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Posted at 7:30 AM ET, 02/ 1/2010

"I've never regretted stopping 'Calvin and Hobbes,' " says reclusive creator in first interview in decades

By Michael Cavna




Bill Watterson's tot and tiger remain irreplaceable.


For years, Bill Watterson, creator of the beloved comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes," has been the cartooning world's version of J.D. Salinger.

Seemingly chagrined by all the fame-fueled curiosity into his personal life over the decades, Watterson -- who grew up in the perhaps aptly named Chagrin Falls -- has, by many accounts, led a notably reclusive life in the Greater Cleveland area. He retired "Calvin and Hobbes" 15 years ago, sending his internationally embraced boy and tiger to sled off into the great white unknowns of reader imagination. And it's believed he granted his most recent interview in 1989.

(His reclusiveness was part of the reason that "Cul de Sac" cartoonist Richard Thompson was so pleasantly surprised when Watterson surfaced publicly two years ago to write a glowing foreword for Thompson's first book collection.)

Now, rather remarkably, Cleveland Plain-Dealer journalist John Campanelli has landed what's apparently the first interview with Watterson in more than 20 years (as well as a main story). [UPDATE: Cleveland.com removed the story for several hours; the story is now republished at this link.] The interview comes not only 15 years since Watterson ended his strip, but also as the U.S. Postal Service releases a "Calvin" postage stamp. Since the strip became a worldwide hit in the '80s, Watterson has famously turned down millions of dollars in opportunities to merchandise his creation.

In the interview with Campanelli, Watterson says of the strip: "I've never regretted stopping when I did."

"It's always better to leave the party early," says Watterson, ever proud of his strip's legacy. "If I had rolled along with the strip's popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now 'grieving' for 'Calvin and Hobbes' would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I'd be agreeing with them.

"I think some of the reason 'Calvin and Hobbes' still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it."

Of the supposed "rock star" connection with comics fans, Watterson jokes: "Ah, the life of a newspaper cartoonist -- how I miss the groupies, drugs and trashed hotel rooms!"

The 51-year-old Ohio native then continues: "But since my 'rock star' days, the public attention has faded a lot. In Pop Culture Time, the 1990s were eons ago. There are occasional flare-ups of weirdness, but mostly I just go about my quiet life and do my best to ignore the rest. I'm proud of the strip, enormously grateful for its success, and truly flattered that people still read it, but I wrote 'Calvin and Hobbes' in my 30s, and I'm many miles from there."

Quite poignantly, Watterson says, as if a plea for respectful distance: "An artwork can stay frozen in time, but I stumble through the years like everyone else. I think the deeper fans understand that, and are willing to give me some room to go on with my life."

And how would Watterson like "Calvin and Hobbes" to be remembered, Campanelli asks. The simple reply: "I vote for 'Calvin and Hobbes, Eighth Wonder of the World .' "


(Note: Sun Newspaper unearths some "long-forgotten" editorial cartoons that Watterson drew in the early '80s.)


By Michael Cavna  | February 1, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes  
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Next: 'CALVIN & HOBBES': How a Cleveland reporter landed a rare interview with reclusive Bill Watterson

Comments

How fitting. Click on the link to the Cleveland.com story...and it's not there. Almost Salingeresque.

Posted by: commish24 | February 1, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I would like to see the strip run again, just in the order it was originally written. It's been long enough that it would be enjoyed by the next generation and by the old one that loved it the first time around. It is timeless.

Posted by: d2barrett | February 1, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

If anyone finds a working link to the article, please post it! I searched the Cleveland.com website for the article, but no luck.

Posted by: insatx | February 1, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

The link to the interview is working now. Nice to have a quick touch with Watterson. I, like many others, miss Calvin & Hobbes, but I'm sure he's right about people complaining about the strip if he had continued it. We can still read and enjoy them whenever we want.

Posted by: elyrest | February 1, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

For comics fans, the day would not be complete - indeed, it would not be off to a good start - without our reading the "latest" reprinted daily C&H installment at
http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes

Don't you wish so many of the creators (and offspring of creators) of the zombie strips that dominate the present-day funny pages would take Watterson's advice to heart? Been there, done that - and done it perfectly. With such a wonderful legacy, why tamper with it by going back to the same well one time too many? Watterson stepped down not just while he was still at his best but while he was still at anyone's best, period. You will never hear anyone say, "I like the 'old' C&H before..." or "The really good period of C&H was when...", as fans do of so many long-running strips. C&H was the jewel in the comics crown from start to finish, and it will remain so permanently.

Posted by: seismic-2 | February 1, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Calvin and Hobbes are still missed but like my other students, they moved on to 4th grade. I actually had Calvin in my class, although it took me several weeks to recognize him because the alias he used misled me. All the other indicators were there - his sandy blonde-red hair, short stature, and wildly creative behavior that drove me to the brim of insanity. Once I finally realized this child was simply Calvin in disguise, I actually enjoyed the remainder of the year rather than agonize over it.
Although Watterson needed no help with his strip, I could have supplied almost daily strips for him to include. One involved me (I found the teacher-image of myself quite humorous) successfully teaching the concepts of "borrowing" in subtraction. Calvin was uncharacteristically attentive and I was very proud of myself for engaging him in the lesson. He even raised his hand so I called on him almost immediately - in a quite, frustrated little voice, he said, "All I want to know is for someone to explain the differences between binomial and polynomial numbers!" Of course, that revelation was tempered by another strip of his holding his hands up to his face with something imaginary just in front of his mouth. He chomped as he turned his head side to side like a carriage return on an old typewriter. WHAT??? His expression told me he thought I was incredulously dumb not to know he was eating corn on the cob!
Yes! Calvin lives! He's probably working in a lab out at Los Alamos. I've always wanted Watterson to know he spent a year in my classroom.

Posted by: WaryDreamer | February 1, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I usually don't post on forums like these, but I still love C&H. One of the best strips ever.

I also wanted to say GoComics reruns C&H strips, as well as Bloom County, another of my favorites. Miss Breathed's twisted mind.

This Lio strip is wonderfully appropriate:
http://www.gocomics.com/features/search?search_string=far+side

To read daily strips - well, OK, Bloom County doesn't run on Sundays - here are the links:

http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes
http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty

Now, if only GoComics ran Far Side, which I was searching for above. Miss Gary Larson's twisted mind too.

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | February 1, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I figure that after Calvin grew up he became a janitor at his old elementary school.

Posted by: wiredog | February 1, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I've seen Calvin running in foreign papers, specifically the Bangkok Post. If they can do that why can't the Washington Post? I'd like to see reruns of Calvin over first runs of such dreck as Prickly City.

Posted by: LionelMandrake | February 1, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

The blurb "His reclusiveness was part of the reason that 'Cul de Sac' cartoonist Richard Thompson was so pleasantly surprised when Watterson surfaced publicly two years ago to write a glowing foreword for Thompson's first book collection," is a bitter reminder that C&H isn't the only first-rate comic strip that we don't get to see on WaPo online. Watterson of course knows a great strip when he reads one, and CdS is indeed that. Unfortunately, we don't get to see it herein (or in the print Sunday Funnies section) because... well, whatever. If we are never to see a new CdS, can the link on this page at least be removed? I keep clicking on it, out of ungrounded optimism, only to see the same strip from last fall over and over again.

Posted by: seismic-2 | February 1, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

My son so loved CA&H that when he reached the last strip in the last book he literally cried. Really one of the greatest comic strips ever, and he knew when to call it quits, unlike so many others.

We mailed a package to Watterson's publisher of strips my son drew with a request to send them on to the man and never heard a thing. Wished I'd included a SASE and a request they send them back if they couldn't get the strips to Watterson.

Posted by: steveh46 | February 1, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

here's the link

http://www.cleveland.com/living/index.ssf/2010/02/bill_watterson_creator_of_belo.html

>> EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks. This link also already appears in the blogpost, as well.

Posted by: buckeye96 | February 2, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I misread one of the comments, or perhaps the person who made the comment mis-typed.

"I've seen Calvin running foreign policy."

Isn't that what you meant to type?

Posted by: rusty3 | February 2, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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