Don’t Judge Me, Bill Watterson

16Oct10

In November 1995, I read in the newspaper that “Calvin and Hobbes” was ending at the end of the year. The strip’s creator, Bill Watterson, wrote that his interests has shifted and he did all that he could do with the means that he had.

That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I’ll long be proud of, and I’ve greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.

I started cutting out the strips for that last month and a half and taping them to my wall. I’m not really sure why. Saving a piece of history, I guess. I remember imagining some massive sendoff of the strip, like the parents figuring out that Hobbes was real.

Watterson is interesting in that he fought hard against his publishers and comics syndicate to avoid licensing his characters. That’s why we don’t have a Hobbes stuffed animal in stores or Calvin wishing people a happy birthday on a card. In stark contrast, guys like Jim Davis and Charles Schultz happily scooped up money from licensing.

Via dominiqs on Flickr

A still from my live-action "Calvin and Hobbes" fan film

Watterson said the reason he didn’t want to ever license his characters was he didn’t want to cheapen his comic. He said he didn’t want to imagine a voice actor playing Hobbes in a cartoon version of the strip.

The real question here is, if put in the same situation, would I want to fight to protect intellectual property like that? While most of us would get high and mighty and say, “OH NO SIR! My words and characters are precious children that I let suckle at my teat on an hourly basis,” partly because they know they’ll probably never have to face that dilemma, the real truth is that I’d probably sign some licensing agreement for characters I’d created in some form or another, be it a movie deal or animated series or stuffed animals or whatever.

While Watterson should be commended for his stand to keep his characters as his own, there is something to be said about allowing your characters to be interpreted by others. Had Schultz not licensed the Peanuts gang, we more than likely wouldn’t have this wonderful piece of music.

And fans of the material also should be allowed to give their take on the characters they love. Davis went so far as to give the okay to “Garfield Minus Garfield” in print form. Originally a webcomic that removed Garfield from Garfield panels to show Jon talking to himself (which puts a whole new spin on the character), it’s now a book officially licensed by Davis’ Paws, Inc., showing that he thought the idea was cool. But, let’s not forget, he also gets a taste of the sales of the book.

I’d like to think if I created anything as beloved as “Calvin and Hobbes” or “Peanuts,” I’d be able to ride the fine line between crass cash-in commercialism and bringing characters I created to life in different ways. I’m not looking to squeeze the life out of a franchise like George Lucas, but I’m okay with the idea of someone turning my book into a show or cartoon, as long as it was good.

And the big problem is, compared to St. Watterson, that makes me sound like a prick.

There has to be some kind of happy medium between creation and making money off of your creation without seeming like some kind of major league sell-out. I’ll be damned if I know what it is, but it has to be there. It all requires the creator to remain diligent in keeping the spirit of the characters correct, no matter the medium. I feel that Watterson could have figured out a way to take his characters into other mediums without cheapening the original idea, but just didn’t want to be hassled with it. This is the same guy who has only two known publicly circulated photographs of himself. And a man who does interviews once every decade or so.

Watterson showed great restraint, but I don’t think anyone would have chastised him if we had a Calvin and Hobbes special as culturally significant and fondly remembered as “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

As for that final strip, there wasn’t any big reveal. It was just as optimistic and indulgent in the creative spirit as the rest of the series. One day, I’d like for my own characters to going exploring, too.

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2 Responses to “Don’t Judge Me, Bill Watterson”

  1. 1 Lisa Dubya

    Each person has to make the decision, and what they can live with, for themselves. Nice read.

  2. 2 T-Moore

    When I was younger I did regret not having a Calvin and Hobbes stuffed animal. Every Christmas I looked through the JCPenney catalog hoping to find them. From time to time I like to think back to my childhood and all those things that made me happy and dinosaur Calvin pops to mind. On Sundays I tore through that newspaper to the “funnies”, praying to whatever god was above for dinosaur Calvin. I am just glad Watterson did not become a Lucas or Groening.


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