Bill Watterson had been drawing for years.
In his college years, he drew for the college paper. He created a character named “Spiff”. After college, and
during work as an editorial cartoonist at the Cincinnati Post (a job more rightfully given to Jim Borgman after Watterson
was fired,) submitted his comic strip to syndicates.
How it Began
It was at first an outer space parody featuring
Spiff. When that was turned down, he tried “Critters,” a comic about very small bug-like creatures. Then a comic
about a young person’s first job and apartment. United Features Syndicate (which features “Peanuts,”
“Get Fuzzy,” and many other strips) signed a development contract for “In the Doghouse,” but told
Bill to focus on the main character’s younger brother, who was best friends with a stuffed tiger.
United Features turned Bill down in the end, but
Universal Press Syndicate picked the strip up and began syndicating “Calvin and Hobbes” in 1985. Bill was thrilled
to finally have a job that he didn’t hate. He’d hated his work as and advertising layout designer at a “sleazy
tabloid shopper” the entire amount of time he’d worked there. For a few months, Bill’s hometown paper didn’t
pick up “Calvin and Hobbes,” and Bill said in the Tenth Anniversary Book that that made his work seem very abstract.
When Calvin and Hobbes was picked up by the paper in January 1986, Bill “felt like a real cartoonist.”
Bill Watterson himself may be most easily remembered
for his outright denouncing of merchandising. Although he could have easily made millions more by just selling an actual stuffed
Hobbes, he believed that comics were an art form and nothing more.
According to Bill in a 2005 press release,
he wasn’t against merchandising at the time of C&H’s introduction, “but each product [he] considered
seemed to violate the spirit of the strip [and] contradict it’s message.” He also said “If my syndicate
[Universal Press] had let it go at that, the decision would have taken maybe 30 seconds of my life.”
Save for the books, two sixteen-month calendars
(1988-89 and 1989-90), a MoMA commemorative T-shirt, and a children’s textbook, all Calvin and Hobbes Merchandise, other
T-shirts, and undoubtedly the window decals which show Calvin urinating on something the driver dislikes, are unauthorized.
There was a threat of lawsuit alleging infringement of copyright and trademark, and some of the sticker makers put in a different
boy, while most vendors ignored the issue. Watterson wryly stated, “I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be
to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.”
The Calvin and
Hobbes Movie Rumors
The question that is all over the internet now
is “will there be a Calvin and Hobbes movie?” Bill said this about animation:
"If you look at the old
cartoons by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, you'll see that there are a lot of things single drawings just can't do. Animators
can get away with incredible distortion and exaggeration [...] because the animator can control the length of time you see
something. The bizarre exaggeration barely has time to register, and the viewer doesn’t ponder the incredible license
In a comic strip, you just show the highlights of action — you can't show the buildup and
release... or at least not without slowing down the pace of everything to the point where it's like looking at individual
frames of a movie, in which case you've probably lost the effect you were trying to achieve. In a comic strip, you can suggest
motion and time, but it's very crude compared to what an animator can do. I have real awe for good animation.”
He was asked if it was “A little
scary to think of hearing Calvin’s voice.” He said, as many Calvin fans say, “very scary,” and even
though he loved the advantages animation had, it would be odd to cast voice actors to play his characters.
Calvin and Hobbes ended on December 31st, 1995
at the height of its success because Bill felt he couldn’t’ continue the quality that they deserved anymore. His
last strips were on the verge of perfect, the drawings down pat and seamless. Some of the jokes were just on the edge of being
regurgitative. On the last day, C&H was published in 2400 newspapers worldwide, surpassed only by “Peanuts”
and only then by 200 papers.
Michael Goonan of the Calvin and Hobbes Online
Museum said that “[t]he door is still open for Bill Watterson, and I’m sure that he always will be welcome on
the funny pages again.” I hope that Bill only returns if he really wants to do the strip. Bill quit because he feared
he couldn’t keep the strip up to standard, and he would be destroying that if he ever came back just for the fanfare
like Berkeley Breathed. Granted, that is very unlike him, but it just could happen.
Bill is rumored to be back in his hometown of Chagrin
falls, OH, painting landscapes. It is said that he sets fire to them because he heard that the first 500 paintings are just