commentary in the Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Collection

  • Kristen S.

    Well, duh, of course he doesn’t. I think it’s more newsworthy that he gave an interview at all.

  • Toonio

    Now if the rest of the world were the same way of Watterson, imagine what we could had accomplished by now.
    And about those who still disagree (cause of personal gain and nothing more) will see what Bill means when the peanuts movie comes out.

    • Jessica

      Oh, I’m so worried about the Peanuts movie. Especially since it’s being brought to us by Blue Sky.

      • Matt Norcross

        The Schulz family is involved, so there is still hope that they want it to respect Sparky’s legacy.

      • JaiGuru

        Why? It can’t possibly be more banal and plotless than any of the others. The one and only good thing those movies had was the exposure it gave young children to jazz music,

    • Barrett

      The whole idea of 3D CGI Peanuts revolts me. I’ve seen many toys and dolls of the characters that were formed into three dimensions. They are cute and all, but they don’t truly capture the feeling of Schulz’s drawings. The only adaptations that really do the strip justice are the early Mendelson/Melendez specials and films. All concerns about content aside, I greatly worry about the visuals of any sort of 3D Peanuts.

      I honestly wish they would let Peanuts rest in peace. Sparky said that he didn’t want anyone continuing his strip after he died, and I think that probably went for new animated content as well. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from going ahead with several specials since he passed away, but at least those were 2D, and the last one by Wild Brain tried to recapture the early 60s aesthetic of the actual strip, rather than copy the Melendez look.

  • evan

    Calvin and Hobbes is not meant to be animated! Anyone who actually cares and cherishes the comic, and their experience of it, would never want or need a cartoon version. It’s unbelievable how much integrity Watterson has… I’m so happy I don’t have to look at Calvin and Hobbes merchandise everywhere I go. If only more artists could take a hint from him. Also, that Italian animated version that was posted here a while back is a perfect example of how incredibly ineffective an animation would be.

  • Martin Marschen

    “He has achieved something that few artists can claim today, and that is fame and fortune without having to compromise his vision or principles.”

    Some of us have not forgotten that this reclusive, “principled” wealthy celebrity praised the intrusive, offensive bio of Charles Schulz: “Mr. Michaelis has done an extraordinary amount of digging and has written a perceptive and compelling account of Schulz’s life.”

    Imagine if a biographer did that to him. The horse should not be quite that high.

  • Jack Rabbit

    The only thing better than Bill Watterson refraining from doing Calvin and Hobbes animation would have been if Charles Schultz stopped doing Peanuts animation after Charlie Brown’s Christmas and The Great Pumpkin cartoons. Integrity indicates when to stop while your ahead.

    • the quality got better after the first 2 Peanuts special

  • cg

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “It is OK to post with a nickname or alias, but your email address (which we will NEVER share publicly), must be a real, permanent email address. Comments with fake or non-permanent emails will be deleted.”]

  • CG Animator

    I’m siding with Watterson on this one.

    His comics are practically animated anyway, so why mess with perfection?

  • Funkybat

    I am still amazed that Bill Watterson was able to retain the kind of creative control he did with his back-and-forth with the syndicate. I dunno how he did it, honestly, as he has said that the syndicate had ultimate ownership, no “special legal clauses” or anything different than what any other daily strip cartoonist has in writing with his syndicate. I guess he gambled that they would recognize that continuing the strip with a different artist would gut the whole thing to the point that it would be worthless to own it. I kind of doubt anyone could pull this off today with any of the major newspaper syndicates, at least not without getting some kind of legal creative control in writing from the start.

    I remember Frank Cho went through endless battles with his syndicate when Liberty Meadows was in newspapers. I honestly have to wonder what the syndicate was thinking when they took him on for a 10 year contract. Anyone who had read more than a dozen of his “University2” strips, which were a direct precursor to LM, would know that buxom babes and line-crossing humor are integral to that comic. I don’t blame him for a minute for walking away after years of editors trying to make him palatable to Peoria. The web and indie comics are a much better venue for good comics these days than the major syndicates. They are trying to chase the same demographic Mercury cars were; age 60 and older conservative people. That’s a losing gambit for a number of reasons, but I suspect newspapers would sooner fold their comics section entirely before allowing anything fresh or original to be printed there again. Calvin and Hobbes literally couldn’t happen today.

  • Eman

    Watterson is a man who understands the narrative strengths of various media.
    I remember in one of his compilations, he mentioned something about how classic comics had the full page to lay out any panel structure they wanted. He understood how the medium worked and it frustrated him when the people in charge wanted to stifle those strengths for things that didn’t support his concept or the medium.

    I don’t care if that made him a ‘bitter old man’. At least he’s a ‘bitter old man’ with principle and wisdom enough to know what boundaries work and which should be pushed.

  • Mac

    If given the opportunity,I’s love to hear Watterson’s thoughts on Mark Tatulli’s Lio comic strip,especailly Mark’s front and back cover art for Lio’s anthology,There’s Corpses Everywhere.

  • Mike P.

    I agree with you, Chris.
    I feel two ways about it. I respect Mr. Watterson’s wishes, but I also can imagine “Calvin and Hobbes” as a great animated work. (Part of the strip could serve as a storyboard! Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to create anything new….)
    The only thing is, I cannot think of a studio that would be capable of doing justice to this strip. Not a single one. Not anymore.

  • Mike P.

    No; since Bob Clampett’s and Tex Avery’s animation teams are long gone, there’s probably no one who could create an animated film that would do justice to Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes”!!

  • ILDC

    I take it he doesn’t like fan fiction.

  • You’re joking.

    Amusing…but you are joking, right?

  • JaiGuru

    I have always thought this man is incredibly kind to answer the same questions about his strip for so long and not be gruff about it. “When is Calvin and Hobbes coming back?” “Will you reboot it?” “Is there going to be a cartoon?”.

    Always thoughtful replies, always polite but firm. A genuine class act.

  • JaiGuru

    The number one reason I hate this idea….no matter who they get, and there IS a ton of talent out there…no one…can voice…calvin.

    Hobbes could go a couple of ways and be just fine. Calvin…nope. Too personal. Everyone heard their own version of his voice in their heads for years. It would shatter the intimacy that makes this a comic strip grown adults fawn over.

  • GarE

    I don’t care if it ever gets animated. I just wish he’d draw the &*(% strip again.
    Every time I read an article about it, it just depresses me. I say if he hadn’t had the fight he had with the syndicate (which was inevitable, because of course they’re going to try to merchandise the strip; and he had to know if it was successful that it was coming), he would have drawn the strip a lot longer. I don’t think it was primarily fear of repetition – it was his weariness over the fight that made him quit.
    He’s an old, stubborn curmudgeon who took his toys and went home, which he had every right to do, but in the end, the merchandising brouhaha was a fight no one won – not us, not him, and not the syndicate. We all lost a comic strip that made it worthwhile to read the comics. He could do it online, where he’d have full control, and no limitations of any kind. He could sell print books if he missed being in print. He could still be doing it, and he isn’t, and if it’s because of the stupid fight with the syndicate, then I’d just prefer to not read anything about him, because it just reminds me of what we don’t have anymore.
    Don’t know how such a grumpy guy made such an awesome strip, but there’s been nothing remotely like it since.