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March 12, 2015 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Bill Watterson, the famously reclusive creator of Calvin & Hobbes, has given his longest interview to date, to be published in the exhibition catalog for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum's exhibit, Exploring Calvin & Hobbes.
posted by overeducated_alligator (28 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm lucky enough to have gotten to see the exhibit in person- getting to see the comics full size, and in many cases, with things like Watterson's white-out marks on them was fantastic. There was also loads of commentary about the comics, and some nice thematic sorting, like the comics arranged according to season, which really made you appreciate the atmosphere he created for each. Even without the interview, I'm betting the exhibition catalog will be worth it.

From one of the links:

But I loved having that much nature around us. It mitigated the suburban feel, which I imagine is why my parents chose the property. Having something a bit wild and mysterious and beautiful at the end of the yard was a memorable thing.
Now it’s a subdivision, of course. Looking at a cul-de-sac of McMansions doesn’t have the same impact on the imagination. We like to think their basements are wet.

posted by damayanti at 6:29 AM on March 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


I am super curious to find out what he does with his retirement time. I can't imagine a lot of artists being satisfied with just hanging out and reading, but maybe he's one of the few that's completely satisfied with his work.
posted by ignignokt at 6:42 AM on March 12, 2015


I am so excited to read this interview, Watterson is not only a favorite artist but is so very thoughtful and perceptive in general. Just ordered the book.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:53 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just woke up. I saw "something something Bill Watterson something".

Don't do that to me MetaFilter!!!

Aside from that, when I actually wake up, this is gonna be awesome.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 7:08 AM on March 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


A little more happy just came our way...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:18 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Am hoping this isn't just a duplicate Watterson from the transmogrifer.
posted by Melismata at 7:21 AM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am super curious to find out what he does with his retirement time.

He had been painting! I can't remember where, but he mentioned in some interview that he heard an artist should destroy the first 1000 paintings he made, so the apocrypha is that he is currently sand-mandala-ing out in Ohio, painting landscapes and then ritually burning each one.

I am excited about this new collection! Thank you for bringing it to my attention, OP!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:32 AM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


This just made my day. Thanks!
posted by joedan at 7:37 AM on March 12, 2015


OMG yes. I spent so many hours as a kid, and later a teenager, reading and re-reading and re-re-reading my Calvin and Hobbes books, half of the time just staring at the artwork (particularly the landscapes in the Spaceman Spiff stories). No wonder this comic was so extraordinarily good -- the time and effort and love he put into creating it comes through.
posted by Librarypt at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


BigHeartedGuy: I just woke up. I saw "something something Bill Watterson something".

Don't do that to me MetaFilter!!!


The original post was titled "BILL WATTERSON IS DYING to tell you all about his new exhibit at the Cartoon Museum."
posted by dr_dank at 7:44 AM on March 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


Calvin and Hobbes occupies a really weird place in my mind. I was pretty young when the strip was still running. It's superficially funny when you're a kid, but as I got older more and more layers opened up as I was able to appreciate the nuance and themes I missed as a child. Now it's taken root as a deep nostalgia that I'm finding difficult to explain (but I'm getting chills just thinking about). Even just thinking about that final strip makes me tear up a little.

I was also lucky see the exhibit at the Billy Ireland Museum last year and it was just wonderful. Really amazing to see the full-size originals and getting to read Watterson's descriptions of his tools (which were hilarious).

I doubt such a thing would ever be offered for sale, but I really want a print of the Spaceman Spiff watercolor that was on display (even though the print couldn't possibly do the original justice).
posted by igowen at 7:56 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


In other news related to classic 80s comic strips, there is currently a Berkeley Breathed Humble Bundle. And Academia Waltz will receive the IDW treatment.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:00 AM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have a theory that Chuck Palahniuk is actually Bill Watterson's alter ego.

This comment started off as a glib riff on the clever fan theory that involves Calvin being the narrator of Fight Club as a child, but then I looked through wikipedia a bit and started creeping myself out: the two are around the same age, Fight Club was published the year after Calvin & Hobbes ended, and ever since then the reclusive "Watterson" identity has taken a back seat while Palahniuk was in charge. We know from the strips that Watterson has a dark streak to his humor (especially the snowmen strips), but there was only so far he could take it in the context of a daily cartoon. In order to explore this aspect of himself, he had to create a personality that could dress like Watterson wanted to dress, write like Watterson wanted to write, free to express himself in all the ways Watterson was not. And now the Watterson personality is starting to be a bit more public, right around the time that Palahniuk is working on a sequel to Fight Club in the form of a graphic novel, suggesting that the two component personalities have integrated, or at least reached some sort of rapprochement.
posted by logicpunk at 8:01 AM on March 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


The first link in the OP links to an excerpt from the interview, where he comments on his confusing about having college courses on comics:
Although I’m certainly glad cartoons are finally getting some respect as an art, I’m fairly ambivalent to see cartooning as a legitimate academic offering. If comics need to be deconstructed and explained, something is really wrong with them.
Then goes on to talk about the deeper values in Pogo and Peanuts, how as a kid he was daunted by the former, and only read the latter at face value in his earlier years. It seems to me that he still isn't sure of how to value comics as a medium, and is conflicted about how much meaning can be packed into a comic.

I wonder if he would have found more lasting enjoyment if he had escaped from the newspaper comics format and really gotten into free form story telling in a graphic novel-type book, or the near complete freedom of the internet, with infinite canvases and such.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:06 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


More Watterson (Nov. 7, 2014): New Bill Watterson art, a poster for Angoulême International Comic Art Festival, which named Watterson as recipient of its Grand Prix award for lifetime achievement —
a prize that usually includes serving as event president the following year. Apparently, in a fashion that’s delightfully French, the festival bestows the typically obligation-laden honor without asking in advance whether you’ll accept the concomitant duties, from jurying to appearances.

“People started talking about all the obligations that went with the prize, so I thought the whole thing was bananas,” Watterson tells The Post’s Comic Riffs in his only American interview about the honor, “but Angoulême assured me there were no strings attached and they’d work with whatever I’d be willing to do.

“Drawing the poster sounded fun, so I agreed to do that,” notes Watterson
So Watterson broke from the festival's traditions and didn't even attend, let alone act as president.

(I tried to find the largest image possible, but it seems that Washington Post has a scaling option in their image links, so you can adjust the image width and the image will get blown up or shrunken accordingly. In other words, it's harder to find high resolution images of this poster.)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that he still isn't sure of how to value comics as a medium, and is conflicted about how much meaning can be packed into a comic.

I read that as Watterson saying that beanplating comics as an art form doesn't interest him, and I'd wager that sentiment extends to other forms of expression as well.

When I went back to grad school years ago for literature after a lengthy break from undergrad, I got the sense that nobody around me was really enjoying what they read, that the emphasis was more on the critical lens than the work itself, and I was disheartened and ultimately switched courses of study because of it. Which isn't to say one can't read a book or enjoy art thoughtfully and reflectively, only that there's a sterile, disconnected component of critical academic study that a lot of very thoughtful people find unnecessary to enjoying the work.
posted by echocollate at 8:46 AM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah I think comics started to suffer from a certain degree of "MFA-itis" about 15 years ago, although the diversity of offerings has improved greatly in the past 5 years. I've noticed much less navel gazing/mopey autobiographical stuff and more variety of subject matter and style.

I also think it's worth distinguishing between the worlds of newspaper comic strips, comic books (and their heritage), graphic-novel longform art comics, etc. The influences on C&H, at least from what I can gather from this excerpt, were uniformly from the newspaper comic tradition. That tradition hasn't been carried forward as much into the 21st century. Webcomics are the closest thing to the format, but lack the context of appearing in a general audience publication like a newspaper.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:00 AM on March 12, 2015


Yes and yes, in reading his short interview regarding his poster for Angoulême International Comic Art Festival, Watterson is a newspaper comics guy to his core, looking back fondly at the better days, and still reading with the hope that there will be something good again, but with pessimism.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on March 12, 2015


but as I got older more and more layers opened up as I was able to appreciate the nuance and themes I missed as a child

Watterson "got" comics the same way Chuck Jones "got" animation, that it was possible to entertain kids and their parents without condescension or confusion.
posted by tommasz at 10:05 AM on March 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


Watterson is such a perfect example of leaving on a high note. I can't imagine an artist like him could possibly have no more art in him, even if it's just paintings for his own private enjoyment. I'm just afraid we'll never see his post-Calvin and Hobbes art until after he's gone.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:11 AM on March 12, 2015


Really, I suppose the biggest gift my parents gave me was a lot of time. There was never a sense that I should be doing something else. If I was up in my room drawing, nobody bothered me. That kind of time is just indispensable. It’s not a luxury, it’s an absolute requirement. You’ve got to mess around–it’s the only way to figure stuff out.
I found this part of the OSU excerpt really enlightening. I've heard that last sentiment before, like the Adventure Time quote "Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something." But I've still been thinking of "messing around" as too self-indulgent to commit time to. Well, now I can keep this in mind when I decide to spend some time on a side project that will probably be rewarding and fun.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder if he would have found more lasting enjoyment if he had escaped from the newspaper comics format and really gotten into free form story telling in a graphic novel-type book, or the near complete freedom of the internet, with infinite canvases and such.
filthy light thief

I think Watterson would absolutely despise running a web comic. In theory there's total freedom, but in reality to survive doing a web comic means constant pandering and fan interaction. There's no way he could maintain his famous merchandising stance if he did one, he'd have to be hawking Hobbes dolls and C&H shirts and interacting with fans nonstop on Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Not to mention all the business and admin stuff.

It seems like his ideal arrangement is the one he had with his syndicate: he sends in his work, his company sends him a check, and that's it.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Our boxed set of the complete Calvin & Hobbes is possibly the book I'd grab from our house if it was on fire and I could only choose one. I love it more than I have time to express here.

It's an amazing meditation on adult life expressed through the eyes of a young boy, except if you ARE my young boy, it's some sort of manual. I've literally known him to come into my office and ask for my tool catalogue, then come back later to ask which section the flamethrowers are in.
posted by dowcrag at 10:42 AM on March 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Watterson is such a perfect example of leaving on a high note.
That's probably also a lesson absorbed from reading Peanuts. The 60s and early 70s stuff was damn good. Less so after that. Heck, even Garfield was funny for it's first year or so.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:08 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


In theory there's total freedom, but in reality to survive doing a web comic means constant pandering and fan interaction.

If you're starting a new one, yeah. I'd suspect that if Watterson decided to do a webcomic, he would be okay even if he didn't sell mugs and allow comments etc. I am not sure there are (m)any other artists for whom that would be true, though.
posted by jeather at 11:29 AM on March 12, 2015


Watterson always gives this impression when I read about him that his approach to both work and technology are fundamentally Ron Swansonesque — "he sends his work, and they send a check" indeed, alongside the refusal to "sell out" in whatever way he defines it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:09 PM on March 12, 2015


I was such a huge fan growing up, was probably inspired by him more than any other artist/entertainer, and he made me want to be a cartoonist for a living (which hasn't happened, yet). I'd look for every interview I could find, and read the Tenth Anniversary Book material (which was a sheer goldmine) over and over. And nothing could quite capture the excitement of finding out that a new collection was on sale, since there was no internet to check on release dates.

When I heard about this book, I kind of had mixed feelings, in that he's been hidden away for so long (save for a couple of interviews/Q&As), I'm almost reluctant to find out too much about him now. He seems affable and self-deprecating, yet also a bit of a curmudgeon. Though I suppose the nature of the book suggests he won't be overly blunt.

I was always surprised he never ended up doing a free-form graphic novel type of project, like suggested above, or children's books, etc. We've all heard that he's kept busy with painting, but I wonder if he misses the storytelling and humor aspects of cartooning (for public consumption). I'm guessing these topics will come up in the book.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:39 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Academia Waltz will receive the IDW treatment.

Oh, wow. I sort of figured that stuff was never going to see the light of day again, given how embarrassed by them Breathed seems to be.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:48 AM on March 13, 2015


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