Thursday, September 03, 2020

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes - Nevin Martell

 

I’ve been a comic strip reader as long as I can remember, starting with all the classics of the 1950s when I was just a kid. At some point in the eighties, my taste in comics switched over to those strips with more sophisticated artwork, or the ones that addressed my more adult concerns. But really, it was always about cartoonists who could actually make me laugh out loud on a regular basis. So, for years, my favorite comic strips were Dilbert, The Far Side, and Calvin and Hobbes. Sadly for many of us, the cartoonists responsible for both The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes shut the strips down way before fans were ready to see that happen. I grieve the loss of those two strips to this day. Dilbert, on the other hand, is still out there, having long outlived the period in my life during which I actually read a daily newspaper.

 Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip was written by superfan Nevin Martell and published in late 2009. I recently watched a documentary in which Martell explored Bill Watterson’s decision to disappear from public view. That’s, in fact, how I became aware of Martell’s book. When he began the book, Martell still hoped that he would be able to convince Watterson to give him an interview that he could use to close it out. But Watterson, being the recluse that he still is, never responded to the author’s letter or attempts to reach him through third-party friends or business associates. Still, Martell does manage to end the book in an interesting way by visiting Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Watterson’s hometown, where he managed to snag a rather pleasant interview with the cartoonist’s mother.

 

Calvin and Hobbes was a daily comic strip for ten years if you count the two nine-month periods in the nineties during which Watterson took much needed sabbaticals from the grind and pressure of producing a comic strip under such tight deadlines. The strip went into rerun mode during those eighteen months. Then, in October 1995, Watterson ended the strip for good. And he never looked back.

 

Bill Watterson (left) hates fame; he wants absolutely no part of it, even refusing to let his cartoon characters be licensed for sale as stuffed animals, dolls, toy figures, or anything else. That decision cost him and his syndicator millions and millions of dollars over time, but Watterson never wavered in his determination to keep the strip pure to his vision. Bill Watterson accomplished more with his 3,160 comic strips than most other cartoonists can only dream about. He greatly influenced his cartoonist contemporaries - setting such a high bar that he probably made his competitors better than they would have been without him - and the generation of cartoonists who followed him. But he was such a private man, that it is hard to find anyone except for perhaps his friends from high school and college who can claim to really know the man. Watterson’s reclusive lifestyle makes J.D. Salinger’s look like that of a carnival husker in comparison.

 

Martell sums of Watterson’s impact on the world this way:

 

            “Even though Watterson hadn’t set out to create something with mass appeal, Calvin and Hobbes did ultimately attract an audience that was without age limits or cultural boundaries. It was universally understandable without becoming meaningless or trite. It’s attractiveness never detracted from its artistry or depth. In that way, the strip was the ultimate piece of pop art.”

 

I couldn’t agree with him more. Bill Watterson has a very rare talent, and it’s a terrible shame that he didn’t share it with us longer than he did.

 

Bottom Line: 













14 comments:

  1. He really had a talent for getting to the heart of life and what is important.

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    1. It's amazing how much the man packed into some of his strips, especially those Sunday half-page ones. He managed to send a message and a laugh at the same time.

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  2. Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorites. Long after I quit reading the funnies section of the newspaper, I would still look for Watterson's strip. I even have a partial collection of the "Treasury" volumes- and was very disappointed recently when an additional box of Calvin and Hobbes books I traded for was apparently stolen off my porch.

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    1. Oh, wow, how frustrating it must be to have someone snatch something like that book from your porch. That's terrible.
      I would love to find a copy of the massive collection that contains all 3160 of his strips. It sold for almost $100 when published, so I can imagine how expensive a used copy would be today.

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    2. It was four collection volumes! Plus a few middle-grade chapter books for my kid. I was very irked to say the least. And I was particularly keeping an eye out for that package that week, so I'm not sure how it happened.

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    3. Wow, that must have made it hurt even more than I already imagined it did. I wish they would start prosecuting these "Porch Pirate" idiots very publicly, so that others might realize it's not worth the risk. For people who buy used books that way, it's a particular problem, because that stuff is not always replaceable - especially at the same price.

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  3. A favorite! There was an innocence that appealed to all ages and continues to touch us.

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    1. I have a couple of small collections of his strips and I can read them over and over, Jen. Seems like there's something new in them every time I read them. They were special.

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  4. I've always loved Calvin and Hobbes! They are ones that I can read over and over, too. :D

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    1. They were just so much fun that I often started my day off with the latest strip.

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  5. I dearly, dearly love Calvin and Hobbes. I didn't read them in a newspaper, but bought the books. My kids had all of them, I think. Such warmth and wisdom. I have real affection for those two. When it ended, I bought Tom a picture of the last strip. I really admire him for not, as we used to call it before every celeb did it, "selling out". Thanks for this post.

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    1. Nan, I know what you mean. Calvin and Hobbes are just about the perfect comic strip duo. I remember so many of those strips and I haven't seen some of them in 20 years or more. I do have some of the collections put away somewhere around the house, but I'd be hard-pressed to put my hands on them.

      Watterson was true to himself...no merchandising allowed then or later. And the pressure of fighting his syndicator on exactly that had a lot to do with his relatively quick burnout.

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  6. I loved Calvin and Hobbes back in the day, but I know nothing at all about its creator. Interesting.

    My husband likes to read the news, so we actually get several daily papers. My kids fight over the Sunday comics every week. We even cut out the ones we like and put them on the fridge. We're old-fashioned that way, but I love it ;)

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    1. Wow, your family is still doing what we used to do in mine when we were kids...fight to see who got first crack at the comics, especially the Sunday strips. Luckily, the Sunday ones usually came in two sections.

      Watterson is an interesting man. Think J.D. Salinger times two, and you might be close to his lifestyle.

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