(Bill Watterson via GoComics.com)
The documentary “Dear Mr. Watterson” finally opens this weekend — the website has a list of showings, video-on-demand details, and purchase offers. (I’mma buy the DVD, because I’m old & staid.) You pretty much know whether you’ll be watching this already, but Andrew O’Hehir reviews it for Salon:
… Any “Calvin and Hobbes” fan will enjoy watching Schroeder’s film, which is more a love letter to the strip and its publicity-shy creator than anything else. “Dear Mr. Watterson” is a work of charming reportorial energy, in which Schroeder (who wrote, directed and edited the movie) interviews many prominent fans and friends of Watterson – including “Bloom County” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed and actor Seth Green – and handles original “Calvin and Hobbes” artwork now in a comics archive at Ohio State. Schroeder’s passion for the material comes through clearly, and he correctly identifies a note of ruefulness – a sort of American-Zen reflection on the ephemeral and transient nature of all experience – that runs through Calvin and Hobbes’ adventures even at their most joyful…
But Schroeder isn’t much of a comic-strip expert or historian, by his own admission, so “Dear Mr. Watterson” bounces off many of the most interesting issues in and around “Calvin and Hobbes,” noticing them but not exploring them deeply. As various of Watterson’s fellow cartoonists point out, “Calvin and Hobbes” was the last in a historical line of fanciful or allegorical newspaper comics that attracted a large popular audience while pushing at the artistic and conceptual limits of the form. This tradition goes back at least as far as Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” (which debuted in 1905) – a major formal and structural influence on Watterson — and then continues through George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” and Walt Kelly’s “Pogo,” still viewed by comics devotees as the two greatest newspaper strips of all time. Like each of those three pioneers, Watterson treated the full-color, large-format Sunday comic as a zone of free-form experimentation, insisting on full editorial control.
I think that context is crucial to understanding Bill Watterson, and what he did and didn’t do. He was a struggling editorial cartoonist, nearly unknown outside northeastern Ohio (his hometown is called Chagrin Falls, which has to be one of the greatest American small-town names), when he suddenly leapt to fame with “Calvin and Hobbes,” which became an international hit within a year or two. He had the opportunity to become immensely rich off his strip and its characters – one industry expert in Schroeder’s film suggests that licensing and merchandising could have brought in $300 million or more – and refused to license anything, ever…
Apart from what the Japanese call “visual culture”, what’s on the agenda today?
This new TPP Treaty is being exposed as more economic seppuku for the US public. Backdoor legislation they could not get through Congress for good reason. I am befuddled at the rational for this POS.
I have never forgiven him (or Berkeley Breathard) for abandoning me during the time I needed them the most. These last two decades would have been marginally more bearable had they been producing their daily salve for my soul. Even a mediocre Calvin or Bloom would have been a shot of happiness to get me through the day. Put Gary Larson on that list also.
The Republic of Stupidity
Lord, I miss Calvin and Hobbes… even after all these years…
Best ever, that I read…
No one ever did kinetic motion in a comic better…
The other one I really, really miss is The Far Side…
I still find myself referring to Far Side gags, decades later…
I’m still in a long night (West coast) of my lovely wife suffering paroxisms of coughing from “unconfirmed pertussis” (AKA whooping cough) which was supposed to have gone away with vaccinations. A recent trip to Georgia and 10 hours on airplanes, and we’re back in the 1800’s.
Test due back on Friday, but I’m reasonably sure we have a long row to hoe.
Remember that refusal to license anything when you see those awful “Calvin kneeling before a cross,” or “Calvin peeing on a car logo” stickers. They are all – every one of them – stolen property.
Anybody who respects Watterson and his work should never buy anything with Calvin’s likeness. It’s theft.
@Schlemizel: Heck, I still miss Pogo (which was the first comic strip my dad introduced me to). And Jules Feiffer, in the Village Voice, and then those horribly-produced paperbacks from Popular, for a whopping 60 cents IIRC…
A few weeks ago I checked a Bloom County omnibus out of the library. While it had moments of genius, the overall quality wasn’t what I remembered.
I don’t recall ever being disappointed with C&H, but I’m glad Watterson didn’t drag it out until I was.
The people with those stickers don’t see them as stolen and thats part of their problem. Worse thing about it is neither represents the spirit of Calvin because the morons responsible are incapable of seeing the difference.
Those abominations are the result of Watterson not licensing his work for other purposes. Without that there is no incentive (and possibly no legal ground since he couldn’t show damage) for lawyers to sue for infringement. Its his high-minded arts mentality that allowed mouth breathers to piss on Calvin. Unintended consequences.
Speaking of Krazy Kat. The complete set of Sunday strips is available (at long last) from Fantagraphics:
This is, IMO, a must-have for anyone even vaguely interested in the art of comics.
I saw this movie 2 months ago or so in Chagrin Falls, Ohio (Watterson’s home town). I liked it. The guy who did the film was there for a Q&A. What was kind of funny was that, of course, he has never met Watterson since he rarely does interviews, but a number of people in the audience were familiar with/acquittance’s or friends of the Wattersons (mom and dad have lived in town for many years and are well known around town). In a way it just killed the film maker when people would say stuff like “yeah Bill looks just like his dad. If you know what his dad looks like you would know what Bill looks like today”.
By the way, in a sense the film is really about more then just that strip. It also in a way is about comics in general and the fragmentation of all media over the last 15-20 years.
I was too young to really get Pogo although I have enjoyed reading it years later. It was great commentary but not like the big three for heart and humor – in my useless opinion. It is very enjoyable but it doesn’t engender the same sort of attachment.
Strike one: Presuming Seth Green is a positive enticement.
I’ve tried being a daily cartoonist. It’s a heck of a thing to attempt, I don’t blame Watterson for hanging it up at a time of his choosing.
It’s good to see folks professing how important it is to have their daily dose of popular art. I bet while you were reading those strips, you didn’t write fanmail or anything: I never did. I’ve got a few hundred people hanging on stuff I write, on a weekly basis, and I treat it as a solemn duty but all the same I don’t hear from them as a rule, I can just count the page hits.
It’s good to be reminded that gratitude is typically invisible. You’ve got to assume it, especially when you’re doing stuff to benefit people but you’re pretty much starving and barely hanging in yourself. You can’t eat gratitude, but without it, why bother to eat anyway?
But then I always related to Porky, out of Pogo.
Here. I gave you a flower. You won’t like it, and it doesn’t matter. Merry Xmas.
@Schlemizel: Ha, I think that demonstrates how much our idea of “real comix art” is based on what we were introduced to at an impressionable age. I’ve never found another comic — not even C&H, which comes closest! — that’s quite as invaluable to me as Pogo. But I know some of that is because Walt Kelley (and Jules Feiffer, and Wonder Wart Hog/Gilbert Shelton, Sheldon Mayer/Sugar & Spike, and later the guys at Mad Magazine, like Don Martin & Wally Wood) literally taught me how comics should be. I mean, my dad felt that way about Krazy Kat, but as far as I was concerned Herriman’s best work was illustrating Archy the vers-libre poet. And when Bloom County first appeared when I was in college, it was perfectly fine, but just didn’t excite me.
One of the great things about Watterson, IMO, is that he made such a perfect & entire artwork, a closed universe, is that parents who grew up loving the strip can introduce it to their kids as it was meant to be seen — there’s not a whole lot of merchandising cruft and knockoffs reducing C&H from a graphic narrative to a mere ‘brand’.
You know what’s sad? Watterson and Larson shelved their pens, but Beetle Bailey, Dennis the Menace, Marmaduke and the Family Circus are still being crapped out onto paper. Plus, they’re rerunning the wretched Peanuts FFS.
@Applejinx: But Pogo did appreciate that Xmas flower! Really!
(I always identified with Porky myself, who showed up with his paper-sacked flower just to hear his good friend say, “You allus remembers, Porky… ” amid the usual Okefenokee mayhem.)
Fuck you, Bil Keane…here’s some dysfunctional family circus for amusement.
ETA – Looks like the Keane estate troll lawyers stripped out the images.
Google returns a shload of them, though
Ugh. I’ve come down with a stupid fucking cold. I hate being sick.
More appropriate to the dead thread below, but I just found Atrios’ post from last night that unearthed a 2005 post from A Tiny Revolution about Cohen, the press, and our “betters”.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
@Betty Cracker: At least you still have a house.
I was struck by the owner saying he had been fighting with his insurance company about foundation work for two years, spurred by the Seffner sinkhole, and they had just started working when this happened.
@Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism: I looked at that video. Damn! Someone needs to move that little boat that’s perched on the edge of the abyss. It must be insured or they wouldn’t leave it that close to the hole.
I’m no geologist, but I think I’m probably too close to the Gulf to get swallowed up by a sinkhole. It always seems to happen inland, possibly due to depleted aquifers. It’ll be a tidal surge that takes down my house.
I think Bloom County suffers in comparison only because it was topical at times, so that ages it. I love Bloom County, I am a 44 year old woman who owns a stuffed Opus. I will have to look into Pogo sometime, but Calvin & Hobbes was a daily piece of magic. I was a daily comics reader until Watterson and Larson stopped working.
I also enjoyed Matt Groening’s Life in Hell.
Today’s Second Amendment hero.
But if you saw one with Calvin peeing on a cross, wouldn’t you at least be tempted?
Loved Calvin and Hobbes. Thanks for the reminder about the film.
I believe that strip was actually the very last Calvin and Hobbes, so it holds kind of a special place in my heart. I remember the bittersweet day it appeared.
I was old enough to remember Pogo and also L’il Abner, another comic that I only realized years later had political satire running through the hilarity. But I disagree with commenters above. That didn’t stop me from recognizing that Doonesbury, Bloom County, Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes were each brand new magic in their own right and creating something we’d never seen before.
@Botsplainer: Comics fans who want to point and mock at the current crop, especially the zombie comics living on long after their creators, would probably appreciate The Comics Curmudgeon, a blog I am completely addicted to. I’m pretty sure I found it through somebody’s suggestion here at BJ.
@Betty Cracker: Me too. Apparently we both caught it here. There’s a Nobel Prize in there somewhere for somebody who can figure out how.
@Calming influence: Sorry to hear about your wife’s illness. Didn’t know whooping cough was still around. Hope she gets treatment and gets better soon.
What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
Calvin and Hobbes was great. I’m looking forward to seeing this. C&H, Bloom County, and the Far Side are the triumvirate that capped the last period of brilliance in comic strips. Nothing since has even come close. I loved Bloom County at the time, but it was more topical, and outside the context of the times it was written is less brilliant than The Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes. I doubt Reagan era Doonsbury does much for those who didn’t live through and are unfamiliar with the time, but that doesn’t make his skewering of the time less trenchant or hilarious.
@Patricia Kayden: @Calming influence: I had whooping cough two years ago and tore ligaments around my ribcage from the prolonged and violent fits. According to my GP, the vaccination they used in the 70s and 80s wears off after about 25 years.
I find the images of Calvin kneeling before the cross off but oddly appropriate because it’s the most spiritual comic I’ve ever read. Calvin’s zest for life and the fluid state of his reality (with us along for the ride!) seem almost like a prayer of thanksgiving to the universe though not Christian in the least. But Calvin peeing exclusively on a Chevy? Nah. A Chevy, a Ford, a Toyota, a VW, a Dodge, and just a little sprinkle left for a Buick? Yeah, I could imagine that.
BTW, anyone else getting a weird ad from Amazon for peenus-shaped balloons just beneath the comic?
Not if Jenny McCarthy, MD has anything to say about it.
Oops, I’m in moderation because I forgot to change the spelling of a word describing the ad I’m seeing on BJ. Life’s weird, huh?
Huh, had no idea the Comics Curmudgeon was still around.
@Botsplainer: In the Sixties and Seventies, Peanuts was frequently great. It was a strangely dark comic at its best; it was rueful in a more visceral way than Calvin and Hobbes.
But it ran longer than any creator could possibly keep anything completely fresh, and Schulz was also obviously the opposite of Watterson when it came to licensing. (I assume Watterson’s extreme opposition was basically a reaction to the omnipresence of Peanuts and Garfield products.)
I loved C&H, and have passed that onto my son, who has all the books.
Agenda: heading out for reiki in the next half-hour, after which I dive into post-production on the latest Hobo Chef, followed by a lot of Brazilian mate and grant-writing, and then swing dance in West Philadelphia. I also gotta purchase tickets to the Dr. Who 50th Anniversary Special in 3D, which I’m seeing next week with the boy-child in lovely Montreal (anyone in upstate NY near the Thruway wanna put me up for the night next Thursday? It’s a long drive).
Altogether, not a bad day indeed.
Jesus, they still run the Lockhorns? Just get a fucking divorce!
Doctor Who fans: Check this out.
Warren: Blocking judges is GOP’s attempt to ‘nullify’ election
11/13/13 04:45 PM
By Sarah Muller
A fed-up Elizabeth Warren called out Republicans’ “naked attempts to nullify the results of the last presidential election” and warned of payback in the mode of filibuster reform if they keep blocking all of Obama’s judicial nominees.
“Republicans may not like Wall Street reform. They may not like Obamacare. But Congress passed those laws,” Warren said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “President Obama ran for reelection on those laws, while his opponent pledged to repeal them–and his opponent lost by nearly five million votes. It is not up to judges to overturn those laws or their associated regulations just because they don’t fit those judges’ policy preferences.”
President Obama has been batting 0 for 3 to get his Democratic candidates (all women) onto the D.C. Circuit Court, the nation’s second most powerful bench.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Nina Pillard. She had been under fire by conservatives for her pro-choice views on abortion. Less than two weeks ago, Republicans pulled out the same tactics by filibustering the nomination of Patricia Millett–a person even Ted Cruz considered fit for the job. And before that it was Caitlin Halligan who fell victim to another GOP filibuster earlier in the year. It’s a pattern.
“The powerful interests that work to rig the Supreme Court also want to rig the lower courts,” said Warren. “The D.C. Circuit is a particular target because that court has the power to overturn agency regulations.”
The Last Word 11/12/13
How the GOP gerrymandered America
In Rolling Stone this week, Tim Dickinson explains how the GOP “waged an unrelenting campaign to exploit every weakness and anachronism in our electoral system.” Lawrence O’Donnell has more with Dickinson.
Peanuts was a great comic because it could touch you in that place of childhood insecurity, that wants to be liked, wants to fit in, and hurts from every rejection.
Garfield, on the other hand, was pure dreck.
I wonder if it would have helped if Watterson had started a corporation to license Calvin and Hobbes to, which would do nothing commercial with the images? (I’m just idly speculating to no real end.)
My wife and I are moving to a small apartment and are in the process of unloading about 1,000 books. A guy from our local used bookstore came by and of the 80s trade comic collections he passed over the Far Side and Kliban and such, but snapped up all the Calvin and Hobbes (as well as Life in Hell). Popular even today.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
@Betty Cracker: I didn’t think Dunedin was inland?
@ Anne Laurie
Believe me, it’s not just the Japanese who use the term “visual culture.” For nigh unto twenty years, it’s been an interdisciplinary subject within academia, a field in whose vineyards I’ve labored. From among several rather dusty volumes on the subject, I just plucked down An Introduction to Visual Culture by Nicholas Mirzoeff, published in 1999.
(I believe the above is an example of the dreaded “pedant alert.” Though if it becomes a matter of etymological origins of the term, that will be some first-class pedantry.)
As this thread is more appropriately devoted to cartoonists we love, it’s Roz Chast for me. And I’ll be seeing this documentary, “The Square” on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution later today.
@Matt McIrvin: The early Peanuts, where the kids look younger, is amazingly dark. I ran across one of those paperbacks not too long ago and was re-amazed at how it was marketed at kids. It’s not a happy little comic strip. Insightful and funny and dark.
Michael Tomasky: The Democrats Need To Stop Freaking Out About Obamacare And Take Charge
Bill Clinton conceded those rhetorical inches to the right on Obamacare, which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) seized on immediately. At least two blue-state senators, Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Jeff Merkley (OR), have jumped on the “fix Obamacare” bandwagon. At the same time, there’s no need for panic. Even with the continued existence and success of Fox, reality is still reality, and in the end, reality usually trumps cable and hyperventilating reports about who won the morning in Politico. And reality says the enrollment period doesn’t end until next spring, and it’s really not possible to tell how things are going until enrollment has ended and we see both the number of people who’ve enrolled and what percentage healthy vs. sick, because insurers made their guesstimates and pegged their rates to those guesstimates.
I remember a lot of other times when it was supposedly curtains for Obama, too, because inside the Beltway, the more disciplined Republicans, who after all are in the luxurious position of just sitting back and firing away, have an easier time winning news cycles. But out beyond the Beltway, the party that shut down the government for three weeks and killed immigration reform and wants to decimate food stamps and can’t even pass its own spending bills doesn’t look very appealing to most people. The fate of Obamacare can be changed. The DNA of the GOP cannot.
I had never seen or heard of the Calvin kneeling before a cross pictures before today, so I went looking. Very first site I found was this angry rant at the absurdity of the picture – http://jessereviewstheworld.com/review-car-decal-of-calvin-kneeling-at-the-cross/
Car decal people, what is going through your minds?*** What point do you hope to prove by lifting this symbol of non-conformity and plunking him on his knees? Why not appropriate, say, Bart Simpson or South Park’s Cartman, whose creators are at least rich? Why not just spray paint “My piety vastly outpaces my awareness of irony” on the back of your truck?
@Violet: That was why Peanuts was great for kids. It told you that other kids went through disappointment and rejection and bullying and felt the same feelings as you. At least half of kid America probably identified with Charlie Brown.
C&H tapped into that too, but Calvin didn’t have it quite as hard, and the dark notes were more abstract. It was artistically virtuosic. Peanuts was actually drawn with a lot of technical skill (though Schulz’s hand got shaky toward the end), but it was purposefully drawn in a simplified way to work in a tiny newspaper slot, whereas Watterson was consciously pushing back against that trend by imitating Little Nemo instead.
But on the other hand, I used to watch the cartoon version over my kid’s shoulder, and the writing on that could be pretty clever. I used to comment on how the writing on her cartoons (Garfield, Doug, Rugrats) was so much better than anything in primetime.
@Matt McIrvin: Yeah, but the difference between the early Peanuts and version people most identify as Peanuts cartoons is significant. I love, love, love those early ones. They’re really dark in comparison to the later versions.
There are too many good, daily web comics for the notion that C&H was the last good comic to be true. That’s just “get off my lawn” talk.
@Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism: Dunedin is on the coast, but maybe the sinkhole is in the eastern fringe of it and therefore further from the water? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. I should get SOME benefit for having to pay for flood insurance and worry about tidal surges!
The first couple of years of Kevin & Kell rank with some of the best newspaper strips. Unfortunately, the constrictions imposed by its concept have steadily diluted its sharpness since.
@NotMax: My daily reads are Something Positive, SMBC, Goblins, Least I Could Do, OOTS, Schlock Mercenary, and PvP. None of them are C&H, but the consistency of the work is really good and always entertaining.
What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
@Violet: I agree. And the Christmas Special is fantastic. [email protected]Matt McIrvin: I agree – my middle school library had some books with the classic Peanuts strips from that era, which I read out of boredom one day, and found to my surprise that they were actually funny. Until then I had no idea that the Peanuts could be funny for anyone over the age of 6 or 7. Schultz just kept at it long past the exhaustion of his creative inspiration.
@Chris: I saw a zillion Libertarian stickers on a pickup truck.
I wanted to add: “Of course I’m a government employee.” Which was true.
@Cassidy: It’s newspaper comics that are dying, along with newspapers. The energy in the medium has all gone to the Web.
If you want a dose of daily levity, there are thousands of web comics out there. There’s quite a few that brighten my day. The most consistent ones I can think of are XKCD, Basic Instructions, and Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius, but there’s a lot more that I enjoy. Undoubtedly there are a zillion great ones I haven’t found yet. Newspaper comics are a dying industry but comics aren’t.
I generally don’t have a problem with strips going on too long. Late Peanuts wasn’t a match for 50’s-60’s-early 70’s Peanuts but it was still worth reading. Most of the legacy strips people rag on were always mediocre or bad (e.g. Garfield) or became so after a drastic makeover (Blondie, Snuffy Smith). The only strip I can think of that started good and eventually became truly bad was Cathy.
@Matt McIrvin: There is nothing wrong with that. I would imagine it’s easier for a cartoonist to create their IP, have control over it, and publish it to the web over syndication.
One of the weirdest origins for a comic strip was Jim Meddick’s Monty: it started out as Robotman, and Robotman started as a tie-in for an obnoxious toy franchise for small children, with animated videos, dolls and records. Apparently they came to him after Watterson refused to incorporate Robotman into Calvin and Hobbes. But Meddick took their money and just started drawing this weird comic that obviously bore no relation to their vision for the character, and outlasted the whole stupid scheme by actually being pretty funny.
Eventually he introduced Monty and phased out Robotman entirely, though Monty now seems to be hanging out with a remarkably Robotman-like character with a somewhat different design.
The Other Chuck
@Botsplainer: Dysfunctional Family Circus was stopped by the author after Bill Keane called him up and personally asked him if he would please stop. Yes, the comic is insipid, has run decades too long, and lawyers could have been the next resort, but the author was just too decent to keep kicking a guy who was that nice.
I’ve always liked Nietzsche Family Circus better anyway. I printed one out that had Jeffy staring up at his parents on the couch, his parents staring back at him, and the quote “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes into you.”
If I recall correctly, even Family Circus was sometimes kind of funny in its earliest days. And Dennis the Menace (US) was actually a chaos-causing brat, though without the downright mean edge of his identically-named British counterpart.
@Chris: The rant is absolutely right, but the answer to the question, “Why not just spray paint ‘My piety vastly outpaces my awareness of irony” on the back of your truck?’ ” lies in the question – no awareness of irony. Still a spiritual comic for me, just not remotely Judeo-Christian. Doesn’t mean it was Watterson’s intention.
@The Other Chuck:
Bil Keane’s son is this guy — you may recognize one or two of the movies he worked on. ;-)
I know Glen slightly through work and it seems like the whole family are very, very nice people, so I’m not surprised that Bil Keane’s instinct was to just call and ask politely.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): And another son, the basis for Jeffy, is currently drawing the strip.
Just must pipe in. Best Grateful Dead shirt I ever saw (and I saw a few): Calvin and Hobbes in tie dyes, groovin’ like redwoods, with the caption, “heads all empty and we don’t care” Maybe ya hadda see it. Bootleg no doubt but perfect just the same.
The Red Pen
I would just like to brag that I’m attending a lecture on political cartoons of the guilded age at the aforementioned Ohio State University comics archive.
Matt Bors is speaking Saturday.
When it iniitally came out, that was like the best place on the web. We put in some shit in there that would have all of us rolling on the floor laughing. My favorite was the little girl kneeling on the bed saying her prayers, but the caption was really a prayer to Cthlulu. The kind of depravity that was written was just awesome.
I had an old Charlie Brown Encyclopedia and it had some really great strips from that era.