Deal With The Devil

What follows is an editorial opinion by me, the official Old Fart of the Webcomic Alliance.  This opinion is not shared by my fellow Alliance members.  I am stating this up front as my opinion is going to be used to drive home my point. Now that I’ve clarified this, let’s get to the point of my article.

Bill Waterson Is An Idiot.

Now, how could I have such a harsh opinion of Mr. Waterson?  I’ve never met the man personally, so I’ve formed this opinion based on his professional output.  “But, he created the highly successful and dearly loved comic ‘Calvin and Hobbes’!” you cry out in vain (no one can hear you, you’re sitting at a computer by yourself, silly), so how could I be so cruel?  Obviously, the ‘70s were harder on me than you thought, and you’re partially correct.  Here’s how I came up with my conclusion.

For ten years I was a rabid consumer of “Calvin and Hobbes”.  I would troll the bookstores looking for newly published collections.  I bought them all.  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  Ask the bookstore owner who I would annoy several times a year with the same question “Any new ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ books being released?”  These were the days before Amazon or eBay; the internet was still an infant in Al Gore’s eyes.  So to say the least, I was a diligent “Calvin and Hobbes” fan.

But my opinion is NOT about the comic, but about Waterson’s actions.  Waterson had the Holy Grail in his hand.  A wildly successful comic read by MILLIONS.  As a professional syndicated artist, he was at the top.  And while there, he did nothing but moan and complain.  He put his artistic values above his business sense.  Now, I can respect that he had strong feelings and stood his ground, but the thought of making MILLIONS of dollars on “Calvin and Hobbes” merchandise was appalling to him, and he let the artist in him rule the business side of his life.  That was a huge mistake, in my opinion.

He was handed a golden pen… his syndicate had done their job (and Waterson was well paid for his efforts)… but he let a notion that “selling out” his comic to merchandise (like mugs, t-shirts, toys, etc.) would ruin the artistic value of his creation.  I think that’s the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard.  Here’s why.  Once you sign the Deal with the Devil (the syndicate) essentially any artistic values are pushed to the side for creating a profitable product.  Yes, “Calvin and Hobbes” was nothing more than a product to the syndicate.  And it should have been the same with Mr. Watterson.  Charles Schulz understood this completely and thus why “Peanuts” to this day is still used in advertising and is still one of the more successful syndicated comics out there.  And Schulz has been dead for a while now, yet his legacy, and more importantly, his art, lives on.

Some of you will applaud that Waterson held his standards higher than making money.  But, Waterson missed the boat by letting his artistic values (whatever that means) control his business decisions.  A crucial mistake.  If he felt that strongly on the subject, then he should have never sold “Calvin and Hobbes” in the first place (Watterson was not a young, innocent man when he signed on to do the comic).   Of course, what are the odds that a comic about a little boy and his imaginary friend would become the biggest thing out there this side of Kim Kardashian’s buttocks?  Waterson suffered from buyer’s remorse big time.  He regretted doing it and thus why all the conflict with the syndicate over his decade long career.  Not only that, he made what should have been the best years of his professional life totally miserable with all the fighting and legal battles.  Truly unfortunate and completely unnecessary.

Using “Peanuts” again as an example, I can tell you my 15 year old son knows the comic, is reading the comic as well as enjoying the popular TV specials produced back in the 1960s.  Yet, he is not nearly as aware of “Calvin and Hobbes”.  No one is keeping it in front of the next generation.  In another 25 years, “Calvin and Hobbes” will go the way of Betty Boop or Felix the Cat.  Known amongst the artistic community, but lost to the general public.  Yet, Snoopy will still be selling insurance and those old TV specials will be viewed on networks and selling on iTunes and DVDs.  And more importantly, making Schulz’s estate MONEY.  Who could ask for more?  Not I.

Mr. Waterson, sir, you’re an idiot because you let the chance of a lifetime get away by thinking that merchandising your comic would ruin it.  Instead, I put it to you that that very notion has killed your comic for future generations to read and enjoy, and I think that is something you did not want to happen.  I for one will learn from your mistake and if anyone ever comes knocking with a large check in their hands, I will sign that deal (if it fits my business plan).

I have said it many times before; artists are the worst business people out there.  Take the time to educate yourself on the basics of business and don’t let your emotions control your decisions.  Easier said than done, but if you go into your artistic ventures with the correct mindset, you won’t be kicking yourself in the pants later on.

Oh, and Bill, call me, I’d be happy to consult you on your next venture.  🙂

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63 Comments

  1. More like “Becoming the Devil”. Am I right? Why are you so angry at Waterson? You want a Calvin toy that badly? Who cares! He’d rather future generations forget about Calvin and Hobbes then have C&H CGI garbage films voiced by Bill Purray. Intelligent people would not even bother to read the original then.

    • I’m not angry, nor do I want C&H toys… my point is KNOWING what you’re getting into. Waterson knew very well what he was getting into. Many comics before him had been marketed with merchandising of some sort or another, so this was no surprise to him.

      But, the Syndicate did their job… made the comic famous. Without them, Waterson would be an unknown. In return, Waterson turned his back on what was pretty much standard procedure.

      That’s my point… know what you’re getting into. Obviously, Waterson had his artistic values long before he signed the deal. But, in that moment of “Man, this is great!” as he signed a big syndicate deal, he forgot those values and set them aside. You can’t cry foul AFTER you’ve signed.

      He did, and it caused much ill-content between him, the newspapers and the syndicate. Plus, we lost a treasured comic way too early as those stresses finally made Waterson retired.

      So, we all lost.

  2. C&H will live on because there will always be fan boys screaming at the next webcomic that they are trying to copy the C&H formula or jokes.

    • We’re in the community that knows of comics like C&H as well as the ones I mentioned like Betty Boop and Felix the Cat, but the mainstream readers will not remember it. The kids growing up today on Sunday comics or even webcomics will not know of C&H.

      It’s just a fact that over time it will fade away and it didn’t have to, that was my point.

    • That’s all I heard my first year of making comics. The only reason I no longer get Calvin and Hobbes-fan death threats is because Hank and his family are far worse delinquents than Bill’s crew will ever be.

  3. I like the comparison to Peanuts, which is a merchandising powerhouse, but still maintains the integrity and spirit of Schulz’s art.

    I think Watterson was afraid that Calvin & Hobbes would become another Garfield, spawning HORRIBLE movies and crummy plastic toys. But that’s just one end of the spectrum, with Peanuts representing the other. Future generations, such as your son, will know Snoopy and the gang because they’re allowed to grow with current technology and pop culture, but reined in by the Schulz estate so that it doesn’t become cheap.

    I’m not sure what sort of deal with the “devil” Watterson made, but it seems he should have had some say as to what could be done with the characters. Even if it just went as far as creating soft plush versions of Hobbes or having a float in the parade, it would leave more of a legacy than reprints in these ancient things called “books”.

    I appreciate the “artistic integrity” and his views of the ever-decreasing size of the comics page, but Watterson signed on with the syndicate to make money with his art and to get it in the public eye, period. It’s selfish of him to stifle his masterpiece from entertaining people in this century or hinder his own family from enjoying the benefits of it even after he’s gone.

    • Well said and dead on! Thanks!

      Yes, I’m sure Waterson would have had some approval of what would be done with C&H merchandising, just like Schulz did (and his estate today).

    • I’m sorry but that is pure nonsense. C&H was HIS creation. It’s not selfish to stop the comic or want to see it stay true to his vision. It’s HIS, not yours, not the syndicates. He made MILLIONS from this creation. How much &^%$ing money does he need? He’s living comfortably and he’s not “stopping” anyone from enjoying his creation. Go buy one of the many C&H books available today. They’re available anywhere you like.

      Everybody made a boatload of money from C&H. It’s not wrong for Watterson to try to stop everybody and their monkey from milking the franchise until the public is so sick and tired of the character that they want to throw up. It’s not as if the syndicate is going broke because they can’t merchandise C&H. I’m willing to be that even without merchandising, it was their most profitable franchise for years.

      In a world full of business exploitation of every popular creation to hit the market, it’s damned refreshing to see a creator stand up and say “NO. You’re not going to abuse my creation and destroy this thing that is dear to me.”

      I really don’t understand how anyone can fault a guy for wanting to protect something he nurtured and poured his heart and soul into for over a decade. I mean, come on.

      • Watterson gave up those rights (or some of them) when he signed the deal with the Syndicate, that’s why. Pick up any volume of C&H… who owns the copyright? Yes, the Syndicate, not Watterson. It is a standard in music, animation and, yes, comics to give up control of your product (comic) once you sign the deal. How many movies have gone soooo far astray from the original author’s vision? Why? He/she lost that control when they sold the rights away. Watterson sold C&H to his Syndicate. I am assuming he knew full well what he was getting into as the Syndication method has been around for a long time.

        Is it right for the Syndicate to do that? No, but it’s the game that’s played. You play it or you don’t. He chose not to play anymore and more power to him.

        We had a long exchange over on Google-Plus so I’ll be brief here, but the whole point of the article was to bring to light that artists will have to make decisions and to carefully weigh your personal beliefs with your artistic values.

        I am using a lot of editorial license by calling him an idiot and it is used only to stress my point: Business savoy is just as important as your artistic values

        But I also want to add that I know we all have the right to do what we want and stand up for what we feel is correct and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

        • Sure, business savvy is important… if you have a choice. Watterson really didn’t until he gained enough clout to fight back. The might of the syndicate does not make them right. Was it the right decision? Well, that’s only for Bill to answer. It was, and is, his call. It’s not as if the syndicate lost money on C&H because of his decision. It was wildly profitable for them. But they wanted it to be MORE profitable. At some point, when is it enough? That’s my point. Watterson made the right choice for HIM. And frankly, it’s a choice that will forever make C&H one of the top two comic strips of all time, if not the greatest of all time.

          And I think that’s a great thing. He did what was necessary to get C&H into the public eye but he didn’t take whatever the syndicate shoved down his throat and smile about it. He fought to maintain his vision, as all great creators should.

  4. I’ve read some of his opinions on merchandising, animation etc. but never really understood what all the fuss was about. I suppose there is something to be said for artistic integrity but seems to me like handing back the winning lottery ticket.

  5. I think the worst part of Waterson’s approach to merchandising is that if he’d exercised some cautious control and allowed some merchandise he’d could’ve at least guaranteed some quality. He could have had a few well produced plush toys, a coffee cup or two, and maybe a few t-shirts.

    As it stands now the ‘merchandise’ legacy of Calvin and Hobbes is a sticker of Calvin peeing on Ford/Chevy/College or Pro sports logo of your choice in the back window of a truck. The syndicate’s legal team could have vigorously protected the placement of Calvin’s image on products, and come down HARD on those that used the image without permission or license.

    What harms the legacy of the strip more, officially sanctioned quality products or the pirated and tasteless pee stickers?

  6. Is it possible that syndication was the only way to gain an audience in the pre-web world? (I’m asking honestly, because I really don’t know)

    • To get to the level that Waterson obtained, Syndication is the ONLY way to achieve it. Independent comics were a joke at the time. We wouldn’t be here talking about C&H if it weren’t for the work that the Syndicate did.

  7. I always gave him props, but if I were in his position, merchandise away! Seeing my characters as plushes would be an AWESOME moment for me. I don’t really see merchandise as “cheapening” the comic, it just promotes it and gives it exposure.. and hopefully deepens/solidifies the love for the comic for anyone who buys a piece of it. It’s a commercial business anyway, if you want the fine artist cred & environment, make paintings of a little boy and his imaginary tiger friend…. see if they sell.

  8. WOW! I was also on that sinking ship ride. I took the exact same path. Reflecting back on it just reminds me of such a terrible decision on my part. I am just barely crawling back out of the depths right now. Should of taken the deal way back then. But enough about spilled milk. Onward and Upward.

    • Then you are the person I wrote this article for. Evaluate the deal with your emotions set aside. REALLY hard to do as our creations are a part of us. But, the business side of you has to take over and go “Hey, good deal, don’t blow it.” and then carry on.

      I hope onward and upward works out for you!

  9. Hey, if Waterson does call you, be sure to let us know where he lives now! I have a letter I want to send him

    *glances at the big mess of papers on his desk*

    …somewhere

    • He’s a recluse now, which explains a lot about how he handle the fame of C&H. So, this was a path that was unavoidable unfortunately.

      If he does call, I’ll let you know. 🙂

      Don’t hold your breath.

      • The only time you will ever see Mr. Waterson is on the DVD series that is being put together called, STRIPED: A Comic Documentary.

        But, think of it this way. Seeing how Marvel or DC or both are going after old time creators of favourite comic characters. I can see why Mr. Waterson would want to protect his vision, but you don’t try to be a cartoonist and syndicated at that unless you wanted to make money…

  10. Merchandising isn’t all that bad. In fact, popular comics like Dilbert allow you to pick any of their archived comics to put on mugs and bumper stickers. Sites like Cafepress make it easy for artists to hand-pick a few comics or slogans to sell as t-shirts without having to deal with production, inventory and shipping. If he were still in the business today, we’d be rolling in C&H gear. But that’s not why he left. He left the business because he made enough money and was satisfied to let his characters die so he could go sit on a beach.

  11. Just think of what he could have done with all that money.
    All his hew and cry over the state of the art form/industry etc., He could have funded all three of the comic art museums we have in this country. He could have funded grants for young cartoonists. Say what you will about Garfield, Jim Davis employs lot of people in his empire. Charles Schultz has his own museum. Jeannie Schultz is a major supporter of the Comic Art Museum in San Francisco.
    THIS is where I feel he failed.
    But I’ll always love the comics he gave us.

    • Another GREAT point and well said. Take the money and do good with it. Create jobs, fund the arts… make it possible for others to travel the path he did and share in those values too.

      Alas, we’ll never have that chance.

      And I am *still* a huge C&H fan… love the comic. It’s Waterson’s attitudes that ruffle my feathers.

  12. I don’t think C&H would spawn awful movies and cartoons like Garfield has, because C&H was actually a multidimensional, excellently drawn and written comic, not a tired, 5 joke strip like Garfield remains. Jim Davis has a compound that basically prints money, while Bill Waterson is a recluse. If he understood that he could continue to make his art while corporations turned it into an industry, perhaps we might still be reading C&H today. I’m no businessman, I’m still at a point where I feel giving my stuff away for free or almost free just to get it out there or to make some kid at a con grin, but if Universal came along and wanted to make a cartoon film about my pup, I’d be sure to find a way to make it happen while keeping control of my “artistic integrity”.

    I’m not knocking Jim Davis, he started out like we all do, with paper, pens and a dream, he just made excellent business decisions when opportunity knocked. I never even really liked Garfield, but I had one sticking to the side window of my ’71 Hornet (my first car, may she rest in pieces). Just because I’m not a fan of his work doesn’t mean I don’t respect his work. I’d love to have a fraction of his success.

    Um, to sum up…. I agree, Byron. Great article!

    • Garfield has gone on way too long. I loved it for the first ten years, because the characters evolved, the art was upgraded, new characters introduced, etc. But since then it’s become a very saddening retread of lasagne jokes over and over. It’s painful to even look at anymore. I’d feel the same way about Peanuts if it had ever been edgy or funny. But C&H could easily have gone on another ten years with new and fresh material if Bill had wanted to.

      • Too true, Randy. I think the best evidence of how tired it has gotten is “Garfield minus Garfield”, where the strips take on a new life and are interesting with the main character taken out of them. That’s gotta tell you something, amiright?

        • That’s true Chris, but just to show you the brilliant media mind of Jim Davis… instead of sicking his massive team of lawyers on to the creator of “Garfield without Garfield”, s Jim Davis do instead? He TEAMS UP with the creator of GWOG so he can make MORE MONEY!

          BRILLIANT!

  13. While Watterson may not have gone down the merchandising road with Calvin and Hobbes, the books certainly have been repackaged enough I wonder if he even needed to?

    If he were to come out tomorrow and say “Hey everyone, look what I made!” and he releases a new Clavin short story poem as an ebook for $2, how rediculously crazy would it sell?

    Simply because he has denied us of new products for the last twenty or so years.

    This is a fantasy scenario obviously, but it’s something I’ve wondered about.
    Was he really a merchandising madman, or genius?

    • From what I’ve read, he’s done with C&H. If he were going to do something with it, I am sure it would have been done by now.

      But, yes, what a plan it would be to hold it ransom for a couple decades, build up a feverish fan base for it and then release new material.

      If he’s planning that… then this whole article is for not as he would be a freaking genius!
      😛

  14. I don’t think I’d go as far as to call Mr. Watterson an idiot, but I do wish he could have at least allowed merchandise of the printed kind (calendars, shirts, etc…). I also have every collection of C&H comics that was released and love to read them over and over. It was a magical strip that, in my opinion, will always set that so hard to reach bar. I wish my comic was half as good. I can appreciate your opinion but my respect and admiration of Bill Watterson, as a true artist of the genre, will always stand.

    • Well, I am calling him an idiot mostly for effect but also for the way he treated the syndicate (who did their end of the bargain by making him famous).

      I said it before and I will again, I love the comic and his talents… they are unequaled to this day.

      It’s his business savoy that I question and am hoping others will not make the same mistake.

      Honestly, I believe he would have been so much happier NOT signing the deal… but with that much on the line, it would be hard to turn down.

  15. He is an idiot for retiring from something he no longer enjoyed?
    Or he is an idiot for staying true to the vision he had for his creation?
    Or he is an idiot for allowing his values to creep into a business decision?

    • The third one, Keith. Business is business. C&H was product, nothing more, nothing less. But as Waterson’s creation, he held it to a higher standard than what was already the norm and usual practices.

      He knew what he was getting into, this came as no surprise, so for him to wave his “artistic values” flag AFTER he made it big was BS. He should have waved it up front, but, since Waterson was NOT an idiot, he knew darn well if he pulled that stunt up front, we would not be having this discussion now.

  16. This is a downer of an article. I realize it’s an opinion piece, and you are welcome to it, but if anything I think Bill has probably been the shrewedest businessman of all modern comic artists. Licensing is the name of the game when it comes to syndicated strips, but what stunts he must have pulled, what brass balls he must have pulled out to get his way while he drew the comic for 10 years.

    Bill knew what he was getting into, yes, but it’s clear that he *loved* doing comics; the way he used the format, the coloring in his Sunday strips, the bold, confident inklines and the hilarious visuals plainly show that he knew what he was getting himself into and *he did it anyway*. If even a quarter of the syndicated artists felt the same way about their craft as Watterson did, the comics page would be in a lot better shape than it is now.

    Watterson denying the licenses to his work definitely isn’t a smart *business* move, but it clearly is something that he didn’t want. Art (and comics are art) is meant to satisfy the needs of the artist, and if Watterson wasn’t happy with plush Hobbeses and animated Calvinses, I can guarantee you the strip itself would have taken a hit and would not be as creatively pure and enjoyable in its entire run as it was.

    Calvin and Hobbes didn’t need a merchandising blitz to be good, it just is. The Far side was, in many ways, the opposite of Calvin and Hobbes and Gary Larson only went for 10 years, too. Watterson fulfilled with Calvin and Hobbes what he wanted to do, and I think that’s the reason we won’t see more of it. An artist doesn’t need to make thousands of dollars on calendars and greeting cards to consider himself a success.

    • Again, I am using my opinion as a catalyst for a conversation, which it has done very well. The article is not a downer, it should open your eyes at how you, as a creator, wish to handle your creation (product).

      I have already acknowledged Waterson’s talents and his ability to stand to his ground, but we have a lot of new comic creators here, and one or more of them may someday end up a syndicated artist of some sort. Having not only great artistic values, but a good business sense too is the point I’m making.

      If he didn’t want those things for his comic, then he chose the wrong path for Calvin and Hobbes. Unlike today though, in the 1980s syndication was really the only way to go. So, he made his Deal with the Devil then bitched about it.

      I think he ended the comic not because he had done what he wanted, but rather he wore himself out from all of the battles. Read the forwards of his books, they are filled with his battles and you can just feel his anguish and pain. And that saddens me as it was totally unnecessary.

      Waterson was way ahead of his time, for as a Webcomic creator, he’d have complete total control and still achieve a great deal of success AND sustain his artistic values without any fighting with a syndicate.

      So I say to Bill, come back to comics and do what you do best… and that is to create a wonderful universe for us all to enjoy and marvel at.

  17. After reading his interviews extensively and his biography, it always sounded more to me like the art form he loved was editorial cartooning, and being fired from the Cincinnati paper left him permanently disillusioned and bitter. When I read his description of his battles with the syndicates, I keep feeling like the one who comes off as unrealistic, over-demanding and stubborn is Watterson. When he quit to work on his fine art watercolors I waited patiently to see some come on the market and none have surfaced that I know of… That rumor that he works on them constantly and then burns them afterward has made me lean less “idiot” and more “Howard Hughes”.

    • Ah, the tormented soul… yes, I can see that. Artist genius often brings with it its share of craziness and paranoia. And unfortunately it seems Waterson has his demons.

      Good points.

  18. It is his comic property to do whatever he wishes with it.

    He became independently wealthy from this creation and felt what he had was enough!

    Because Calvin and Hobbes aren’t in a Met Life commercial doesn’t mean they aren’t as great as they were 20 years ago (or will be twenty years in the future)…

    The cool thing is he didn’t have to make t-shirts dishes calenders and toilets. Some of us would kill for this choice!

    ArrOOoo!

    • There is where everyone is wrong… Watterson did NOT own Calvin and Hobbes. The Syndicate did. Check the copyright in every book folks, it belongs to the Syndicate.

      That’s the problem with signing the Deal with the Devil. You exchange CONTROL for a paycheck. In Watterson’s case, it turned into a HUGE paycheck. C&H was not his do with as he pleased… he gave up that right when he sold it to the Syndicate.

      This is true for almost anything out there (film scripts, animation, music). The only exception really (that I can think of at the moment) are literary authors. They sign away First Publication rights only. The film/TV rights (usually) remains with the author.

      So, let’s drop the “C&H was Watterson’s do as he wished” argument as it holds no water.

      And that’s not the point of the article anyway. I want you to THINK before you sign. And if you do make the Deal with the Devil, then accept what it is and perform the contract, get it done and move along.

      I still say the saddest thing is Watterson spent so much negative energy fighting the Syndicate that he ruined what should have the best years of his career. So I hope you all learn from that mistake. I know I have.

      • “There is where everyone is wrong… Watterson did NOT own Calvin and Hobbes. The Syndicate did. Check the copyright in every book folks, it belongs to the Syndicate.”

        And there in lies the trouble with syndicates, or any large publisher they claim ownership of something that comes from the depths of your creative mind. It’s not a new story, look at what DC did to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and what Marvel did to Jack Kirby.

        Anyone old enough to remember the creators bill of rights? Maybe you should right an article on that Byron, if you want to raise awareness of the rights that creators have then that would be a great place to start.

        • Okay, this isn’t about artist’s rights… that’s a whole BOOK in of itself. This is about making business decisions. Big or little, you as an artist will have to make them.

          Here’s a REALLY simple example:

          1- You, the Artist, create a painting.

          2- You offer that painting for sale.

          3- It is sold to a Client… but here’s the catcher, you the Artist sold all rights to that painting in exchange for royalties.

          4- After a while, the painting becomes worth more in money because your Client displayed it in a prominent fashion… as promised.

          5- The Client reproduces said painting and sells them, giving you a portion of each sale. The Client makes millions and you make millions too.

          6- Now the Client wants to put that painting in a collection of calendars. It’s the Client’s right as you SOLD all RIGHTS to the painting to him in exchange for the royalties of the sales of said painting. You, the Artist, knew you sold all rights, so it is no surprise that the Client now wants to do this.

          7- But, showing the painting in that fashion offends the Artist’s “artistic values” and the Artist sues the Client to stop such actions.

          8- The Client is confused as the Artist sold ALL rights and is/was well paid for those rights.

          See? This is what I’m saying. Don’t make the Syndicate out the big, bad company here. Know what you’re doing. Before a big check is waved in front of your face, know where you stand with your values. If you never want your stuff shown in that fashion, then DON’T SELL IT! Prepare yourself for that point in time and put your business hat on and balance it with your values.

          That’s all I’m saying.

          • I don’t necessarily disagree with you, except on the point that this isn’t about artists rights. It’s all about Artists Rights, you even say so in you closing paragraph. The ultimate exercise in creators rights is to take your ball and go home.

            If you as an artist know you have certain rights then maybe you’ll be less likely to sign that “Deal with the Devil*”.

            I think we, in this wild world of webcomics, tend to take Creator Rights less seriously than our brethren in the print industry. None of us, or at least not many, are locked into a bad work-for-hire situation and so the idea of someone else owning our work is a pretty foreign concept to most of us. But that also means we are probably more likely to sign a bad contract. So basically what I am saying is that while I don’t agree with the basic idea of Bill Waterson being an idiot, I think it’s important that you wrote this article.

            By the way, I really do think folks should read up on the Creators Bill of Rights, it’s rather fascinating reading about how and why it came into being.

            *I think you are the one who demonized the syndicates first. :-p

  19. This is harsh sir Byron, harsh but very well said. As an artist, I find it hard to understand the business of anything (my wife runs these for me). I always tell her that I do not want more money, I want my art to do the talking.

    I feel like an idiot now but after reading this, I want to change.

    • Well, the whole point is for us (you, me, all artists) to achieve a balance of our artistic values and the business side.

      If Watterson (or any artist) wants TOTAL control over a work, then he/she needs to independently produce, distribute and sell that work… if indeed they want to sell it at all. Perhaps you just want it viewed and enjoyed. Whatever the desired outcome of the project, then do it yourself.

      BUT… and this is a HUGE but… You sign a deal as Watterson did AND then turn your back on the syndicate AFTER they’ve done their work (make the comic popular) then that’s just idiotic and asking for trouble (which it did).

      Thanks for reading!

      • I am not familiar with what you sign away when you sign on with a syndicate?

        Is it just the right to sell your strip to different publications?

        Or is it the right to licence your strip and all characters and their likeness to anyone willing to pay?

        ArrOOoo!

        • I have opened a can of worms here, and that’s a good thing! I now have many more articles to write to answer all the questions from this one!

          I have never read a syndication contract, so I cannot address that exactly. But, in general, once you sell your creation to someone, it is their’s… unless the contract has specific clauses stating exemptions.

          My understanding is, that a big level syndication contract like what Watterson would have signed back in 1985, he would have sold all rights to the comic away. He would produce the comic to the Syndciate’s standards (changing dialog, etc, as requested). Watterson mentions these things in a couple of his books. If he had total control (as some have said here) then the Syndicate couldn’t demand such changes.

          Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t stand up to them, but at least know what YOU want and where you’ll take a stand.

          I don’t fault Watterson for making a stand, but I feel he drove himself nuts doing it as he just seemed to take it too far (in my opinion).

  20. I preface this by saying that, much like he was for you Byron, Watterson is one of my biggest inspirations. In fact his work, along with Jim Davis and others is why I’ve decided to do my new comic in the traditional fashion. With that all being said… (Lord forgive me as I anger the cartooning deities) You are being SOFT on Watterson.

    Not only are you correct by saying he left millions on the table, which he did, and as a businessman he made every mistake in the book. Also, one thing that needs to be mentioned is that Bill is an INSANELY private person. We are talking, “Walden’s Pond” kind of private here (kids look it up.)So in that, I can see how he may not want to see his work everywhere he went. However, even with taking that into consideration, I think Bill was selfish with his creation.

    I know right now that saying that is heresy of the highest cartooning order, but hear me out. Calvin & Hobbes could have been a huge success commercially, and if he didn’t want Calvin to be riding his sled down to a car dealership to pick up the newest Ford, I get that. But honestly think about how many young artists he could have inspired if there had been a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon, or art books, or t-shirts. I fell madly in love with Garfield comics as a kid BECAUSE of the cartoons I watched when I got home from school. I rushed out and bought my first Peanuts collection because of the Holiday specials that I watched every year. And I say this with all the respect in the world to both of those franchises, but when it comes to the consistent quality of the cartoons, they don’t hold a candle to Bills’ work.

    Can you imagine how fantastic a Calvin & Hobbes Christmas special would be. Think of how many families would make THAT a tradition. Imagine how well a cartoon that focused on Calvins’ notorious imagination and his love with his best buddy Hobbes would do today. At some point it stops being about “the art” or the purity of the craft. When you reach THAT stratosphere, it’s about the good you can do and touching as many lives as possible.

    Comics are a fantastic medium, you already know that (if not, how in the hell did you land on THIS site?) but they are a medium that will always play second fiddle to cartoons. Imagine how many more lives Bill could have touched had he let capable hands adapt his work. Sure, there would more then likely be lunchboxes, antennae balls and licensed jump drives, but there would also be an amazing piece of work, with a great message reaching millions more young kids. And the fact that he let the prior deter him from the latter is why I honestly think Mr. Watterson dropped the ball.

    Thanks for writing this Byron, and before I go. I’m not looking to troll up the website of my good friends at the WA, this is just one cartoonist, and super fan of Bill’s work voicing his opinion.

  21. One of the main reasons that I decided to go ahead and create a webcomic was because I had read some statements made by Aaron MacGruder that spoke of him hating making his comic.

    Here was a guy who was living my lifelong dream, and he absolutely abhorred it. He says the stress of creating the strip was actually giving him physical ailments. He stated that the deadlines made it impossible for him to have a normal life. I would have killed for the chance!

    Plus, he said that he was tired of trying to think up new concepts, then having to redo them or having his creations boycotted (like Doonesbury) from time to time.

    I viewed the situation and said what we all would say.

    “If I had the chance, I’d do it totally different, plus I’d do it better!”

    So, I decided to go ahead and make ADDANAC CITY as a webcomic series. I figured that most, if not all, syndicated cartoonists create comics seven-days-a-week, then I would too. Heck, I’d even do mine in color.

    It was like I was making the comic strip version of Morgan Spurlock’s old flick, Super-Size Me. Would crafting 365 full-color comics a year kill me? Let’s find out.

    Three-plus years later, I’m still here making color comics (some of them the size of skyscrapers). I’ve never missed an update (yet). I’m not bragging by any means. My only competition is the promise I made myself to keep at it. I can give up anytime I want to. Nobody’s paying me to do this.

    Now, I imagine how much more fun this would be if I did receive a steady (even exorbitant) check each week for doing this. I’d probably work even harder. 🙂

    So, yeah, Byron, I certainly see your point about Watterson. He had the Glory Hole placed right where he wanted it, but he wanted no parts of it. That’s going to get some creators who never reached that status quite peeved.

    We all come into this game for a reason: riches, notoriety, therapy. Hopefully, we can get what we want out of it before the desire burns out.

    • I knew from day one I would never attempt to become a syndicated artist. Too many rules. So, I am unwilling to make the deal with the devil just for a large paycheck. So, does that make me a better artist then Watterson? I am staying true to my beliefs and not “selling out”, so by everyone’s arguments here, that makes me a better artist. What a bunch of crap.

      I admire your work and your work ETHIC, George. You put pen to paper and just do it. No whining. 7 days a week. So, the rest of us can just stop complaining as it can be done! Rock on, man!

  22. I absolutely agree with this – and this notion of keeping your artwork pure by not selling out is the main reason that many artists don’t make a living doing what they love. Iggy Pop was grilled for this when one of his songs (I think it was Lust for Life was used in a commercial). His response was that as long as the song was not “commercially conceived” initially, that he felt comfortable making money from it later in an ad (I’m also assuming that he would have to be comfortable with the product).

    Another musician I admire is Amanda Palmer who willingly she experiments with her art and how she manages to promote and fund herself – and then is transparent about that process so that other artists can benefit from her experience.

    I also don’t get why visual artists seem to be uncomfortable with selling merchandise related to their products – musicians see t-shirts as part of the business.

    I love Calvin and Hobbes, but I think Waterson was probably both a victim as well a someone who perpetuated the myth that making a living from your art (other than selling books, original art and prints) is selling out – whatever that means.

    • Selling out is a term for folks who have no business sense.

      Technically Watterson “sold out” the moment he signed the Syndicate contract. It was no longer “his” comic, but the Syndicates. If you’ve studied entertainment contracts (musicians, actors, comics, whatever) the “product” is no longer yours. “Star Trek” did not ever “belong” to Gene Roddenberry. Movies, TV shows, cartoon, record albums, all belong to the studios/syndicates. The creators have some control, but very little.

      So, the “Watterson didn’t want to sell out” argument holds no water. He had already sold out… when he made the “deal with the devil”.

  23. Waterson is the one who lost out on the millions, not you Byron. Why so mad?

    Perhaps Calvin and Hobbes would have been great as stuffed fuzzy dolls, but then it goes on to tv commercials and cheaply made Saturday morning cartoons, etc., maybe he just didn’t want to open that door because once the door is open, it turns into a fast moving train.

    And you’re standing up for the Syndicate? The syndicates have been using and abusing the talent since day one. They usually own everything and control everything and take a large percentage, more than any Hollywood agent would be allowed to take. And they decide who is talented and who is not? They play God.

    And Waterson left when he felt it was time to go, not like these tired old strips that should have been retired decades ago. Going out on top is the best thing to do and not selling out, which is what he felt the merchandising was all about, is what he felt is what he needed to fight for.

    In the end, it was his comic, his decision and his life. It’s amazing that we’re talking about it so many years later.

    • I’m not defending the Syndicate. He signed a contract, they did their job making C&H a household name… something Watterson could not have done without their leverage. When it came time to pay the piper, he whined about it, threw a tantrum (threatening to pull the comic is just like a 3-year-old falling down in a store and screaming for a toy) and eventually retired, in my opinion, early. 10 years? He could have easily been on top creating quality stuff for another 10 years (others have done it). He shorted himself, the Syndicate AND HIS READERS. You all should be mad about that point, but somehow you’re not.

      The merchandising argument gets blown out of proportion to easily (if one more person mentions cheap cartoons, I’m gonna spit). Watterson proved he could control the syndicate, he could have just as easily controlled what products were and were not manufactured. By that argument, you could say the book anthologies don’t represent the comic in their true state as they were meant to be read in a newspaper. Nonsense, every bit of it.

      Focus on my point. He made the deal then backed out. That’s not good business. What’s he done since? Nothing. He’s a hermit. He probably was BEFORE Calvin and Hobbes. My point is he should have thought twice before committing to a syndicate contract. That’s my real point … think before making that deal with the Devil.

  24. Here’s the biggest joke of all, people… in an alternate universe, somewhere in the mid-west, there’s an amusement park and in that amusement park, you get to ride Spaceman Spiff’s rocket. You get to ride a T-Rex roller coaster. And every winter, they have a special “Snowman War” area where you can walk through various displays of morbid decimations of snow men – AND IT’S THE MOST POPULAR PART OF THE PARK. But at the very end, you can also ride the Hobbes Sled… another roller coaster that emulates the wagon or sled rides of Calvin and Hobbes.

    You can even buy refreshments at various lemonade stands located throughout the park.

    But best of all… at every single amusement park game, you can win your very own Hobbes stuffed tiger.

    And the Waterson World also owns Marvel and cranks out awesome super hero movies every year.

    Now, I ask you, wouldn’t THAT be a TOTALLY awesome universe to live in???

    🙂

    • Or in another universe Waterson World becomes the most expensive park ever created by Universal studios and who is unable to recoup it’s initial investment and has to close the park. It then puts on Calvin and Hobbes the musical at it’s Burbank Universal Studios amusement park. Wouldn’t that be awesome.

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