Bill Watterson was a revolutionary in the comic book industry. His strip Calvin and Hobbes has endured despite being out of print for nearly twenty years. Despite his total disregard to advertise or expand his product beyond that of the strip itself. Watterson was content to let his strip stand on its own and stand it has with over 45 million of his books sold world wide.
His strip pushed the bar of what a strip should look like. Filled with action and movement. He was never content with panels of talking heads. But what is really unique about Watterson’s approach was his lack of merchandising. That alone is nearly enough to call Bill my hero. He never sold out, never was he tempted to build what might have been a billion dollar industry. (Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, has a net worth of 800 million.) Every time he was approached to merchandise a Calvin and Hobbes product he always felt it, “seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.”
I couldn’t agree more. Could you imagine seeing Calvin suction cupped to the back of every car window or buying a Hobbes toothbrush for your kids. Sure you could and you would too if given the option. And this is what scares me for as much as I love Calvin’s unremitting imagination and resistance to authority he also at times epitomizes everything that is wrong with our culture. From his short attention span to his obnoxious, self deserving narcissism. Is it right to idolize a character with such glaring and colorable flaws? This is of course the same reason I put Watterson in a class above the rest. He was never afraid to tackle real issues. To produce a punch line that not only helps you identify with reality and make you think but also make you wish you were a better person, or maybe you’ll just wish you were a tiger.
Ah yes, our thin bearded friend has found his way into the hearts of millions and I guess were it not for his flaws he’d just be another Susie Derkins down the street. His individuality, perhaps his best attribute, is what pulls at our heart strings. Ever since I was a we lad I’ve enjoyed Bill’s Comic strip and that excitement has recently enjoyed a renewal since my own kids first asked me to read them The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes. My passion has taken me as far as to stitch them up their own Hobbes stuffy, (which I secretly made for myself, and no its not for sale.) which I fashioned out of old t-shirts.
I hope my kids can hand down Hobbes to their kids one day as well as continue the tradition of reading the comics. I know that’s the way Bill would have wanted it.
P.S. There are a couple great tributes to Watersons work out there and I’ll just link to them here. One by Tom and Dan Heyerman called Hobbes and Bacon which is a look into Calvin’s future as a father. And the other by Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils using the dialogue, that Watterson himself wrote, in an introduction to The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Collection.