Artist Spotlight: Bill Watterson

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Monday, July 27th, 2015

It’s been two decades since 6-year-old Calvin, and his tiger-sidekick, Hobbes, left the comics pages, leaving readers bereft for their wit and wisdom. Cartoonist Bill Watterson retired the comic strip, a daily staple since 1985, in 1995, claiming that “A comic strip, like anything else, has a natural life span.” However, in the decade that Calvin and Hobbes cavorted across the funny papers, they became a worldwide favorite that remains intensely popular today.

In an interview in March conducted by Jenny Robb, the associate professor who curated an exhibit of Watterson’s work for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, at the Ohio State University, the cartoonist talked about his art, his training and his inspiration.

As Calvin once said, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…Let’s go exploring!”

As a child, Watterson collected and read Peanuts and Pogo comic books and considered them an influence in his work. He said of his arts education, “There were no classes in cartooning then. Cartooning was what you did to avoid classes. And it’s funny: Although I’m certainly glad cartoons are finally getting some respect as an art, I’m fairly ambivalent to see cartooning as a legitimate academic offering. If comics need to be deconstructed and explained, something is really wrong with them.”

According to Hobbes, “Van Gogh would’ve sold more than one painting if he’d put tigers in them.”

He found that a syndicated comic strip had its challenges, “If I were going to come up with a strip now, I’d probably spend some time designing the major elements, in order to get a visual sense of the strip’s world and to make sure the characters are attractive and animate well. I don’t recall doing much of that, however, since it was more than likely that the submission would end up in the trash by the following month. I would just come up with something and go with it. I didn’t fill notebooks with character studies or any of that.”

It’s clear that Watterson enjoyed the process. “I kept trying to push the art as far as I could, because drawing was the fun part.”


Born: July 5, 1958; Washington D.C. United States of America

Famous work: Calvin and Hobbes (1985 to 1995)

  • Began working as cartoonist at the Cincinatti Post as well as a designer as part of a smaller advertising firm.
  • Began work on Calvin and Hobbes in 1985 and officially became sydicated that year.
  • Drew inspiration from artists such as Pogo, Krazy Kat, and Peanuts.
  • Recieved incredible commercial and critical success for Calvin and Hobbes, including 8 Harvey’s, 2 Eisners, and the Grand Prix of Angoulême International Comics Festival.
  • Fought against the commercialization of newspaper cartoons and denied any licensing of his work.
  • Returned to a private life after retiring Calvin and Hobbes in 1995.

Bill Watterson portrait by Charles Ferguson-Avery

Note:  The full interview with Bill Watterson is included in Jenny Robb’s Exploring Calvin and Hobbes , an exhibit Catalog, http://library.osu.edu/blogs/cartoons/2015/03/10/new-bill-watterson-retrospective-book-exploring-calvin-and-hobbes-shines-new-light-on-wattersons-thought-process-inspirations/

The official Calvin and Hobbes website is http://www.calvinandhobbes.com/.