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Bill Watterson: “No regrets” about ending ‘Calvin and Hobbes’

February 3, 2010

Coming to a post office near you, the Calvin and Hobbes stamp.

As the world says goodbye to one famous recluse (and starts the feast on his corpse), another pokes his head out of the shadows for a quick “Hi!” Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer he has “no regrets” about ending the beloved comic strip.

“By the end of 10 years, I’d said pretty much everything I’d come there to say,” says the genius cartoonist, who is often compared to J.D. Salinger.

Can it really be 15 years since Calvin and Hobbes went away?  Watterson ended the strip in 1995 at the height of its popularity, syndicated in more then 2,400 newspapers. In a brief note, he cited changing interests, the burden of deadlines and shrinking panels.

As reporter John Campanelli notes in an accompanying story, the demands of fame played a role in Watterson’s decision. He quotes a 1987 interview in which Watterson said he was “shell shocked” by the sudden attention: “The celebrity aspect of the job has taken me aback and I really can’t stand it.”

In another related story, Sun Newspapers executive editor Linda Kinsey remembers Watterson’s earlier career as a brilliant political cartoonist. It includes samples of the work.

Readers devoted to the strip took the loss personally (not me!). For some, the mourning hasn’t ended.

“Still, people come up to me, and they grieve the loss of Calvin and Hobbes,” says Lucy Caswell, curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, where all  but about a hundred of Watterson’s more than 3,000 original strips are housed.

Still living in the Cleveland area, Waterson agreed to an email exchange. Campanelli did not actually sit down with the artist for a traditional interview

Watterson’s wit comes through nonetheless. When Campanelli compares his fame to that of a rock star, Watterson replies, “Ah, the life of a newspaper cartoonist — how I miss the groupies, drugs and trashed hotel rooms!”

But Waterson says celebrity has faded, allowing him to go about his business — proud of the strip, grateful for its success, flattered that people still read it. “But I wrote Calvin and Hobbes in my 30s,” he says,  “and I’m many miles from there.”

The USPS will issue a Calvin and Hobbes postage stamp later this year. Campanelli asks Watterson how soon he’ll send a letter with one

“Immediately,” Watterson replies. “I’m going to get in my horse and buggy and snail-mail a check for my newspaper subscription.”

If you’re like me, all this does is make you miss Calvin and Hobbes anew. Don’t you hate it when some sober adult puts things in perspective?

“It seems to me that any creative person has the right to decide if they are or they are not going to make their art,” Caswell says. “We on the outside can’t judge whether or not it was the right thing for him.”

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    February 3, 2010 1:23 pm

    The cartoon will appear on stamps? As the illustrious Chuck D of Public Enemy once said, “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.”

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 3, 2010 4:17 pm

      But some do, apparently.

  2. Karla permalink
    February 3, 2010 2:38 pm

    I can’t believe its been 15 years. I can’t believe I was only 8

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 3, 2010 4:19 pm

      Yeah, I was shocked to when I saw how much time had gone by, although I was a little older than eight at the time. In culture world, time goes by at a different pace, I think. Calvin and Hobbes has not dated at all. I have a couple of collections of Watterson strips. They’re as much fun today as they were when they first appeared.

  3. alexis permalink
    February 3, 2010 2:57 pm

    OMG! I feel so old!!!!!!!! It’s been fifteen years since I saw this in the paper??? That doesn’t seem right.

    Also, I think when you are the best at what you do, you owe something to society. It doesn’t matter if it’s a creative talent of not. What if Edward Jenner or Louis Pasteur had decided they were bored with what they did?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 3, 2010 4:21 pm

      That’s an interesting point, Alexis, although, as Yahia reminded me last when when I got snotty about Salinger, the artist has the right to withdraw and go silent if they choose, and for whatever reason. But I’m with you. I don’t have to like it. Impressed by your scientific references, too.

      And you are old.

  4. rachel permalink
    February 3, 2010 2:59 pm

    I always loved Calvin and Hobbes. And maybe because it ended shortly after my discovering it, it was kind of always held up as the perfect comic strip. The comic strip that was no more. I also remember admiring Watterson because he wouldn’t let them use Calvin and Hobbes to make endless merchandise. I would see a Ford truck with Calvin peeing on a Chevy sign, and know that it was unofficial and somehow that gave me some sort of joy, pride even.

    What prompted him to let them make a stamp?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 3, 2010 4:26 pm

      Calvin and Hobbes is the best strip ever, and that would still be true if Watterson had continued to produce it, even if he went through dry periods when the thing wasn’t quite so sharp. Look at Charles Schultz. Fifty years of daily strips, and they weren’t all brilliant, but some of the best ones came near the very end.

      Alas, the stamp is not as groovy as it first sounds, being not a stand-alone honor but a part of a series on comic strips, including such others as Beetle Bailey. Garfield, Dennis the Menace. Right.

      I share your admiration for Watterson and his insistence that no Calvin merchandise be allowed. Can you imagine? Calvin coffee cups, bumper stickers, Hobbes plush toys? Watterson would be a multi-zillionaire by now. But he said no.

  5. February 4, 2010 12:57 pm

    I do not know about this fame thing. You never lose who you are or who you choose to be. Some people love it and make as many waves as possible. Others do not. We never know just how much some of this fame, actually is into some ones life. It can be over whelming to some. Others love to be intoxicated with it.

    This was a great strip. Still is. They may just run it over from the beginning. That should take about 15 years. I still be here. Famous or not.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 4, 2010 5:33 pm

      Ten years. Calving and Hobbes originally ran from 1985 to 1995. Which seems so incredibly long ago I can hardly breathe when I think about it.

  6. Tommy permalink
    February 4, 2010 5:48 pm

    Am I the only one here who, when reading the collections skips the black and white dailies to get to the Sunday strip?

    • alexis permalink
      February 5, 2010 9:47 am

      Um…yes! Some of the best ones were black and white. And my single favorite one was in a series that went on for days and days and days.

      smock smock smock smock smock….hahhahahhahahha

  7. Tommy permalink
    February 5, 2010 11:12 am

    I liked the dailies, gave me my Calvin and Hobbes fix during the week. When reading the comic in the papers I would force myself to save C&H for last, suffering through Lord Valiant and Family Circus.

    It’s just when reading the collections I am always anticipating the Sunday colors, to the point where I either rush through the dailies to get to the full page strips or skip them entirely. Then I go back and read the black and white’s which are the meat and potatoes.

    Calvin and Hobbes will remain forever a favorite of mine. I looked surprisingly like Calvin as a youngster so I always felt like the strip was a weird little window into myself. A little glimpse in the papers which helped me learn that imagination was the greatest thing ever. Patterson could have ruined this strip by drawing it out. (uggh)
    So glad he did not.

    • alexis permalink
      February 5, 2010 11:37 am

      Well good. glad to know you liked the meat and potatoes too and didn’t just go for desert.

      I too had an order in which I read the comics. It went in order from the ones I liked least to the one I liked the most and Calvin was always last.

  8. February 5, 2010 1:12 pm

    It seems like many life times ago. Almost, just another place where we visited for a while.

  9. calvin+hobbesfan4life permalink
    March 16, 2010 12:23 pm

    Hello, I love Calvin and Hobbes! I would like to send a letter to Bill Watterson, but what address shall I send it to?

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