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. 🙂