Posts Tagged ‘bill watterson’

The Cartoon Research Library

What better thing to to in Ohio than look at some comics? I was in Ohio last week and was able to make a side-trip to the Cartoon Research Library, part of Ohio State University in Columbus. It was, to say the least, a long-awaited-for moment.

The library itself is tucked away inside a larger building for arts programs. It is a smallish room with long tables, good for research and the handling of large pieces of paper. There was an exhibit on display called “To Be Continued…” about serial stories in comic strips. Some Pogo comics were out, as well as Doonesbury and For Better or For Worse. I looked at the display, but only after the reason I had come so far.

The woman at the desk asked my name and pulled the comics I had requested the day before. All the originals are stored so as to slow their deterioration – you can’t just browse the stacks and pull out your favorites. She set them down on the table and I began to look at them, one at a time.

I had requested a couple of original Krazy Kat comics, by George Herriman. Krazy Kat is a surreal comic set in Coconino County in Arizona. I love the bizarre and ever-changing landscapes, as well as the loopy way Herriman drew his main characters – Krazy (the love-struck cat), Ignatz (the object of Krazy’s affection, who delights in throwing bricks at Krazy’s head), and Offica Pup (who often throws Ignatz in the county jail for his brick-throwing offenses). These strips were huge. Lots of room for story AND art. I don’t know if I fill that big space every week. There were nine panels in all (3 rows and 3 columns); however, Herriman only drew a box around the center panel. It gave the comic a sketchbook kind of feel: more free flowing. I found out that: there were very few pencil lines for guides. Unless the pencil lines have faded with age (they were dated 1919!), there weren’t many pencil marks. It all looked very loosely drawn. That doesn’t mean he drew quickly, just that his style was spontaneous. I liked the way it looked. It was silly in the drawing, fun to look at.

Next, I looked at a few examples of Walt Kelly’s Pogo. The Pogo strips were dated 1948. They were in the format we are familiar with today – four panels for dailies, and a larger Sunday. Kelly used non-photo blue pencil for his outlines. The blue pencil is great – I use it myself – because you can draw all over the page and you never have to erase a line. It won’t show up on a photocopy. Kelly added a lot of detail before beginning with ink. I could see where he had used a ruler for the panels and for dialogue, then drawn in the characters and scenery. Then, when he went in for the final ink drawing, he used the blue pencil as a sort of sketch. He would change things as he drew with brush. I could see where dialogue had been changed, and characters’ looked different in ink than they had in pencil. He was not locked in by the pencil drawings; it was more of a rough draft.

A detail I liked on one of the Sundays was a note Kelly made at the top of the page: “The cow must be purple.” I wondered why he felt like he had to make that specific note to the printer about the cow, but not anything else in the strip. Reading the comic it became clear: they reference the cow as purple. How strange for a reader to see a blue cow and then have the characters talk about how purple it is.

Finally, I saw two weeks’ worth of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson has all his originals on long-term loan; the Library hopes it will become a permanent gift sometime in the future. Looking at his work, as he drew it, was probably the most important schooling I’ve had in my life. They are really beautiful.Newspapers and the books lose a lot of subtle detail – the brush lines are so delicate, and obviously drawn very carefully. I found myself staring at hands a lot as I looked through the drawings. I was surprised that he had apparently lifted his brush quite a bit while drawing – there weren’t many continuous lines. I’m guessing that he didn’t want the brush to run out of ink; there were few lines drawn with a dry brush.

Watterson used a light pencil line to draw the panels and outlines for the characters. Not much to erase afterwards. Usually I saw the ghost of a circle where Calvin’s head was, or two circles and a squashed oval for Hobbes. The librarian commented that they were “clean”, and she was right. There wasn’t even much white-out used. Usually, when Watterson did use white-out, it was for an effect, like Hobbes’ whiskers across his face, or an alien’s saliva, or rain falling in front of Calvin. All of this shows how much in control of the drawing Watterson was. He already knew what he wanted the comic to look like, before he even started drawing.

I looked at one week of Calvin and Hobbes done in the mid-80’s, the beginning of the run, and one week in the mid-90’s, the end. The differences in drawing were there, but one new thing I noticed was the different paper Watterson used. In the 80’s, he used Bristol board taken from a pad. Later on, he was using Bristol board sold loose (series 500, for those keeping score), a much higher quality paper. I read once that Watterson said he realized that it really did make a difference which paper you use. It was pretty cool to see evidence of that switch.

One of the Sunday strips I saw was the one in which Calvin imagines himself as an Earth-destroying god. It was one Watterson mentioned as a reason he wanted to switch to a larger Sunday format. The amount of ink on the page was quite a lot for a comic strip: mostly, they use white space. But Watterson didn’t just fill the panels with black – he used cross-hatching to create a more atmospheric effect (I felt like it was a cross between looking into deep space and the illustrations of illuminated manuscripts). The reprinted version in the books just doesn’t show this very well. I can understand why he was disappointed with the result after working so hard to achieve a certain look.

I could go on about my impressions, but this post has become something of a monster already, so I’ll close. I can’t state how important it was for me to see these pieces of art – done by three of the greatest cartoonists, ever. Ultimately, though, instead of being humbled by their superiority, I was lifted. In the end, it was just ink lines on a page. I can do that. Heck, ANYONE can do that. Comics are not for the artistic elite in their high castles. Comics are for everyone. And it was great to see that magic can be achieved with the simplest tools: paper, pencil, and ink.

what it takes

daily comic strips

For those of you wondering about the workload of a cartoonist, the above picture may supply an answer. I got the two plastic containers (in the back) for The Family Monster, but I was buying them so quickly I realized I’d need to start getting a bigger box. I now have filled three of the acid free cardboard boxes (in the front). One holds The Family Monster, two hold Welcome to Falling Rock National Park.

I’ve done two comic strips since graduating from college. The first, The Family Monster, ran in the Colorado Daily for four years. I drew 940 comics in all. I switched things up three years ago and started Welcome to Falling Rock National Park for the MCT Campus. So far I’ve done 558 comics.

With practice comes improvement. I couldn’t have done this without outside deadlines. Can you imagine drawing this much without anyone outside yourself pushing you on? For that I am grateful to the Colorado Daily and the MCT Campus for taking on an unknown cartoonist and letting me do pretty much whatever I want. There has been a lot of experimentation these last seven years; I’ve enjoyed that freedom.

When I visited the Cartoon Research Library in Columbus, OH, I got to see a few original Calvin & Hobbes comics. I didn’t get to see the stacks and stacks they had in the (climate-controlled) back room, but I imagine it is an impressive sight. Think about this: what you see pictured is roughly five days a week with two or three comics fit on a single piece of Bristol board paper, for seven years. Bill Watterson worked on Calvin & Hobbes every day (with the exception of two vacations) for ten years. That’s a lot of paper.

daily comic strips 2

Bill Watterson returns from sabbatical

Right now I’m taking a summer hiatus from Welcome to Falling Rock National Park. It works out well because I can concentrate on other projects and come back to Falling Rock in the fall refreshed and ready to go.

I recently got to thinking about when I was a kid and Bill Watterson took two sabbaticals from Calvin and Hobbes. Each time I was devastated, as if a good friend didn’t want to see me for 9 months at a time. Was it something I said? Now I realize how important breaks are, especially from a daily comic strip.

They say no matter how long your prison sentence you only do two days: your first day and your last day. At least, that’s what The Wire says. For me, Watterson’s sabbatical was only two days: the first day, when the reruns began, and the day he returned. It is the return that I’d like to talk about today.

Rarely does a comic strip combine art and writing as perfectly as Calvin and Hobbes. That kind of feat takes talent but it also takes dedication. Watterson, by all accounts, pretty much worked himself into the ground for the 10 years Calvin and Hobbes ran in daily newspapers. He was not content to be a part-time cartoonist; when he got his syndication contract he figured he might as well quit his day job. Watterson went against the wise words of his syndicate editor because he felt he had more to gain with the time spend on drawing comics than he had to lose with the steady paycheck of a job he hated.

That kind of effort cost him creatively, and after six years he needed a rest. Bill Watterson first took a sabbatical on May 5, 1991, when I was eleven. Until that date I didn’t even know what the word sabbatical meant; now I knew: no more Calvin and Hobbes for nine months. Nine months! To a kid, that might as well be a life sentence.

He intended to make up for his absence; when he returned, he asked for a larger Sunday strip. Newspaper editors balked, but I couldn’t have been happier. Now we’d get even more of Calvin and Hobbes, in full color no less.

This is what Sunday Calvin and Hobbes looked like before the sabbatical:sunday-calvin-hobbes-scientific-progress
And this is what it looked like the first Sunday of Watterson’s return:calvinhobbessabbatical
Suddenly we got to see the world Calvin and Hobbes lived in. To anyone born after the 1950’s this was a revelation. Ever since their inception in the late 1890’s, when the comic strip was born out of a desire to increase newspaper circulation, comics have been squashed ever smaller by clueless newspaper editors.

By the early 1990’s this meant three or four tiny panels six days a week and a slightly bigger, colorized version of the same on Sunday. Some strips, like Doonesbury and Funky, don’t appear to change from their daily versions at all. Except for the inclusion of color, you wouldn’t know anything is special. This is not the fault of the comic creators but of short-sighted newspaper editors. They have been eager to shrink the size of comics, while at the same time have seen their newspapers’ circulations shrink to nothing. Coincidence?

As Watterson said, “I think it’s a mistake to underestimate readers’ appetite for quality. The comics can be much more than they presently are. Better strips could attract larger audiences, and this would help newspapers.”

When Calvin and Hobbes returned Watterson more than made up for his absence from the comics pages by giving readers something new: a large, beautifully illustrated Sunday strip. To a kid like me, it made him even more heroic. Watterson had talent and clout and he was using them to make comics better, to raise the art form all by himself.

He wasn’t asking for more money; quite the opposite, in fact. He refused to license his characters and lost himself and his syndicate millions of theoretical dollars. “I didn’t care if we made more money, and he syndicate didn’t care about my notions of artistic integrity,” Watterson said. He insisted on keeping the world he was creating insulated and pure, another trait unheard of in the latter part of the 20th Century.

Watterson again: “A wordy, multiple-panel strip with extended conversation and developed personalities does not condense to a coffee mug illustration without great violation to the strip’s spirit. The subtleties of a multi-dimensional strip are sacrificed for the one-dimensional needs of the product.”

Watterson’s second sabbatical took place between April 3, 1994 and December 31, 1994. During this time the Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary book appeared in bookstores. In it Watterson described his writing and drawing process (although, agonizingly, not in enough detail for certain aspiring cartoonists hungry for clues). At the end of the book, he wrote an essay on his love for newspaper comics. It ended with this:

“I’ve always loved cartoons. With Calvin and Hobbes, I’ve tried to return some of the fun, magic, and beauty I’ve enjoyed in other comics. It’s been immensely satisfying to draw Calvin and Hobbes, and I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work in this wonderful art form.”

At the time Watterson hadn’t announced his retirement from comics. To a kid who reread every word and analyzed every detail, this was cause for alarm. It sounded suspiciously like a farewell.

Watterson did return to the newspaper page on January 1, 1995 with this Sunday spectacular. trex-f14
Again, I can’t help but feel he wanted to return with a bang. It shows off both character depth and involving, creative art. Add to that the silliest of endings (dinosaurs in fighter jets), and you’ve got something that really wakes you up on a Sunday morning.

Looking back, it’s clear Watterson was already done at the beginning of 1995. He just had to make it official. That was a hard year for me; Calvin and Hobbes was just one more thing that went away and changed my life. The last Calvin and Hobbes strip landed on Sunday, December 31, 1995.

I’m kind of amazed Watterson managed to keep it going for a full year after his last sabbatical. The last collection, It’s a Magical World, is full of Calvin’s dad complaining like a cranky old man. I hope Watterson has managed to find some peace in his retirement and glad he didn’t force Calvin and Hobbes to limp along like so many of its comic peers.

Bill Watterson changed the way I thought about comics. His work stands as the best in comics’ history, and his ability to articulate his outlook gave me the understanding of what it means to be a cartoonist today. Without those sabbaticals, and Watterson’s explanation of his actions as more than simply “fatigue,” I’d have a vastly different idea of what cartooning is all about. In that way, Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes were the most essential cartooning teachers I had.

not last thoughts on bill watterson

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.

sequential art

There are some sequences in comic strips that are really appealing out of the context of the joke. You can enjoy them on their own without the anticipation of the inevitable fourth panel.

Lio, by Mark Tatulli
Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
Cul de Sac, by Richard Thompson

…and one of my own.

looking for calvin and hobbes: a cartoonist’s perspective

searching for calvin and hobbesIf Kubrick had stopped making movies after 2001: A Space Odyssey, the world would be the poorer for it. Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, walked away from the comics page at the end of 1995 and has rarely been heard from since. Watterson’s continued absence from the comics page is felt as sharply as ever, which is partly why this blogger anticipated the first full-length treatment on the man and his masterpiece.

As a cartoonist who has written his fair share of words about comic strip legend Bill Watterson, I was keen to read Nevin Martell’s part-biography, part-homage Looking for Calvin and Hobbes. Fortunately not all unauthorized biographies strive to be muckraking, and this is one. Martell is fan first, investigative journalist second. In his quest to answer a few questions about the reclusive cartoonist, Martell had to strike a balance between wanting to know more about Watterson and not wanting to intrude upon his self-imposed privacy. Some cynics would question how you can honor your subject’s privacy while writing a book about said subject. I don’t know if Martell answers that question, but it is clear that he clearly has a lot of respect for the man who created one of the great comic strips. I gleefully skipped across the same line by reading his book. I did it out of interest for someone who I consider one of my best teachers and certainly one of my heroes.

Don’t misconstrue my criticisms as a dislike for the book. I’ve found that, when you truly appreciate something, you find a thousand more nitpicky things than if you are uninterested in it. I’ve spend so much of my life reading and thinking about Calvin and Hobbes that I’ve come to a few conclusions of my own, and it was honestly a bit jarring to read that Martell’s take could be quite different. That is, of course, one of the great things about Calvin and Hobbes – everybody has their own understanding of it.

Maybe this is why Watterson railed against merchandising, marketing, and inquiries into his personal life: he wanted, more than anything else, to create a strip that would speak directly to each reader, without outside commentary influencing that dialog. When Calvin speaks, he speaks in my voice. When Hobbes pounces, he does it in exactly the way I imagine it. A book like Martell’s only seeks to honor Watterson and his work, but simply by existing it provides what some may mistake as an authoritative voice interrupting our own personal communication with a boy and his tiger.

Watterson’s stand against licensing is part of what made him a hero when I was a kid. How many public figures stick to their principles when fame and fortune are thrust upon them? It certainly turned him into a contentious character around his syndicate, and I count myself one of the kids saddened that I couldn’t have a Hobbes doll of my own. But Watterson took his responsibility as a storyteller seriously. He didn’t want our perceptions of him to get in the way of his work. He also didn’t want to become a businessman, which I can understand completely. We become cartoonists because we want to get out of an office, not become manager of our own.

An especially funny anecdote in Looking for Calvin and Hobbes relates the story of Watterson, then living in New Mexico, receiving a box full of Hobbes plush dolls from a hopeful manufacturer. His reaction? Marching them to his yard and burning them all. How awful to be a kid walking by Watterson’s house at that moment? A moustachioed man burning Hobbes in his yard. I can’t imagine a more horrifying image. Sometimes we have to be the villain in order to do the right thing.

Batman knows that. (Also, Mookie.)

The one piece of information I hoped to gather from this book was Watterson’s working method. Who would turn down the chance to watch Van Gogh paint Starry Night? Or to sit in the studio when John Lennon went through take after take of Strawberry Fields Forever? That, more than childhood trivia, should be this book’s reason for being.

There were a few clues as to how Watterson worked, but unfortunately they were few and far between. Martell focuses on the facts he can find, and since he was not able to talk to Watterson directly, he was forced to rely on friends, cartoonist acquaintances, and old interviews (most of which I have already read).

Martell also made a trip to the Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus, Ohio, to look at Watterson’s original drawings. I’ve made this pilgrimage myself, and I cannot recommend the library enough – it is literally the closest you can get to the work. But I didn’t need to read Martell’s take on the strips; his insights leaned towards personal rather than artistic detail.

When museums x-ray a painting by Da Vinci, they do it because Da Vinci himself is not around to explain how he made it. Watterson still is around, yet he isn’t interested in imparting wisdom to the next generation of cartoonists. This is a great tragedy. Even when you look at an original Calvin and Hobbes you’re only seeing the finished product, not the process. His few, light pencil marks only tell so much. And of course we can only speculate about how he wrote. This especially applies to the later Sunday strips. How did Watterson decide where to put the panels? How to size them? It would be amazing to see a strip from beginning to end, from dialog written in a lined notebook to pencil sketches of layout to the inked final page.

The interviews Martell undertakes represent a fairly wide circle around Watterson. From cartoonists such as Richard Thompson, Stephan Pastis, Keith Knight, and Bill Amend, to Watterson’s editor Lee Salem, to Watterson’s mom and a couple of his personal friends, to people who are mainly referenced as “color commentary.” It’s cool to hear from Brad Bird, but he doesn’t really tell us much we don’t already know about Calvin and Hobbes.

Martell also annoyingly interprets Watterson’s few interviews as standoffish and cantankerous. Martell sees conflict and strife where I see a man attempting to fully grasp the unusual situation in which he’s found himself. I doubt many of us could explain our lives with as much eloquence and insight as Watterson has done. If he sometimes came off as overly judgmental of his cartooning peers, it was only because he held himself to the same exacting standards.

Surprisingly, Martell doesn’t know much about comics. He is a reader, not a cartoonist. The book would have been helped by someone who knew the comics landscape into which Calvin and Hobbes dropped and how it affected the comics page even 14 years after its retirement. How can you talk about the significance of Calvin and Hobbes if you have just recently become acquainted with Krazy Kat and Pogo, not to mention newer strips such as Cul de Sac, Lio, and Pearls Before Swine? Martell comes off as a competent journalist but a lackluster art critic.

Another funny anecdote. When Universal Press Syndicate announced Calvin and Hobbes would be running as a half-page feature upon Watterson’s return from sabbatical, the reaction from newspapers was fierce. Yet, of the 1800 papers that ran the strip, only 7 dropped it. It kind of makes me wonder what syndicates could get away with if they made similar demands for popular strips today.

Although it wasn’t the main reason for reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised at what Martell uncovered about Watterson’s formative years. He mentions the editorial strips Watterson did while working in Columbus for six months, but he also finds college comics, editorials done for other papers, and a strip he did for his hometown paper when he was in high school. Maddeningly, none of these are reproduced in the book. I’m not sure whether this was Martell’s decision or the publisher’s, but that absence keeps this book from being essential.

Studying the early work of a great artist is always helpful. How did Watterson arrive at Calvin and Hobbes? I’m grateful for the digging Martell did, but mere descriptions fail to do justice to Watterson’s comics.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (in Martell’s case, writing, and in my case, reading) is a way to deal with the loss of a beloved comic strip. But it isn’t Calvin and Hobbes I miss as much as Watterson the cartoonist. If he were to return with a 500-page sci-fi graphic novel, or, heck, a DVD player instruction manual, I would be pleased beyond words. Watterson showed us how it is done. His comics are invaluable as entertainment, social commentary, and as a signpost showing us how good the art form can get.

new bill watterson interview

bill watterson at deskBill Watterson, seen here in this horrendously outdated file photo, has given his first interview in 20 years.

I’m not sure what to say, except I’m thankful 1) the reporter asked thoughtful questions and didn’t waste everybody’s time, and 2) Old Bill is still among the living.

We know we won’t get any new Calvin and Hobbes comics. I’m fine with that. What I do wish is for Bill Watterson to continue drawing comics or writing or painting, and to find some way to publish. He is obviously still as sharp and witty as ever. I miss hearing his artistic voice.

More later. For now, bask in the moustachioed glow of Bill Watterson.

vigil the ante

Back in high school, I read a lot of comics. My first love was comic strips. After a while I tested the waters of comic books. They were fascinating. They charged ahead on 24 pages of glossy paper in full color. Yet, I was ultimately let down by superhero comics. They couldn’t seem to do what the best comic strips did: tell a succinct and witty story. Page after page of splash panels, action scenes that were at times hard to follow, spandex costumes that revealed muscles I had never heard of before. There was not much in superhero comics that a skinny redhead with glasses and braces could identify with.

One thing superhero comics did give me was Vigil the Ante. Vigil was a parody of all the comic books I was reading at the time. He was also a parody of the movies I’d recently seen, the TV shows I watched, the books I was assigned at school. He took the information I was ingesting at a steady rate and rearranged it into something I could enjoy.

He was also deeply indebted to Homer Simpson.

Vigil was part man, part ant, with a helmet, antennae, squinting eyes, a huge nose and a nifty spandex outfit. His shoes were shaped like two diamonds (I think that was because I didn’t like the way every superhero had super-smooth footwear, but maybe I just liked the odd design). Vigil stood for everything good and weird. He was my kind of guy. vigil-the-ante
Vigil, like all the best superheroes, had a sidekick. His sidekick had no name, a little joke about how he did all the hard work while Vigil took all the credit. “Friend” wore a costume as bulky and inefficient as possible. His huge goggles didn’t fit his head. A coat-hanger had somehow become lodged upside-down in his shirt. He wore a bow tie. There was a smiley face on his shirt, not unlike a giant bulls-eye. He had no pants, just underwear. He adopted the same footwear as Vigil, my only concession to a team costume.

The one advantage he had was the ability to fly. Vigil used him as his personal taxi. Friend couldn’t catch a break.vigil-and-friend

I recently uncovered my last, and most fully realized, Vigil the Ante story. Clocking in at 21 pages plus cover, it was my attempt to tell a comic strip story in a comic book format. Plenty of jokes, lots of small panels, as packed with story as I could make it. I used a brush to ink it, as I was attempting to follow closely in Bill Watterson’s footsteps.

Reading it now, 13 years later, I realize how little my storytelling goals have changed. I also notice how much the dialogue sounds like conversations I’ve had with my brother. This all follows my theory that our sense of humor crystallizes in middle school and doesn’t change for the rest of our lives.

Tomorrow I will post Vigil the Ante and Friends in its entirety. I look forward to sharing it with the entire planet for the first time.

okay bill watterson, time to come out of retirement

You’ve watched every movie in your Netflix queue.  You have plumbed the depths of your Pandora radio stations.  You’ve thoroughly tested the capabilities of your custom-built road bike.  It’s time now, Mr. Watterson, to return to the publishing world.

Judd Apatow has said that comedians are just people in search of a philosophy.  That makes sense, because they make fun of everything.  Maybe that search for meaning is part of why you dropped out of public life for the past 15 years.  You went off the grid.  Cartoonists have heard rumors of a mysterious moustachioed man at Buddhist temples, hiking the Andes, riding a hot air balloon over the North Pole.  Did you find what you were looking for?  I sincerely hope so.

If you had simply stopped publishing, that may have been the final answer.  Bill Watterson, the J.D. Salinger for Generation X, threatening trespassers with his shotgun.  But you have popped up every now and again, which makes the long pauses all the more infuriating.  Your heartfelt review of the Charles Schulz biography, the short and funny interview you did for the Plain Dealer earlier this year.  It seems like maybe you’re not done – that you’ve still got something to say, and the skill with which to say it differently than anyone else.

So do it already.  It could be the comic strip equivalent to The Dark Knight Returns.  It could be a sci-fi farce.  It could be a series of paintings, or a piano concerto, or an ice sculpture.  My point is, a talent that strong shouldn’t be denied.  Michael Jordan tried to retire like seventeen times, but he knew he was put on Earth to sell shoes play basketball.  Don’t be the guy who one-ups Michael Jordan by only retiring once.

You could draw a comic strip or a graphic novel about anything you choose.  You were an editorial cartoonist without talking about politics, a philosopher without talking about religion.  You got to all the heavy stuff in life without weighing your comics down, an amazing feat.  I credit you with getting me into watercolors.  And though I haven’t used a brush to draw comics for quite a while, I’m thinking of trying again.

Mr. Watterson: show us how it’s done, again.

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comic con 2010: watterson’s spirit

A full rundown of Comic Con 2010 will appear at this here blog within the next day or so.  To tide you over until then, I present a series of sketches Bill Watterson sent to Berkeley Breathed – they were cartoonist pen pals back in the heady 1980’s.

Berkeley gave a funny and subversive talk, attended by hundreds of nerds, geeks and dweebs of all stripes.  Since Comic Con is home to Exclusive Limited Editions in all media, where better to show off a bunch of Watterson sketches received by snail mail in the 80’s?

This is probably the closest ol’ Bill will ever get to Comic Con.comic-con-watterson6 comic-con-watterson5 comic-con-watterson4 comic-con-watterson3 comic-con-watterson2 comic-con-watterson1
This last sketch, of a buck naked Ronald Reagan, was Bill’s response to a story told by Berkeley in which Berkeley received a phone call from the President as he emerged from the shower.  Reagan had seen a picture of his wife, Nancy, in a Bloom County Sunday strip, and wanted to thank Berkeley.  Too stunned to think of anything better to say, Berkeley replied “Mr. President, I think you should know I’m not wearing any pants right now.”  The President must have found this charming, because he invited the cartoonist to a State Dinner.  (That time, Berkeley wore pants.)

More fun cartoonist stories to come!