"I've never regretted stopping 'Calvin and Hobbes,' " says reclusive creator in first interview in decades
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.)
| February 1, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists, The Comic Strip | Tags: Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
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