Before I go any further, for those that may not be familiar with this film, I offer up the trailer:
Let’s face it, as soon as you see the title you realize that director Joel Allen Schroeder is essentially going to be giving you a love letter. That’s fine. It doesn’t bill itself as a “change-the-face-of-all-you-hold-dear-forever.” Interviews are seen with fellow professional cartoonists, scholars, authors and some behind the scenes management types (including Lee Salem and John Glynn of Universal Press Syndicate). We see the director viewing and handling Watterson’s originals, most of which were permanently donated to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum of Ohio State University.
We hear the obligatory, “What the strip meant to me.” moments. We get the whole best drawn strip ever, class to himself, one-of-a-kind moments. We do not, however, learn anything new about the ultra reclusive Watterson himself.
A lot of the movie (more than I expected) was dedicated to Watterson’s decision to not license any of his C&H characters. As a non-professional I never understood why he wouldn’t want to cash in on that potential financial bonanza. As a kid, I would’ve LOVED a stuffed Hobbes toy.
A casual glance around my drawing board area I can see a Peanuts mug holding markers. Above that, there’s a Peanuts clock with Charlie Brown and Snoopy on the face. Next to my drawing board I have a mini replica of the sad Christmas tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Having all this merchandise doesn’t make me like Peanuts more or less than Calvin and Hobbes.
Looking at it now, I suppose I understand his decision. The only interpretation of the characters that’s available are those strips. We don’t have dvd sets of the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon, no Calvin & Hobbes mugs full of milk to dunk my Hobbes shaped cookies in. The image is “pure”. If there were all those things, would we be talking about the strip like this… 18 years after it ended? Would we still be talking about Watterson were he not such a recluse? His silence, save for the occasional book introduction or written interviews here and there have completely fueled the legend.
My fellow Alliancer, W. Byron Wilkins feels that Watterson really missed an opportunity to make his comic more. I agree with Byron that Bill ignored a business opportunity for the sake of artistic integrity. Ask the hundreds of Golden Age comic book artists and writers who earned pennies a page if they’d take artistic integrity over a nice payment promising financial security. Watterson had the luxury of being popular and really good at what he did. He could afford to turn something down. That being said, I don’t hate the man for depriving my childhood of a Hobbes plushie. I don’t understand his logic, but I’m sure my logic isn’t easily understood either.
Nevin Martell recounts in his book, Looking for Calvin & Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip, recounts a moment following Bill Watterson’s last public appearance — May 20, 1990 giving the commencement speech at his Alma Mater, Kenyon College:
Watterson’s former art professor, Martin Garhart, acting as “a chaperone and a bodyguard ,” remembers talking with Watterson that day. They were walking across the parking lot after the commencement; Watterson was clearly in a reflective mood and the concept of integrity came up. “Integrity is a really interesting word to try to handle,’ Garhart mused to me. “But on one level, it’s just doing what you say you’ll do and being honest with yourself.” He remembers being proud of his former student, telling him, “I can talk about integrity, but no one has ever offered me multi-million dollars to test it. But you’ve had that offer and you said no. I really admire that.” Watterson replied, “Enough is enough, and I have enough.” It was a short declaration, but it encapsulated Watterson’s resistance to licensing and celebrity. (p. 141)
Seeing this movie comes about at a weird time for me. Yes, I’ve had Bob the Squirrel merchandise since almost its inception in 2002. T-shirts, mugs, prints and of course the book collections. All this time, an idea for a Bob doll has been festering in my mind. As of late, demand (outside of my own head) hasincreased for a Bob doll. The advent of crowd funding capabilities has made this vision somewhat more possible. If I had Watterson’s opportunity, I can’t say for certain that I would dive into everything licensable…but I would be sure to look at everything that was in front of me.
All in all, the movie was entertaining. It was worth the iTunes download and then some. A casual viewer, familiar with the strip but not necessarily in the industry may not get the same thing that I got out of it. The filmmakers have stated on the film’s official website:
This film is not a quest to find Bill Watterson, or to invade his privacy. It is an exploration to discover why his ‘simple’ comic strip made such an impact on so many readers in the 80’s and 90’s, and why it still means so much to us today. “
How do you know that something is good? You just know.
Source: Nevin Martell (2013). Looking for Calvin & Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Frank Page Frank Page is a cartoonist. Throughout his life, that is one thing that has never been disputed. In 2002, he created the comic strip Bob the Squirrel. The strip has been syndicated online through Universal Uclick/GoComics.com since 2004. Page has been staff cartoonist/graphic designer at the Rome Daily Sentinel, Rome,NY. He holds a BFA in illustration from Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, NY and a MFA in Visual Art with emphasis on Sequential Art from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT.
His work is enjoyed all over the world. can be seen daily at bobthesquirrel.com and squirrelosophy.com. He currently resides in Rome, NY where he can regularly be seen chasing his Jack Russell Terrier, Lucy, through the streets.