This marks the 15th year since “Calvin and Hobbes” said goodbye to the comics pages. Creator Bill Watterson, who grew up in Chagrin Falls and still makes Greater Cleveland his home, recently answered some questions via e-mail from Plain Dealer reporter John Campanelli. It’s believed to be the first interview with the reclusive artist since 1989.
With almost 15 years of separation and reflection, what do you think it was about “Calvin and Hobbes” that went beyond just capturing readers’ attention, but their hearts as well?
The only part I understand is what went into the creation of the strip. What readers take away from it is up to them. Once the strip is published, readers bring their own experiences to it, and the work takes on a life of its own. Everyone responds differently to different parts.
I just tried to write honestly, and I tried to make this little world fun to look at, so people would take the time to read it. That was the full extent of my concern. You mix a bunch of ingredients, and once in a great while, chemistry happens. I can’t explain why the strip caught on the way it did, and I don’t think I could ever duplicate it. A lot of things have to go right all at once.
What are your thoughts about the legacy of your strip?
Well, it’s not a subject that keeps me up at night. Readers will always decide if the work is meaningful and relevant to them, and I can live with whatever conclusion they come to. Again, my part in all this largely ended as the ink dried.
Readers became friends with your characters, so understandably, they grieved — and are still grieving — when the strip ended. What would you like to tell them?
This isn’t as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of 10 years, I’d said pretty much everything I had come there to say.
It’s always better to leave the party early. 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.
I’ve never regretted stopping when I did.
Because your work touched so many people, fans feel a connection to you, like they know you. They want more of your work, more Calvin, another strip, anything. It really is a sort of rock star/fan relationship. Because of your aversion to attention, how do you deal with that even today? And how do you deal with knowing that it’s going to follow you for the rest of your days?
Ah, the life of a newspaper cartoonist — how I miss the groupies, drugs and trashed hotel rooms!
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.
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.
How soon after the U.S. Postal Service issues the Calvin stamp will you send a letter with one on the envelope?
Immediately. I’m going to get in my horse and buggy and snail-mail a check for my newspaper subscription.
How do you want people to remember that 6-year-old and his tiger?
I vote for “Calvin and Hobbes, Eighth Wonder of the World.”