Watterson, Bill 1958-
WATTERSON, Bill 1958-
Born 1958, in Washington, DC; son of James and Kathryn Watterson; married; wife's name, Melissa (an artist). Education: Graduated from Kenyon College, 1980.
Office—c/o Author Mail, Universal Press Syndicate, 4900 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64112.
Cartoonist. Cincinnati Post, Cincinnati, OH, editorial cartoonist, 1980; creator of comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes," syndicated with Universal Press Syndicate, 1985-95.
National Cartoonists Society, Reuben Awards for outstanding cartoonist of the year, 1986 and 1988, award for outstanding humor strip, 1988.
COMIC STRIP COLLECTIONS; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Calvin and Hobbes, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1987.
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1988.
Something under the Bed Is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1988.
Yukon Ho!, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1989.
The Calvin & Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1989.
The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1990.
Weirdos from Another Planet!, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1990.
The Revenge of the Baby-Sat, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1991.
Scientific Progress Goes "Boink," Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1991.
Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1992.
The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1992.
The Days Are Just Packed, Andrews and McMeel, 1993.
Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1994.
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1995.
There's Treasure Everywhere: A Calvin and Hobbes >Collection, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1996.
It's a Magical World, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1996.
Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Papers, 1985-1995, Andrews and McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2001.
Contributor of editorial cartoons to a chain of Cleveland newspapers. Cartoons have been published in Target.
Upon its first appearance in late 1985, Bill Watterson's comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" became one of most popular series in syndication. The strip featured Calvin, a precocious and outrageously brash six-year-old, and Hobbes, the cautious tiger that appeared as a stuffed animal to everyone but Calvin. Calvin's active imagination and unique outlook on life led the pair into interesting conflicts with parents, school officials, other children, and sometimes reality itself—all related from Calvin's point of view. Watterson's entertaining storylines, fully developed characters, and distinctive illustrations led critics such as Charles Solomon of the Los Angeles Times Book Review to call him "among the most imaginative newspaper cartoonists working in America today."
After a brief, unhappy stint as a political cartoonist for the Cincinnati Post, Watterson began submitting several strip ideas to syndicates, including "a sort of out-of-space parody" named "Spaceman Spiff," an animal comic, and a cartoon about a young man of his own age in his first job and apartment. One of the ideas Watterson submitted included the minor characters of Calvin and Hobbes, a little boy and his stuffed tiger playmate. Calvin and Hobbes caught the attention of United Features Syndicate, who proposed that Watterson build a series focusing on the duo. Finding the two the funniest characters of the lot, Watterson agreed to develop a series around them.
Oddly enough, United Features turned down the new strip as the author had developed it. Instead, they offered syndication to Watterson only if he agreed to include the "Robotman" character, which had been created to merchandise a range of products. "Not knowing if 'Calvin and Hobbes' would ever go anywhere, it was difficult to turn down another chance at syndication," Watterson related to Andrew Christie in a Honk! interview. "But I really recoiled at the idea of drawing somebody else's character. It's cartooning by committee, and I have a moral problem with that. It's not art then." Once again unemployed as a cartoonist, Watterson started sending "Calvin and Hobbes" around. Universal Press Syndicate eventually accepted it, and "Calvin and Hobbes" was formally introduced on November 18, 1985. It enjoyed rapid success; after less than three years in syndication, "Calvin and Hobbes" was appearing in more than six hundred newspapers, and Something under the Bed Is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection stayed on best-seller lists for almost a year.
"Calvin and Hobbes" deals with the well-covered ground of family and relationships but focuses mainly on the deep friendship between the hyperactive Calvin and the calmer Hobbes. Calvin "is the personification of kid-dom," as R. C. Harvey described him in Comics Journal. "He's entirely self-centered, devoted wholly to his own self-gratification. In pursuit of this completely understandable childhood goal, Calvin acknowledges no obstacle, no restraint. His desire and its satisfaction are all that matter to him." On the other hand, Hobbes often warns Calvin against causing trouble, or competes against him in games. But even if the tiger seems to resist Calvin's schemes, he always remains the boy's best friend.
An extraordinary imagination isn't the only thing that distinguishes Calvin from other children. "I've never sat down to spell it out," Watterson remarked to Paul Dean in a Los Angeles Times interview, "but I guess [Calvin's] a little too intelligent for his age. The thing that I really enjoy about him is that he has no sense of restraint, he doesn't have the experience yet to know the things that you shouldn't do." Hobbes "is a little more restrained, a little more knowledgeable," the author continued, because he has "a little bit of that sense of consequence that Calvin lacks entirely." Together, Calvin and Hobbes "are more than the sum of their parts," the author told Richard West in Comics Journal. "Each ticks because the other is around to share in the little conspiracies, or to argue and fight with.… Each is funnier in contrast to the other than they would be by themselves."
Bright youngsters are common in the comics and can lead to stale, overused storylines. "But rather than follow the easy formula of keeping Calvin an obnoxious but funny little kid, Watterson takes chances and explores other facets of his character," Solomon explained. For instance, in one series Calvin tries to save a baby raccoon that has been injured and is left bewildered and hurt when it dies. Another sequence shows a scared Calvin turning to his parents for help in finding Hobbes, who has been lost. "I'll have a slapstick joke one day, a fantasy another day, a friendship, a sadness," Watterson told West. He elaborated: "My main concern really is to keep the reader on his toes, or to keep the strip unpredictable. I try to achieve some sort of balance… that keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen next and be surprised."
Another unique feature of "Calvin and Hobbes" is the quality of Watterson's artwork. "Watterson draws comic strips the way they should be drawn," Harvey claimed. "Much of his humor lies in the pictures. And in many of the individual strips, the words alone make no sense at all without the pictures." In addition, said Harvey, "not only does the humor usually arise from the words and pictures in tandem, the pictures alone, without words, are funny. Their energy makes them funny. Watterson's action sequences, particularly, are comically imaginative and inventive.…With increasing mastery of his supple brush, Watterson makes credible even the most fantastic of Calvin's daydreams." Solomon offered a similar assessment, noting that "Calvin and Hobbes" "continues the strongly pictorial tradition" of classic comics such as George Herriman's "Krazy Kat" and Watterson's childhood favorite, Walt Kelly's "Pogo." "Watterson's vivid drawings often don't require captions, as the characters' expressions and poses are all that's needed," Solomon claimed.
Another distinguishing quality of "Calvin and Hobbes" is its author's insistence on how it is sold and marketed. In 1987, when the series' first collection was published, Watterson refused to take part in a national public appearance tour to promote the book; he believed that the success of "Calvin and Hobbes" should rely only on the quality of his writing and drawing. The artist also ended talks on licensing the characters for T-shirts, toys, and other merchandise. "I'm happy that people enjoy the strip and have become devoted to it," Watterson told Harvey. "But it seems that with a lot of the marketing stuff, the incentive is just to cash in." As he further explained to West: "I'm not interested in removing all the subtlety from my work to condense it for a product. The strip is about more than jokes." Watterson's "only interest is drawing a good comic strip," Solomon stated. "This dedication and integrity seem sadly out of place in an era that exalts hype over substance, but his readers and the art of the newspaper comic strip are richer for it."
"The motivation is the work itself and having a job I've aspired to since I was a kid," Watterson revealed in the Los Angeles Times. "I wouldn't be doing this if I were just in it for the money." He commented to Christie: "I'd like to have the opportunity to draw this strip for years and see where it goes. It's sort of a scary thing now to imagine; these cartoonists who've been drawing a strip for twenty years. I can't imagine coming up with that much material. If I just take it day by day, though, it's a lot of fun, and I do think I have a long way to go before I've exhausted the possibilities." In 1991, however, Watterson took a sabbatical from drawing "Calvin and Hobbes" to rest and renew his motivations. He returned to the strip early in 1992, but took another nine-month sabbatical in 1994 to rejuvenate himself.
Watterson's cartoon never lost momentum, even during Watterson's extended breaks. The comic strip was regularly ranked among the top cartoons to appear in the newspaper and the books consistently appeared on bestseller lists. Few papers pulled the strip, and chose instead to rerun some of the old strips during Watterson's sabbaticals. Despite its popularity with millions of loyal readers, Watterson decided to end the strip on December 31, 1995. At the time of its termination, "Calvin and Hobbes" graced the pages of 2,400 newspapers worldwide, trailing only "Peanuts" and "Garfield." Watterson said in a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service article, "I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels." Though Watterson decided to end the strip, he will most likely continue his career as a cartoonist. He told David Astor in Editor and Publisher, "I consider it a great privilege to be a cartoonist. Cartooning is an art."
Calvin and Hobbes still retain some of their popularity. In 2001, Watterson released Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages, 1985-1995, a collection of the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip, complete with an introduction and comments by Watterson. The book accompanied an exhibit running at the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library from September 10, 2001, to January 15, 2002. Each of the thirty-six comic strips featured in the exhibit is displayed in the book in various stages of production.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Holmen, Linda, Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes, Playground Publications (Fargo, ND), 1993.
Booklist, November 15, 1992, review of The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, pp. 570, 584.
Bookwatch, March, 1992, review of Scientific Project Goes Boink, p. 1; March, 1993, review of The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, p. 1; January, 1994, review of The Days Are Just Packed, p. 5; November, 1996, review of It's a Magical World, p. 11.
Boy's Life, September, 1993, p. 46.
Comics Journal, March, 1989.
Editor and Publisher, February 8, 1986; December 3, 1988; May 27, 1989; November 4, 1989; December 21, 1991, David Astor, "Size Requirements for 'Calvin and Hobbes:' More than a Dozen Papers Cancel the Sunday 'Calvin' Rather than Run It Half Page When Bill Watterson Sabbatical Ends," p. 40; March 7, 1992, David Astor, "Cartoonists Discuss 'Calvin' Requirement; Some of the Creators Interviewed by E&P Support Bill Watterson's New Sunday Size/Format Requirement While Others Oppose It," p. 34; March, 19, 1994, David Astor, "Watterson to Take Second Break from 'Calvin and Hobbes' Strip," p. 59; March 26, 1994, David Astor, "Mixed Response to Second Sabbatical: Artists and Editors Discuss Bill Waterson's Decision to Take Additional Time Off from 'Calvin and Hobbes,'" p. 30; January 7, 1995, David Astor, "Many Big Stories in the Syndicatioin Biz: Two of the Biggest Events Last Year Were the End of the 'Far Side' and the Purchase of 'Garfield,'" p. 66; November 18, 1995, "Strong Reaction to End of Comic Strip," p. 38; December 9, 1995, David Astor, "Comic Retirements: A Fluke or a Trend?," p. 30; November 5, 2001, David Astor, "'Calvin' Book Is the First One in Half-Decade," p. 24.
Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 1995, Casey Davidson and Jessic Shaw, "Exit," p. 16.
Honk!, January, 1987.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 10, 1994, David Hinckley, "Along with Trudeau and Watterson, Gary Larson Has Set the Standard"; November 14, 1995, "Comic Strips' Demise Is No Laughing Matter"; December 26, 1995, "'Calvin and Hobbes' Is Latest Comic Strip to Be Killed by Creator."
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1987; April 17, 1988; December 18, 1988.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 5, 1992, review of Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons, p. 10; December 6, 1992, review of The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, p. 39; November 19, 1995, review of The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, p. 6.
Mediaweek, December 4, 1995, Lewis Grossberger, "Hold That Tiger," p. 30.
Newsweek, December 7, 1992, review of The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, p. 71.
Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1994, Heather Vogel Frederick and Margaret Sanborn, "Cartoon Books Hit the Far Side; Many New and Mildist Toonsmiths Are Drawing a Wider Readership in a Field Dominated by a Handful of Hot Strips," p. 33; October 2, 1995, Daisy Maryles, "Behind the Bestsellers," p. 20.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1987.
Time, November 20, 1995, Belinda Luscombe, "Seen and Heard," p. 123.
Wall Street Journal, November 3, 1988.*