My favorite comic strip of all time is Calvin and Hobbes. Artistically beautiful and compelling, hysterically funny, yet poignant without resorting to melodrama, it was everything a great comic strip should be. It was published in newspapers for 11 short years from 1985 to 1995. Yes, it was about a kid and his stuffed tiger, but it was always about so much more to me. It allowed me to laugh at life’s inconsistencies and illogical-ness and gave me insights to all the questions we have asked ever since we were kids ourselves. Its author, Bill Watterson, steadfastly refused to ever license his creation for profit.
That’s why it never ceases to anger me when I see a Calvin-like character peeing on something. It’s degrading and demeaning, and not funny – three things that this brilliant comic strip NEVER was.
On the 15th anniversary of the last published Calvin and Hobbes strip, the highly reclusive Bill Watterson gave a rare interview to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He explained his decision to end the strip:
“This isn’t as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of ten years, I’d said pretty much everything I had come there to say. It’s always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip’s popularity and repeated myself for another five, ten, or twenty years, the people now “grieving” for Calvin and Hobbes would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I’d be agreeing with them. I think some of the reason Calvin and Hobbes still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it. I’ve never regretted stopping when I did.”
In these times when everyone and his pet fish is looking for quick fame and even quicker fortune, and when untalented, over-marketed “stars” are squeezing every last penny out of their fifteen minutes of fame, it is truly refreshing to hear something so honest from someone who truly deserves all of his fame and fortune.
Watterson had an on-going, friendly back-and-forth with Berkeley Breathed (creator of another of my all-time favorite strips, Bloom County) in which he scathed Breathed for licensing his creations mercilessly to feed his more expensive habits. He had beliefs and had no problem sticking with them even when his friends and colleagues disagreed, even if he did it primarily through his art. That kind of character is what we need to admire. Instead, cable TV feeds us a regular diet of “reality” (is there really any label as inaccurate as this one?) and bombards us with images of ostentatious excess that have numbed us to the reality of who we are and what we can achieve together. We are so much better than we are portrayed.
Two of my personal favorites – what imagination!