It’s a Midwestern strip
December 6, 2013 6:59 AM   Subscribe

From 1989, when Calvin & Hobbes was still pretty new, The Comics Journal's interview with Bill Watterson. The interviewer was Richard Samuel West.
posted by MartinWisse (18 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Watterson was born in Washington, D.C., 1958. At Chagrin Falls High School and Kenyon College in Ohio, he drew for the student newspapers and yearbooks. Upon graduation in 1980, he became the political cartoonist for The Cincinnati Post, an experience he remembers as relentlessly depressing but mercifully short.
I don't know which fact delights me more: That Bill Watterson hated political cartooning, or that he went to school in a place called Chagrin Falls.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:16 AM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


In the middle of USA's Christmas buy-a-thon, I particularly appreciate this gem from about 2/3rds of the way down, where Watterson explains his aversion to licensing:

"Instead of asking what’s wrong with rampant commercialism, we ought to be asking, “What justifies it?”"
posted by cubby at 7:51 AM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I bought "Mental Floss" magazine last month because they were supposed to have a big article on Watterson. I was hoping for a great article like this one, instead it read like they called him on the phone and got a handful of yes/no answers from him and rewrote this interview around those quick quips.
posted by inthe80s at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2013


I always wonder if, if Watterson had licensed C+H, there would be fewer knock-offs of it, because whoever he'd licensed it to would go after people. Those truck decals with Calvin peeing just piss me off (so to speak) no end.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that Watterson proliferated at probably the worst time to be a cartoonist in the history of comics. He bridged that gap between when the squeeze was on for space and money in newspapers in the 80s and 90s, and now, when there are dozens of high quality webcomics, none of which would involve the size and time constraints that were placed on him by the syndicate. Of course, he also benefited from this squeeze--he names some of his contemporaries--and none of them were as popular or arguably as good as C&H, and it's easier to stand out when you're among the only good strips available.

It would be interesting to see what he would have done given the crazy wide-open format that is web comics, but at the same time, web comics today live and die by their loyal fan base sales, and without merchandising you have to wonder whether he would have caved, or tried to make it on books alone.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 10:28 AM on December 6, 2013


I always wonder if, if Watterson had licensed C+H, there would be fewer knock-offs of it, because whoever he'd licensed it to would go after people. Those truck decals with Calvin peeing just piss me off (so to speak) no end.

I was always more annoyed by the bootleg t-shirts with C&H getting drunk/stoned that every frat dude at my university seemed to wear ca. 1993-99. The let's-get-wasted-bro ethos seemed so antithetical to the imaginative message of the strip. I suspect these are the same people who also had the decals on their trucks.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:00 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I’m not a fine artist who has come to cartooning. I drew cartoons all my life and never learned how to really draw until fairly recently, so I’m still in the process of mastering technique and learning to work with color and that kind of thing.

That is hugely inspiring. Thanks for posting the interview!
posted by ignignokt at 11:19 AM on December 6, 2013


There was an even earlier interview with Watterson in a short-lived Fantagraphics publication called Honk! in 1987 (I believe). If I still had the magazine I'd scan it and post it but it got sold or thrown out 20 years ago.
posted by motown missile at 11:39 AM on December 6, 2013


The let's-get-wasted-bro ethos seemed so antithetical to the imaginative message of the strip.

Calvin strikes me as someone who will "grow up," more or less completely lose the first semester of college to a drunken haze, realize how empty that can be after having to patch things up with Susie for some stupid thing he did wasted, and start slowly morphing into his father.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:48 AM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The let's-get-wasted-bro ethos seemed so antithetical to the imaginative message

eh, I wouldn't knock getting wasted in high school/college as antithetical to being creative or imaginative. Pretty much all the creative people I know did a good deal of drinking and/or partook in abusing various substances of questionable legality in those years.
posted by Hoopo at 11:58 AM on December 6, 2013


One thing I love about this interview (aside from so many great quotes) is Watterson's love of animation. I'd love to see an animated project from him -- not C&H, though, of course. I agree 100% with him that that'd just kind of... change it, and probably not for the better. But if he were to do an original animated project, that'd be super interesting. I wonder if he'd even be interested in such a thing.

This is why I should be a bajillionaire. I would be able to give folks the opportunity to be given a blank check to do what they want for my own amusement. (and presumably others', but mostly mine.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:02 PM on December 6, 2013


Reading these Watterson interviews that come up every so often, I wonder whether my love of art for art's sake didn't come from reading "Good Readers and Good Writers" in high school, but instead from reading the Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary anthology as a kid. In that book, Watterson writes about his influences and intentions much as he talks about them in the OP, and it was revelatory, at that age, to read an artist's beliefs about his creations and how they worked.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:04 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could definitely see Calvin getting wasted a lot in college. But I don't really see him as a frat boy - I could see him half-heartedly rushing his freshman year, but I think he'd eventually come to the conclusion that most frats (unfortunately) have more in common with team sports than with hanging in the tree fort with Hobbes.

But yeah, I didn't really think about this until ROU_X brought it up, but you can definitely see that subdued anarchic streak in Calvin's dad, just layered under years and years of corporate law - you can tell he wants to go on adventures (his yen for biking and camping) and be imaginative (his hilarious, completely made-up explanations of how the world works) just like his son, it's just that those impulses been channeled in more socially acceptable directions.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:04 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow:
Note pads and coffee mugs just aren’t appropriate vehicles for what I’m trying to do here. I’m not interested in removing all the subtlety from my work to condense it for a product. . . .

Q: [Why not a Hobbes doll]?

A doll communicates even less of the strip than [note pads and coffee mugs.] [A Hobbes doll would] take the character out of the world for which he was intended. If you stick 30 Hobbes dolls on a drugstore shelf [he’s] no longer a character . . . [he’s] just another overpriced knickknack.

[T]he whole intrigue of Hobbes is that he may or may not be a real tiger. The strip deliberately sets up two versions of reality without committing itself to either one. . . . It makes no sense to allow someone to make Hobbes into a stuffed toy for real, and deprive the strip of an element of its magic.
So it's not about 'crasscommercialism' per se. It's about understanding what makes the strip work and what would cause it harm. Respect.

I don't know which fact delights me more: That Bill Watterson hated political cartooning, or that he went to school in a place called Chagrin Falls.

Chagrin Falls the town is of course named for Chagrin Falls the waterfalls, which are on the Chagrin River, which got its name from a corruption of either Erie /shagarin/ ('clear water') or of French /Seguin/ (a proper name) (both attested in the 18th c) and has nothing to do with the emotional state of embarassment or mortification.

Also, it’s not in the midwest, it's in NE Ohio.
posted by Herodios at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Chagrin Falls the town is of course named for Chagrin Falls the waterfalls, which are on the Chagrin River, which got its name from a corruption of either Erie /shagarin/ ('clear water') or of French /Seguin/ (a proper name) (both attested in the 18th c) and has nothing to do with the emotional state of embarassment or mortification.

Oh, I didn't figure it was actually named for the emotional state any more than I thought Labor In Vain Creek in Somerset, Massachusetts, was named that for any reason other than the bleak Protestantism of the area's first English inhabitants. But the double meaning is fun.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:47 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I didn't figure it was actually named for the emotional state

There is a third story that seems obvious folk-historiographic BS to me, tho' oft repeated:
[A 1778 map made by Thomas Hutchins] mistakenly placed the Shaguin River immediately west of Biche River (Chagrin River). In order to make the map agree with French maps and early accounts which always showed the Roche River (Rocky River) several miles west of the Segequin River (Cuyahoga River), he moved La Roche east. This placed La Roche (Rocky River) east of the Segeuin (Cuyahoga River) and west of the Biche (Chagrin River), where there was in fact no river at all.

In 1796, General Cleaveland and a small group were sent to the Cuyahoga River area to survey. They found a river not traced on the charts and assumed it to be the Cuyahoga. After being temporarily lost for some time and feeling very “chagrined” about the situation they named the unmapped river the Chagrin River.
"Labor In Vain Creek". . . the bleak Protestantism of the area's first English inhabitants

Geez.

Coincidentally, most of the euro-folk living in NE Ohio in those days (once they'd chased out the French) were Connecticut Yankees, too (google "Western Reserve"), so a bleak creek and a chagrinned river would be very much in order.
 

posted by Herodios at 1:50 PM on December 6, 2013


Having made a bit of a study of the Doonesbury comic strip for the last few years, I was a little surprised at first (but very pleased) that it figured so highly in Watterson's evaluation of then-contemporary strips.
posted by The Confessor at 3:07 PM on December 6, 2013


Also, it’s not in the midwest, it's in NE Ohio.

I was raised in Ohio and I was told that made me a midwesterner. Wiki concurs. What region would you assign it to, if you were chairperson in charge of naming regions?

I live near Chagrin Falls. It used to be said (before he moved away) that it was possible to bump into Watterson on the street there, particularly at the indie bookshop, which always had C+H books displayed prominently.

I only know that if you asked the bookshop staff about it, they got really weird. Well they got weird when I asked, at least.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:45 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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