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19th September 2011

Profile: Bill Watterson

The Brains behind Calvin and Hobbes

There’s a pretty good chance you haven’t heard of Calvin and Hobbes, despite its boasts as one of the most popular comic strips of all time. That’s down to the strong-willed character of the creator, Bill Watterson, who refused to sell any of the rights to merchandising. You will never see a legal t-shirt, mug, poster, bed-sheet, figurine, key-ring, sticker, nodding doll, chess set, video game or anything else like that at any gurning merchant’s novelty trading post you might happen to find yourself in. Watterson realised that this would cheapen his carefully crafted characters, and heroically turned down wads and wads of cash to preserve their purity. What a guy.

Watterson spent a lot of his cartoon scribbling days battling with newspapers to get comic strips the space, respect and recognition they deserved. Editors would fob him off with three equally sized panels if he was lucky, but Watterson knew that the most potent, challenging, and concisely intellectual points could be made through the medium of the comic, if only he was allowed more freedom in his drawing. He attacked the idea that comics were a vacuous and shallow art form, and questioned who had the right to define the line between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. This notion is frequently satirized in Calvin and Hobbes (see the example below).

It’s notoriously difficult to get an interview with Watterson. He refuses to see any journalists and has moved house on several occasions after the locations had been revealed. He is a positively elusive creature but you can learn a lot about him just by reading Calvin and Hobbes, which he has said is, character-wise anyway, semi-autobiographical.

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones

Former Film editor (2010-2011), Literature editor (2011-2012), Big Cheese at the Cracker Factory (2009-present)One must always judge a book by its cover.

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