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Dear Mr. Watterson
July 16, 2013 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Joel Schroeder, with the help of Kickstarter, has finally finished a documentary about Calvin and Hobbes and its creator, Bill Watterson. It's scheduled to be released on Nov. 15, 2013.
posted by reenum (36 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thankfully, there looks to be no Salingeresque search for the reclusive Watterson, who has rarely ventured into the public eye since the strip’s conclusion.

Thank goodness for that. Past projects of this nature have wandered dangerously close to stalking and harassment.
posted by themanwho at 6:06 PM on July 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have Calvin and Hobbes delivered every morning into my email via RSS...
posted by jim in austin at 6:06 PM on July 16, 2013


I got the DVD in the mail a couple weeks ago as a kickstarter backer reward but haven't watched it yet (mostly because there is no DVD drive in my iMac). Looking forward to it though.
posted by mathowie at 6:32 PM on July 16, 2013


When I was younger and went to an Episcopalian school we had the Scholastic book club, where, IIRC, every so often you could order some books from a catalog. I didn't know what to order, but my best friend at the time ordered one of the Calvin & Hobbes books. I ended up ordering one of them too and immediately fell in love. I now own almost all of the books, and for Christmas 2010 my parents got me the Sunday pages 1985-1995 collection. One Christmas in the 90's I got a small stuffed animal tiger that was Hobbes. I'm excited to see this and I owe Bill Watterson a lot for my growth as an individual.

If you're interested in seeing some of his other work, including pre-Calvin & Hobbes from when he is in college, check it out here.
posted by gucci mane at 6:39 PM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


What I love about this is that it seems to take the perspective of Watterson as a brilliant artist, which is so overlooked in the marginalizing of comics. Not only was his craft simply beyond reproach, he also taught about humanity in a way that only the best art does.

God I wish I could still sit as his knee. I learned so very much.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:50 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have Calvin and Hobbes delivered every morning into my email via RSS...

Ha! The strip for today is the one where he talks about haranguing the multitudes by standing on a soap box. I still have distinct memories of reading my parents' old Calvin and Hobbes books over and over, basically from the time I could read, and whenever I read them now I can still remember not knowing what a lot of the words meant. In this case, I didn't know what 'harangue' or 'multitudes' meant, nor had I ever heard the expressing 'standing on a soapbox.' So that strip was absolutely incomprehensible to me... yet I kept coming back, because even the ones I didn't get had SOMETHING about them that charmed me utterly even at age 6 or 7, and I knew that one day I would understand those words. Sometimes I looked them up, and sometimes I asked my parents what they meant, and sometimes I could actually figure them out from the context of the strip... but usually I'd just reread them and wait until I understood. Three, four, five years later I'd read them again, for the tenth or fifteenth time, and suddenly understand every panel of a previously nonsense strip. Like that one. It was like magic.

I'd never say that Calvin and Hobbes was the #1 inspiration behind my still-enduring love of the English language, but it's in the top five for sure.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:07 PM on July 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


The best part of this project: The film is about the impact of his strip, not his life as a cartoonist.

posted by Toekneesan at 7:16 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


What Liz said, it's like that.
posted by Chutzler at 7:16 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Calvin's the kid you wanna be."

As a kid who grew up with Calvin, who was excited to be six because that's Calvin's age, this certainly held true. I grew up on a wooded three acre lot surrounded by subdivisions but with only one walkable house, meaning only one other person to play with. Hence, I was a lonely kid with a vivid imagination.

I tried so hard to replicate Calvin's world, because his sprouted with delight. I snuck downstairs past my bedtime wearing my approximation of "Spaceman Spiff" goggles. I built a snowman I deemed the "Bourgeois Buffoon", neither knowing its definition nor pronunciation. I created a local, two-person chapter of "Get Rid Of Slimy girlS", which met with little resistance from the zero girls within hailing distance of my treehouse. My father discouraged me from riding a brakeless wagon down a hill, which probably saved me some dental work. Heck, I even played Calvinball, whose oblique rules are a lot less fun when you actually try to use them.

I realize the above might read as sad, which it was in a way. I was a shy kid in a world of loud future-jocks, isolated from Plymouth's suburban wasteland by a dirt road and a couple acres of trees. But Calvin & Hobbes sparked my imagination. It gave me the impetus to explore the thicket of wood behind my house, destroying the branches of an evil robot army. My love of dinosaurs and supersonic jet fighters was reinforced and luckily intersected with my silly streak. It taught me to revel in the wonder of the world and explore the odd corners of my mind.

In a way, Calvin was an idol. My adventures were never exciting like his, but he gave me liberty to build a vivid inner world to contrast my tepid surroundings. Calvin was deeply alienated from a world of school, parents, and other kids. So was I.

("Mom, they put me in a room with a bunch of four year-olds" I complained on my first day of pre-school.

"But you're four" my mom relented.

"I know, but they're just so immature." Alienation was born into me.)

But Calvin & Hobbes is more than feeling separate from the world. It's deeply funny and philosophical in a way that I missed as a kid, but that allows the strip to hold up with time. It's poignant and introspective. I could keep going, but really, the strip carries the spectrum of human emotion. I came for the dinosaurs and outer space silliness, but I do hope that I carried some of Watterson's philosophical depth from childhood.

I'd love to hear Bill Watterson speak about the strip, his life, the whole world. I feel I could identify with him, as he contributed greatly to the swirling mass of weirdness in my brain. But also, he's a guy who wants to live his own life and let his work stand by itself, and I think that's great. "Calvin & Hobbes: The Cartoon Series" sounded so cool as a kid until I tried to imagine Calvin's voice and a shape-shifting tiger; some things are best left alone.

The next time I truck up to Michigan, I'm going to come back with my pile of dog-eared books. The strips are all but embossed in my brain, yet I've gone too long without a re-read.
posted by Turkey Glue at 7:23 PM on July 16, 2013 [37 favorites]


I can't remember ever being this excited for the release of a documentary. Thanks for posting this!
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 7:23 PM on July 16, 2013


Calvin and Hobbes was definitely elemental to my own upbringing, and for that reason I've always felt kind of... protective of it, in that 'What the hell do you think you're doing, liking Calvin and Hobbes? YOU DON'T KNOW THEM' kind of way.

I've always known that I had this subconscious reaction to these interlopers who couldn't possibly appreciate the strip like I could, but I only just confronted it now. What a silly feeling.
posted by Chutzler at 7:28 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have held a post-Calvin Watterson original in my hands. Very much looking forward to this.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:56 PM on July 16, 2013


Well, there's the also-Kickstarted documentary-in-progress Stripped, which covers not just one great comic strip but damn-near-every newspaper and web comic ever to make an impact (they have pieces of 100+ interviews in the under-two-hour movie INCLUDING THE FIRST ONE EVER WITH BILL WATTERSON) that I'm kind of looking forward to. (One thing the Watterson doc has way easier is 90% of the visuals require clearance from one source... the 150 sources in Stripped have taken longer to clear than the movie took to put together)

Disclaimer, I gave them some bucks and will have it on DVD when it's released so I can freeze frame it into a 100+ hour experience.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:12 PM on July 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


*wibble* Cannot wait... *quiver*
posted by wenestvedt at 8:19 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time I sat in my living room and watched a beautiful woman laughing with glee as she read one of my Calvin and Hobbes books. Until that moment she was just a friend of a friend, nice to look at but someone I thought I had nothing in common with. Something about her joy at Calvin's adventures changed that, though, and made her so instantly irresistible that I crawled onto the papasan next to her, pulled the book from her hands, and kissed her.

We've been married 5 years now.

Thank you, Mr. Watterson.
posted by Blue Meanie at 8:30 PM on July 16, 2013 [48 favorites]


I received the The Complete Calvin and Hobbes set for Christmas a few years back and cherish it to this day. It's very well made and looks great. My daughter is only three and doesn't care much for the actual content of the comics yet, but we still love pulling out a book and flipping through the pages together. Even if she doesn't end up loving them as much as I do the art continues to delight her as much as it did the first time I pulled out a volume and flipped through it with her on my lap a year ago.
posted by Quack at 9:00 PM on July 16, 2013


There's something not healthy about retiring in your late 30s. It seems like a good recipe for early death.

Now Watterson's reason for ending Calvin & Hobbes makes perfect sense (i.e. don't let your creation jump the shark; much as The Simpsons would've had a much stronger legacy if it ended before season 10).

But the fact that he didn't push forward, evolve and move on to different creative projects (perhaps animation or graphic novels or even something new) strikes me as lazy or cowardly. A waste of his immense talent. I'm not a mind reader, but I suspect he over-applied the 'quit while you're ahead' rule from his comic strip to his entire career. This was a bad decision for him personally and for the millions of other people who would have benefited from his creative output.
posted by dgaicun at 5:40 AM on July 17, 2013


This was a bad decision for him personally and for the millions of other people who would have benefited from his creative output.

For all you know, he's ecstatically happy right now. And, for my part, I don't think he owes me anything. He's already given me a lot.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:42 AM on July 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


But the fact that he didn't push forward, evolve and move on to different creative projects (perhaps animation or graphic novels or even something new) strikes me as lazy or cowardly.

You have no way of knowing that he hasn't maintained some form of creative output for his own satisfaction.

His live was and is more than Calvin and Hobbes. He's more than earned the right to decide day to day how he spends his time.

Meanwhile, his strip still exists and is every bit as readable today as it was when it first came out. Pretty great deal, actually.
posted by inturnaround at 5:53 AM on July 17, 2013


Not to be all Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, but yeah, I'm not buying the 'what's wrong with bein' a shepahd' defensiveness.

Something seems off with this situation. But I honestly do hope Watterson feels happy and fulfilled. He certainly has earned it, but whether gifted people often feel that way resting on their laurels in their 30s, is another matter.
posted by dgaicun at 6:02 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something about her joy at Calvin's adventures changed that, though, and made her so instantly irresistible that I crawled onto the papasan next to her, pulled the book from her hands, and kissed her.

Muchas smooches!
posted by Beardman at 6:06 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


By all accounts, Watterson isn't "resting on his laurels" so much as just no longer working on art meant for public consumption. The guy seemed pretty sharp and into his art every time I've read anything about or by him.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:07 AM on July 17, 2013


"Resting on your laurels" seems like an unfair assumption. At the very least it lacks empathy for a guy who faced immense pressure for a decade. Some of his strips and annotations in the 10th Anniversary book hint that deadlines, formatting, and marketing via his syndicate ground him down. I don't know what it's like to be him, but I imagine that if those frustrations made it to his art, his life was filled with far more distractions than he ever dreamed of.

I don't get why a creative person would "owe" me anything. I'd love to read more Calvin & Hobbes, look at Watterson's paintings, or listen to him give a speech about whatever the hell he wants, because he's that brilliant in my mind. But that desire to consume all his work also contributes to the insanity of fame. To me, it sounds dehumanizing to live a life in the public eye; "tell me a joke!" or "draw me something!" would get old when you only want to buy groceries.

It's not that he's earned his privacy by putting in his work or paying his dues, he's earned it by the simple dignity of being human and wishing to live a normal life.
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:49 AM on July 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I watched this, twice. The documentary is pretty good. Though it feels like the first bit drags on a bit. And I *love* that he made this about the impact of the strip, not really about the enigmatic artist.

The compilation of stuff he edited out was just a good too. Though I can't imagine how hard it is to edit down all these great interviews. This was the longest time I ever went from 'Funding to Delivery' of a kickstarter project. No regrets!
posted by DigDoug at 8:55 AM on July 17, 2013


But the fact that he didn't push forward, evolve and move on to different creative projects (perhaps animation or graphic novels or even something new) strikes me as lazy or cowardly. A waste of his immense talent.

You moron, he's been painting. You could have found that out by two seconds of googling.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:41 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I understand that (this was a while ago, & may no longer be the case) that he destroyed most of his paintings upon completion, as he was dissatisfied with their quality.

His brother came in the T-shirt shop back in about 2003, needing some shirts for his band. Bill had done a pen-and-ink logo for his band & the brother stood around the office & waited while we did the camera shot to render it onto a film positive, then immediately took it away with him, when it was done. When he picked up the printed shirts a few days later, he took the film with him & watched us reclaim the screen.

Man, I wanted to print one of those for myself, but the only reason he came to us was that he trusted me (we used to work at the same restaurant in the 80's before embarking on real careers) not to do such a thing, so I demurred.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:58 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I understand that (this was a while ago, & may no longer be the case) that he destroyed most of his paintings upon completion, as he was dissatisfied with their quality.

I think I read this somewhere too, but his reasoning was that he'd read a famous painter say that your first one hundred paintings (I forget the figure, but it was up there) were just practice. So he'd been destroying his work as he went until he was done "practicing."

I could be (and likely am) off on the details here. I'm wondering if I actually read that in the foreword to the giant C&H anthology sitting on my bookshelf.
posted by Maaik at 10:04 AM on July 17, 2013


That sounds familiar.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:10 AM on July 17, 2013


I've read the "destroy your first 100 paintings" thing too, though that reeks of an apocryphal story meant to further the myth of Watterson as an artistic Sasquatch.
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:19 AM on July 17, 2013


I believe the only painting he's shown to the public was this portrait of Cul De Sac's Petey, sold for a Parkinson's Disease benefit. I think it's lovely; it reminds me a bit of Bill Plympton's drawings.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:29 AM on July 17, 2013


I hope that someday he'll share his paintings with the rest of the world, I'm sure they'll be wonderful. I can totally understand why he decided to quit while he was ahead. Years ago I worked with a guy that was an absolutely amazing animator. The stuff he created was just stunning, like, he'd work for a day quietly, and then come back saying "sorry, it's not very good, but I know that you needed something for this shot" and it would be this perfect dreamy pair of angel wings, gorgeously unfolding. The sort of image that most people would work on for weeks and it would still look digital, he could just throw together in an afternoon. When he quit, everyone was upset - he was so amazing! how could he stop? what were we going to do without him? Of course, he went on to make his own art, which far surpasses anything he could have done working in the film industry, no matter how amazing that was.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:48 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course, he went on to make his own art,

Oh, wow. Not sure what to make of those, but yeah, he's talented.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:47 PM on July 17, 2013


I've read the "destroy your first 100 paintings" thing too, though that reeks of an apocryphal story meant to further the myth of Watterson as an artistic Sasquatch.

I dunno. I don't do painting or sculpture since I left college, but the older I get the less sentimental I am about those creations I made then. I've written short stories and even a chunk of a novel, and I'd happily toss them away -- in a few cases I've just let electronic copies disappear (all those damned ZIP drives....) and it's not something that bothers me.

I completely understand how tempting it would be to let oneself fall into the celebrity painter niche and have people want your art not for itself, at some level, but because of something else you'd made years before on deadline with a punch line that never quite satisfied you, but I can also completely respect the desire to put up that wall and not be that. True art is nothing if not personal.
posted by dhartung at 2:49 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


My five year old has just discovered Calvin. As others above have experienced, it's over his head right now but every time he picks it up he learns something new.

And now he's going around telling people he's a Calvinist, because surely that's what the word means. I love five.
posted by wallaby at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I got my mom the complete set a few years ago after she went on and on about how much she liked the comic strip. But she has yet to read them at all. I'm thinking about stealing them from her. Unless she reads this comment and begs forgiveness.
posted by tarvuz at 9:44 AM on July 22, 2013


Not to derail anything, but here is more about THAT OTHER COMIC STRIP DOCUMENTARY, from its Comic-Con panel, including how THEY landed Bill Watterson for an audio interview (which I'm pretty sure was what the "Dear Mr. Watterson" director secretly hoped for). And I have no idea if Joel Schroeder and Fred Schroeder are related...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:37 PM on July 23, 2013


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