December 01, 2003
The reclusive Bill Watterson

Via Mark Evanier and Greg Morrow comes this story about the extremely reclusive Bill Watterson, the genius behind Calvin and Hobbes. It's got quite a bit of detail about the man that I did not know, so I highly recommend it.

Two items of interest here. One, in re: that ubiquitous peeing-Calvin sticker:

"We've contemplated legal action," says Lee Salem, vice president and editor at Universal Press Syndicate, which distributed Calvin and Hobbes. But the cost involved in finding those who make and sell the decals would far exceed what Universal could win in damages. "Bill's as frustrated as we are."

Actually, it must be maddening.

"A vulgar counterfeit," says Jef Mallett, a Calvin and Hobbes fan whose own strip, Frazz, resembles Watterson's style. (The illustrations on this page and the facing page are Mallett's.) Slowly, though, the sticker is becoming the only version of Calvin we're familiar with.

Just as Watterson was, Mallett is against rampant licensing of characters so that they appear on everything from calendars to underwear. Unlike Watterson, he believes some selective marketing may actually be helpful. "Because now look what we're left with: Calvin pissing on a Ford logo."

Oddly enough, it's gotten to the point where the variations on this sticker are far enough removed from the original image of Calvin that you wouldn't know who the pee-er is unless you knew the history behind it. I've also seen another type of Calvin sticker, one that shows him bowing before a Crucifix. I suspect Watterson wouldn't appreciate this one, either, however different its message is.

Item two: The future.

Harry Knowles has heard whispers of a return. "There were these rumors . . . ages ago, about Bill single-handedly animating a feature-length Calvin and Hobbes film. I was addicted to the concept of this happening. Ultimately, Bill will do as he wishes. I hope his muse strikes soon and that he cares to share the results with us all."

Lee Salem, possibly the first person Watterson would call were he planning a comeback, is guarded, but curiously optimistic. "I don't think the door is locked, the key thrown away. There is a creative spark in Watterson that may need an outlet."

There may be no better moment for his return. Last Sunday, the Washington Post debuted a new strip by Berkeley Breathed. Called Opus (after the penguin star of Bloom County and Outland), the strip fills an entire half-page. Newspapers, it seems, are in the mood to concede to artists.

Alan Shearer, who is managing the PR for Breathed's return, promises the strip to be "the best work of art on the comic's pages. It will bring back the excitement people once had for Sunday comics. Every editor will struggle, but will find a way to give Opus the space it requires." (The Plain Dealer did.)

Now comic strip fans will see whether the penguin can hold his own against those bottom-line newspaper execs. And then, whether Watterson is intrigued enough to battle the forces of evil once again.

I wouldn't go betting the rent money on this, but one can hope, can't one?

(May as well complete the Great Comic Artists of the Eighties Retrospective here by noting that Gary Larson has released a mega-collection of all Far Side strips from 1980 to 1994. He for sure ain't coming back to the dailies.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 01, 2003 to Books | TrackBack

Jef Mallett should be killed for ripping off Waterson the way he does. His character doesn't "resemble Waterson's style"; it's a complete copy. United Features Syndicate receives over 2,000 submissions a year, and they can't find anything better than this??

Posted by: Jeff on June 2, 2004 12:45 PM

Re: "Jeff on June 2, 2004 12:45 PM". Your opening salvo sounds a little sociopathic to me. Read some Q&A's with Jef Mallett and you'll see that he admires and is influenced by artists and writers from Carravaggio to Steinbeck, Trillin and Albom. He is wildly well-read and as accomplished a writer, thinker and conversationalist as he is an artist. And, as such, he is original. United Features did just fine. The world is richer for having both Mallett and Watterson.

Posted by: bets on July 18, 2004 4:51 PM

I would love to see Watterson come back but I don't think he'll ever will unless we stop bothering and begging in some sorts.
It may be true that we may never see Calvin again but its more of the blame on us then of him.

Posted by: Mike on November 27, 2004 9:26 PM

Mallet's Frazz is a great strip, and the idea that it's somehow wrong for it to have some of the same traits that C&H had is bizarre. What the heck kind of attitude is that? God forbid we should have a hint of the same basic tone as that wonderful earlier strip. That'd be a shame, wouldn't it?

("Jeff" has some feelings about why his own strips aren't making it. Maybe because they're so angry?)

Posted by: Ian on February 5, 2005 7:45 AM

I just saw Jeff's "cartoons". No wonder he's mad at Mallett.

True, Jeff. Mallett's work looks a lot like Watterson, which he freely admits. But that's because he can actually pull it off. He can draw.

Posted by: Manatowak on October 10, 2005 5:41 PM

Dear Mr. Watterson

I would like to see Calvin 10 years later. This could give him a robot cat (still Hobbes) ,college,a car (he always liked cars) .homework, and a big book bag (he had a hard time with simple homework).He coud get a motercycle

lots of fans
the Radabaughs 5
the Carrs 6
the Tussings 2
the stewarts 1 right off the bat

Posted by: Jacob on January 5, 2006 5:53 PM

Pick up any average paper across the country and you'll see a lot of lackluster comics -- we need more Jef Malletts out there! Frazz is a wonderful comic.

Posted by: Jane Plainwell on April 28, 2006 6:22 PM

Jacob's suggestion had better be sarcastic. Moreover, Frazz is the most self-righteous strip in the comics pages save Mallard Fillmore. Also, Mallett's weak attempts at intellectual and thought-provoking material makes it impossible not to groan at the clowns who dare to shadow Watterson. The intentional comparison only highlights Frazz's failures.

Posted by: Kate on August 1, 2006 2:23 AM

Just a thought from an outsider and devoted fan of both strips. Does it matter if he is influenced by the art or is replicating the style? Calvin was never shown as an actual grown up, so this can not possibly considered forgery. Does it matter if Mallett was influenced by the subject matter, philosophy, or is just himself very literary? Is it a bad thing to have more than one learned and free thinking person exposing people all over the country to a little culture and independent thought? And lastly, If "Frazz" is or isn't a sequel to "Calvin and Hobbes", does it matter? Not to me, I like to think it is. The young Calvin grew up, learned a few things along the way, and came out still with a deep understanding of life, but also now of books and always understands what the students are up to because he was once the same. If it's not a sequel, I don't care. This is my self-created reality, the reality I choose to accept, and am less depressed by the end of Calvin. Yes or no, it's up to the individual to decide, have free thought, devoid of the influence of others, just like Calvin, and just like Frazz, as ironic as that sounds. And if it still angers you, then think of this, it's a comic strip, a cartoon on paper. You don't have to read it, and if you want to, you don't have to take it seriously. Don't like what's on TV, turn it off, don't like the DJ on the radio, turn the station, don't like what you read...put it down. Simple concepts that could actually end censorship forever if people would just relax and accept that nothing is as serious as we make it out to be. Life is a game of Calvinball, only one rule, you can't do it the same way twice. Make it up as you go along and have fun, but what do I know, I'm just some dumb guy who grabs the Sunday paper each week only to read the comics.

Posted by: Harley Hughes on December 12, 2006 10:27 AM