February 28, 2014
Calvin & Hobbes creator breaks silence, releases new art
by Christopher King
Don’t get too excited—Calvin & Hobbes aren’t returning to print anytime soon. But a new documentary about newspaper comics, appropriately titled Stripped, has inspired Bill Watterson, the creator of the six-year-old boy and his feline friend, to come out of hiding.
Boasting the first-ever recorded interview with Watterson, Stripped traces the history of the comic strip as a medium and its evolution into the digital era. Via the The New York Times:
“In the right hands, a comic strip attains a beauty and an elegance that really I would put against any other art,” Mr. Watterson says in his interview. Mr. Schroeder said, “It seemed like he really wanted to express some thoughts about comics and cartooning, where they had been and where they are going.” The retired cartoonist was so pleased with the documentary that he also supplied the artwork for the poster of the film.
The Times debuted the poster art, which depicts a cartoonist scared out of his pants (literally) by news of the impending death of print.
Watterson granted a print interview to Mental Floss magazine last year, but has otherwise remained almost entirely out of the public eye since he retired Calvin & Hobbes in 1995. While many fans long for the return of the strip that was such a formative part of so many childhoods, I choose to see his “reclusiveness” (if opting out of licensing deals and mindless publicity must be termed such) as an inspiration in its own right. In a commencement speech at his alma mater, Kenyon College, in 1990, he laid out the guiding principles that informed his later decision to retire. His remarks are worth reading in full, but here’s a snippet:
…[H]aving an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
Watterson certainly seems to be happier for all of his trouble. That said, I won’t complain about new comic art from a master of the form.
Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.