As a kid, I cut out Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strips, laminated them, and posted them on the walls of my room. It was homemade wallpaper. I’d like to think some of that genius seeped into my brain while I slept and made me a better cartoonist. It also establishes, once and for all, my Calvin and Hobbes geek cred.
Calvin and Hobbes’ strength is in its complete insularity: you knew Calvin was not going to make terrible jokes about the current news cycle, you’d never see Hobbes endorsing life insurance or cat food. Bill ensured that Calvin and Hobbes would remain firmly in our imagination and never on some billboard along I-10.
The downside of this was Bill’s withdrawal from public life. Aside from the occasional intrepid journalist traveling to Watterson’s abode outside Cleveland, Ohio, or a surprising book review or introduction written by the man himself, I slowly began to understand that there would be no follow-up to Calvin and Hobbes. Bill had given us everything he had for 10 years and that, he decided, was plenty.
The problem with being a genius who revitalizes an art form is, people don’t forget you. Bill may have thought that dropping out of the public eye for a decade and a half would make him disappear, that we’d all become so entranced with our iphones that we would forget that comic strip about a boy and his tiger. Well, if he wanted us to forget, he shouldn’t have made Calvin and Hobbes so damn good.
Seriously, forgetting about Bill Watterson is like forgetting about Bob Dylan. “Remember that guy?” “Who?” “You know, that guy who made like FIFTEEN CLASSIC ALBUMS IN A ROW?” You see my point.
My friend Alec (to whom I now owe my life) alerted me to Looking for Calvin and Hobbes, by Nevin Martell. It will be published in October. In the introductory chapter, sent to me free(!) by the author, Nevin maps out his own desire to speak with that most elusive of creatures, the retired cartoonist. Like a man stalking a tiger in the jungle, Nevin is well aware of the dangers but plunges on nevertheless. He breathlessly narrates his hopes (will he secure an interview with Bill Watterson?) and fears (Bill Watterson will hate him forever for writing this book).
I cannot wait for this book to be released. My initial apprehension that the book would be trashy, or tell-all, or in some way denigrate Bill’s work, was allayed by the tone of the chapter. This guy loves Calvin and Hobbes as much as I do, and he has nothing but respect for its author. Even if Nevin doesn’t get the golden interview, we still get to hear from cartoonists and friends (and cartoonist-friends) of the main man. And that ain’t bad.
Now we just have to hold our collective breath to see whether Looking for Calvin and Hobbes is as illuminating as promised. I have high hopes. Even after a decade of comics, Bill Watterson has much to teach us.