‘Calvin & Hobbes’ documentary explores impact of creator

With the constant display of tragic stories and images presented by the local newspaper, comic strips are the one place in the paper one can read without feeling the heavy drain of the real world. In the cartoons with humorous descriptions, one is able to escape to a completely new land where everything is a little bit brighter, funnier and happier.     

“Dear Mr. Watterson” is the documentary of the undeniable impact Bill Watterson’s “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strips delivered. Several cartoonists weigh in their experiences while reading “Calvin & Hobbes” and say that through Watterson’s work, they have been inspired and really pushed to convey quality comic strips. 

“He’s making it harder for the rest of us because he’s selling this ridiculous stand of excellence,” said Berkeley Breathed, creator of “Bloom County,” “Outland” and “Opus.”

Time after time, Watterson was able to create original ways to covey distinctive messages that grasped his reader’s attention. With a little imagination, he brought his readers along for the journey he had so brilliantly shaped. 

“It was always bigger that just a comic strip. The conversations had so many layers of meaning,” said Jan Eliot, creator of “Stone Soup.” 

Watterson was able to intertwine philosophical teachings and humor through the body of a 6-year-old and his tiger best friend, whom readers were able to relate to in one way or another. 

For those who are not familiar with “Calvin & Hobbes,” Calvin is a 6-year-old boy who can be somewhat of a mischievous act, yet he has a great heart and an even bigger imagination. This young boy doesn’t see people as what they are; just people. Instead he dramatizes every person, situation and event in his head. Here, he escapes to a whole new world, seizing and carrying on until he snaps back into reality, which by then the reader unfortunately reaches the end of the strip. 

Hobbes is his stuffed tiger, which serves as Calvin’s most precious best friend. He is the voice of reason and his partner in crime. Together they go on incredible adventures only the two of them can understand, yet readers all around the world can learn to appreciate. 

Watterson’s “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strips quickly became readers’ most pleasurable fascination. According to the documentary, by the end of its decade long distribution, it was in over 2,400 newspapers worldwide, with millions of daily readers. 

He won the Ruben Award for the “Best Cartoonist of the Year” in 1986 and 1988. In addition, he won the Harvey Award for the “Best Syndicated Comic Strip” seven years in a row. There’s a total of 18 editions available, selling 45 million copies in the U.S. and millions more selling internationally. The international editions have been translated in more than two dozen different languages. 

With Watterson’s outrageous success, advertising and merchandizing companies saw the possibility of a very lucrative investment. However, Watterson denied all offers to license his idea. 

In 1989, Watterson spoke at the Ohio University State festival of cartoon giving a speech on “The Cheapening of the Comics,” read the Oct. 27, 1989 newspaper subtitle. He gave critical points of his opinion on how today’s revolution is so centered on the profit aspect of the business that cartoonists forget to focus on the purpose of the art. He said that comics are cheapened when they are commercialized and no longer serve as comic strips, which is what they were drawn to serve as in the first place. 

“His decisions seemed strange if not un-American. He walked away from more than tens of millions of dollars in merchandise because everything that Snoopy was on, I’m sure he was offered for Hobbes,” said Charles Solomon, a critic/historian of animations and comics. 

Watterson received several critiques as companies lost potential money and fans were refused to receive a Calvin stuffed doll or a Hobbes t-shirt. However, Watterson paid little attention. He was a true artist and cared about the dignity of his innovation. 

“‘Calvin & Hobbes’ was designed to be a comic strip and that’s all I want it to be. It’s the one place where everything works the way I intend it to,” said Bill Watterson. 

This intellect stayed so far away from the paparazzi, that one cartoonist said he hid from the public so much, that he was the “sasquatch of all cartoonists.” However, this very fact is what made his designs and messages so new and fresh. 

In his very last comic strip, “Let’s go exploring,” the snow white filled pages of Calvin and Hobbes’ adventures in the time of winter may symbolize his new and untold journey for the future in which Watterson wouldn’t even be able to paint a picture of. 

Watterson chose to do art and write in ways that were universally timely. We witness this even today as 6 and 7-year-olds are sitting in the library turning the pages to his famous comics with grins across their little faces. He left behind much more than pictures and words: he left behind grand memories, laughs and philosophical teachings shared through his comic strips. He continues to be an inspiration to his readers all around the globe.