Thursday, 17 October 2013

It's raining Bill Watterson

The comics world is, for once quite literally, abuzz with the news that the legendary cartoonist and creator of Calvin and Hobbes has given an interview to arts and entertainment magazine, Mental Floss. Which wouldn't be news in itself, but Watterson is famously very, very private (I dislike the word reclusive, it has negative connotations), so much so that there are only 2 old photographs of him in circulation, and he rarely does press or events of any kind. Even Mental Floss editor Mangesh Hattikudur was disbelieving that interviewer Jake Roosen had somehow managed to get in touch with the seminal cartoonist, having two fact-checkers ensure the verification of Watterson's identity, in an attempt to establish that the person Roosen was communicating with (over email) was indeed the man himself. He was eventually convinced when the magazine went to ask for permission to use a Calvin and Hobbes image for their cover and Watterson's syndicate went to him directly to authorise approval.

Obviously, there's a huge amount of interest in the interview, and Mental Floss have released some excerpts to whet people's appetite, some of which I've pulled for you to read here. I can't even begin to think how you would begin to prepare for that interview, but the fact that he gave it and reading what he has to say is so affirming.

On comics today: 'Obviously the role of comics is changing very fast. On the one hand, I don’t think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now. On the other hand, the mass media is disintegrating, and audiences are atomizing. I suspect comics will have less widespread cultural impact and make a lot less money.'

'Form follows function, as the architects say. With words and pictures, you can do just about anything.'

On an animated version of Calvin and Hobbes: 'I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.'

On comic creators trying new things: 'Coming at a new work requires a certain amount of patience and energy, and there’s always the risk of disappointment. You can’t really blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like. The trade-off, of course, is that predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic.'

I think even these short quotes illustrate Watterson's principles and ethos; there's been some to and fro about Watterson expounding his belief in not 'selling out,' and remaining true to your values, instigated by this Zen Pencils comic. The rather juvenile push-back from it seemed to be people saying it was all very well for Watterson to say such things because he was a multi-millionaire. To which I would point out that he became a multi-millionaire through producing a newspaper strip every day for 10 years. And then he ended it when he thought the time was right artistically, instead of soullessly churning out vacant cash-cow comics for years, choosing not to bestow the world with Calvin and Hobbes tupperware and sully the art he had created, even though he could become a whole lot richer in doing so. It may sound idealistic, but is that not an ultimate dream? To create something deeply loved, respected and admired, to gain financial and artistic reward from it, and to make enough money so that you don't have to bastardise it further?

In other Watterson-related news, the Kicksstarter-funded documentary, Dear Mr Watterson has been garnering quite a bit of critical acclaim (that's the trailer for it above) on the film festival circuit, and releases in select theaters next month. It aims to explore the impact of Calvin and Hobbes and what made, and makes, the strip so special through a series of interviews with artists, cartoonists and fans and I have to say it genuinely looks good. It'll be up for digital or DVD purchase on the website simultaneously and I think I'll invest in a physical copy. You can find out more about the film here.

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