Books, art

Calvin And Hobbes Creator And Comic (Strip) Genius Bill Watterson’s First Interview In 20 Years

Amy Rose Spiegel :: Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 2:50 pm

For me and so many others, the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” has always been essential reading.  I obsessively collected the anthologies as a kid.  I still have most of them today, which is the only reason I haven’t purchased the beautiful collection of every strip, from beginning to end, which was released in recent years.  When I lived with my boyfriend last winter, we would joke about the fact that there was a “Calvin and Hobbes” book (sometimes two) in every room of the apartment at all times, which we neither planned nor minded one bit.  We’d read them in the kitchen as we waited for things to come out of the oven, on the couch in the living room, or on our stomachs on the bed.  They were always freshly funny and often poignant, despite how many times during the course of our lives we had read them.

The creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” Bill Watterson, is often described as the J.D. Salinger of the comics world: notoriously elusive, quiet, and unwilling to discuss his work to the press.  Another thing he has in common with Salinger is the fact that they’ve both created genius narratives about the minds of brilliant and misunderstood young men, albeit of a very different kind.  Calvin, unlike Holden Caulfield, is too young to be all that jaded about the world he lives in.  He finds simple joy in the outdoors, making trouble, and his anthropomorphic companion, Hobbes (whose name is a nod to the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whom he shares certain viewpoints with).

Watterson recently agreed to a short interview with Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer, his first since 1989.  In it, he reflects on his intentions and experiences while writing the strip.  He doesn’t wax too sentimental about his work and its legacy, saying, “I just tried to write honestly, and I tried to make this little world fun to look at, so people would take the time to read it. That was the full extent of my concern.”  Both pursuits have absolutely proven to be successful.  Take a look at the rest of the interview for some insight into the mind of a humble, witty man who created something that is both meaningful and lasting.

3 Responses to “Calvin And Hobbes Creator And Comic (Strip) Genius Bill Watterson’s First Interview In 20 Years”
  1. I would love to have a place on my shelf for the complete C&H Collection! The only thing that is keeping me from procuring it is the dreadful neglect that Andrews McMeel Publishing ostensibly displayed with the set’s binding (see url at the bottom for testimonials). It’s a shame that such amazing work got such second-rate treatment; apparently the binding and outer pictures are merely glued on, poorly at that. A fair amount of customers actually complained of pages falling out after only a few uses. It’s almost worth it just for Watterson’s lengthy introduction, however.

    Love your apt and topical comparison of Watterson to Salinger! Would like to read more about the strikingly paradoxical nature of these two brilliant artists reaping success and recognition by taking part in the very commodities-obsessed, mainstream culture that they rebelled against in their works.

    Both Calvin (do you think named after K-records Calvin Johnson? you wish…) and Holden, even with their misanthropic leanings, still manage to display a charm and extroverted social charisma that seems incongruous with the reclusive nature of their creators. Do you think Watterson and Salinger are assigning to their protagonists the very personality traits that they so yearn for but are lacking?

    Love reading your posts as always, keep up the wonderful work.

    Posted by: Chris February 4th, 2010 at 11:45 am
  2. To Clarify:

    “Calvin is named for 16th-century theologian John Calvin, founder of Calvinism and a strong believer in predestination. Hobbes is named after 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who had what Watterson described as “a dim view of human nature.” According to Watterson, the two names are intended as a joke for people studying political science/philosophy. Thomas Hobbes’s most famous phrase, from Leviathan, is that human life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, a description that can be applied to Calvin in the comic strip.”

    Posted by: Chris February 4th, 2010 at 11:56 am
  3. Thanks for the thoughtful response. There’s actually at least one more character in Calvin and Hobbes that college students may come across in their reading: Calvin’s teacher, Miss Wormwood, was named for a devil in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.

    I would still buy the collection. Watterson’s annotations in his tenth-anniversary Calvin and Hobbes anthology were, in my opinion, its best part.

    I don’t know if I’m willing to speculate as to either Salinger or Watterson’s impetus for writing these characters, but that’s a good guess.

    Posted by: Amy Rose Spiegel February 5th, 2010 at 4:01 pm