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|Born||William Boyd Watterson II|
July 5, 1958
Washington, D.C., United States
|Known for||Calvin and Hobbes|
|Spouse(s)||Melissa Richmond (October 8, 1983 – present)|
|Born||William Boyd Watterson II|
July 5, 1958
Washington, D.C., United States
|Known for||Calvin and Hobbes|
|Spouse(s)||Melissa Richmond (October 8, 1983 – present)|
William Boyd "Bill" Watterson II (born July 5, 1958) is an American artist and the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, which was syndicated from 1985 to 1995. Watterson stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes at the end of 1995 with a short statement to newspaper editors and his readers that he felt he had achieved all he could in the medium. Watterson is known for his views on licensing and comic syndication and his move back into private life after drawing Calvin and Hobbes came to a close.
Bill Watterson was born in Washington, D.C., United States, where his father, James G. Watterson (born 1932) worked as a patent attorney. The family relocated to Chagrin Falls, Ohio in 1965 when Watterson was six years old because his mother, Kathryn, wanted to be closer to her family and felt the small town was a good place to raise her children, William and Thomas.
Watterson, who drew his first cartoon at age eight, spent much time in childhood alone, drawing and cartooning. This continued through his school years, during which time he discovered comic strips like Pogo, Krazy Kat, and Charles Schulz' Peanuts which subsequently inspired and influenced his desire to become a professional cartoonist. On one occasion, when he was in fourth grade, he wrote a letter to Charles Schulz, who—to Watterson's surprise—responded, making a big impression on him at the time. His parents encouraged him in his artistic pursuits. Later they would recall him as a "conservative child"—imaginative, but "not in a fantasy way", and certainly nothing like the character of Calvin he would later create. Watterson found avenues for his cartooning talents throughout primary and secondary school, creating high school-themed super hero comics with his friends and contributing cartoons and art to the school newspaper and yearbook.
From 1976 to 1980, Watterson attended Kenyon College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. Although he had already decided upon a career in cartooning, he felt his studies would help him move into editorial cartooning. While at college he continued to develop his art skills—during his sophomore year he painted Michelangelo's Creation of Adam on the ceiling of his dorm room. He also contributed cartoons to the college newspaper, some of which included the original "Spaceman Spiff" cartoons.[a]
Later, when Watterson was creating names for the characters in his comic strip, he decided upon Calvin (after the Protestant reformer John Calvin) and Hobbes (after the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes), allegedly as a "tip of the hat" to the political science department at Kenyon. In The Complete Calvin And Hobbes, Watterson stated that Calvin is named for "a 16th-century theologian who believed in predestination," and Hobbes for "a 17th-century philosopher with a dim view of human nature."
Watterson was inspired by the work of Kenyon alum and Cincinnati Enquirer political cartoonist Jim Borgman, who currently draws Zits, and decided to try to follow the same career path as Borgman, who in turn offered support and encouragement to the aspiring artist. Watterson graduated in 1980 and was hired on a trial basis at a competing paper of the Enquirer, the Cincinnati Post. Watterson quickly discovered that the job was full of unexpected challenges which prevented him from performing his duties to the standards set for him. Not the least of these challenges was his unfamiliarity with the Cincinnati political scene as he had never resided in or near the city, having grown up in the Cleveland area and attending college in central Ohio. The Post abruptly fired Watterson before his contract was up.
He then joined a small advertising agency and worked there for four years as a designer, creating grocery advertisements while also working on his own projects including development of his own cartoon strip and contributions to Target: The Political Cartoon Quarterly.
Watterson has said he works for personal fulfillment. As he told the graduating class of 1990 at Kenyon College, "It's surprising how hard we'll work when the work is done just for ourselves." Calvin and Hobbes was first published on November 18, 1985. In Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, he wrote that his influences included Charles Schulz for Peanuts; Walt Kelly for Pogo and George Herriman for Krazy Kat. Watterson wrote the introduction to the first volume of The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat. Watterson's style also reflects the influence of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland.
Like many artists, Watterson incorporated elements of his life, interests, beliefs and values into his work—for example, his hobby as a cyclist, memories of his own father's speeches about "building character", and his views on merchandising and corporations. Watterson's cat, Sprite, very much inspired the personality and physical features of Hobbes.
Watterson spent much of his career trying to change the climate of newspaper comics. He believed that the artistic value of comics was being undermined, and that the space they occupied in newspapers continually decreased, subject to arbitrary whims of shortsighted publishers. Furthermore, he opined that art should not be judged by the medium for which it is created (i.e., there is no "high" art or "low" art—just art).
For years, Watterson battled against pressure from publishers to merchandise his work, something he felt would cheapen his comic. He refused to merchandise his creations on the grounds that displaying Calvin and Hobbes images on commercially sold mugs, stickers and T-shirts would devalue the characters and their personalities. Watterson said that Universal kept putting pressure on him and added that his contract, which he said he signed without fully perusing it because as a new artist he was happy to find a syndicate willing to give him a chance (two syndicates had denied Watterson), was so one-sided that if Universal really wanted to, they could license his characters against his will, and could even fire him but continue Calvin and Hobbes with a new artist. Watterson's position eventually won out and he was able to renegotiate his contract so that he would receive all rights to his work, but later added that the licensing fight exhausted him and contributed to the need for a nine-month sabbatical in 1991.
Despite Watterson's efforts, many unofficial knockoffs have been found, including items that depict Calvin and Hobbes consuming alcohol or Calvin urinating on a logo. Watterson has said 'Only thieves and vandals have made money on Calvin and Hobbes merchandise'.
Watterson announced the end of Calvin and Hobbes on November 9, 1995, with the following letter to newspaper editors:
I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
The last strip of Calvin and Hobbes was published on December 31, 1995.
Since the conclusion of Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson has taken up painting, at one point drawing landscapes of the woods with his father. Watterson has kept away from the public eye and has given no indication of resuming the strip, creating new works based on the strip's characters, or embarking on other projects, though he has published several anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes strips. He will not sign autographs or license his characters, staying true to his stated principles.
In previous years, Watterson was known to sneak autographed copies of his books onto the shelves of the Fireside Bookshop, a family-owned bookstore in his hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. However, after discovering that some were selling the autographed books online for high prices, he ended this practice as well. Valuing privacy, he is reluctant to give interviews or make public appearances. His lengthiest interview was featured as the cover story in The Comics Journal No. 127 in February 1989. He drew a new Calvin and Hobbes cover for that issue of the magazine as well.
In the years that followed the end of Calvin and Hobbes, many attempts were made to locate Watterson in his hometown of Chagrin Falls. Both The Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Scene sent reporters in 1998 and 2003, respectively, but were unable to locate him.
In 2004, Watterson and his wife Melissa bought a home in the Cleveland suburb of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In 2005, they completed the move from their home in Chagrin Falls to their new residence.
In 2005, Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post sent Watterson the first edition of the Barnaby book, as an incentive, hoping to land an interview. Weingarten passed the book, along with a message, to Watterson's parents, and declared he would wait in his hotel for as long as it took Watterson to contact him. Watterson's editor Lee Salem called the next day to tell Weingarten that the cartoonist would not be coming.
In October 2005, Watterson answered 15 questions submitted by readers. In October 2007, Watterson wrote a review of Schulz and Peanuts, a biography of Charles Schulz, in The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he provided a foreword for the first book collection of Richard Thompson's Cul De Sac comic strip.
In early 2010, Watterson was interviewed by The Plain Dealer on the 15th anniversary of the end of Calvin and Hobbes. Explaining his decision to discontinue the strip, he said,
This isn't as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of ten 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, ten, or twenty 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.
In April 2011, a representative for Andrews McMeel received a package from a "William Watterson in Cleveland Heights, Ohio", which contained a 6" x 8" oil-on-board painting of Cul De Sac character Petey Otterloop, done by Watterson for the Team Cul de Sac fundraising project for Parkinson's Disease. His syndicate, which has since become Universal Uclick, has said that the painting was the first new artwork from Watterson that the syndicate has seen since Calvin and Hobbes ended in 1995.
In October 2013, the magazine Mental Floss published an interview with Watterson, only the second since the strip ended. Watterson again confirmed that he would not be revisiting Calvin and Hobbes, and that he was satisfied with his decision. Watterson also gave his opinion on the changes in the comic book industry and where it would be headed in future:
Personally, I like paper and ink better than glowing pixels, but to each his own. 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. I’m old enough to find all this unsettling, but the world moves on. All the new media will inevitably change the look, function, and maybe even the purpose of comics, but comics are vibrant and versatile, so I think they’ll continue to find relevance one way or another. But they definitely won’t be the same as what I grew up with.
In June 2014, three strips of Pearls Before Swine (published June 4, June 5, and June 6, 2014) featured guest illustrations by Watterson after cartoonist Stephan Pastis communicated with him via e-mail. Pastis likened this unexpected collaboration to getting "a glimpse of Bigfoot." "I thought maybe Stephan and I could do this goofy collaboration and then use the result to raise some money for Parkinson’s research in honor of Richard Thompson. It seemed like a perfect convergence," Watterson told the Washington Post.
Watterson wrote a brief, tongue-in-cheek autobiography in the late 1980s.
Watterson was critical of the prevailing format for the Sunday comic strip that was in place when he began drawing (and to varying degrees, still is). The typical layout consists of three rows with eight total squares, which takes up half a page if published with its normal size. Since some newspapers are restricted with space for their Sunday features, they often reduce the size of the strip. One of the more common ways is to cut the top two panels out, which Watterson believed forced him to waste the space on throwaway jokes that did not always fit the strip. While he was set to return from his first sabbatical, Watterson discussed with his syndicate a new format for Calvin and Hobbes that would enable him to use his space more efficiently and would almost require the papers his strip ran in to publish it as a half-page. Universal agreed that they would sell the strip as the half-page and nothing else, which garnered anger from papers and criticism for Watterson from both editors and some of his fellow cartoonists (whom he described as "unnecessarily hot tempered"). Eventually, Universal compromised and agreed to offer papers a choice between the full half-page or a reduced-sized version as to alleviate concerns about the size issue. Although Watterson conceded that this caused him to lose space in many papers, he said that in the end it was a benefit because he felt that he was giving the papers' readers a better strip for their money and editors were free not to run Calvin and Hobbes at their own risk; he added that he was not going to apologize for drawing a popular feature.
Watterson was awarded the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Award in both 1986 and 1988. Watterson's second Reuben win made him the youngest cartoonist to be so honored, and only the fifth person to win twice, following Charles Schulz, Dik Browne, Chester Gould, and Jeff MacNelly. (Gary Larson is the only cartoonist to win a second Reuben since Watterson.) In 2014, Watterson was awarded the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival for his body of work, becoming just the fourth non-European cartoonist to be so honored in the first 41 years of the event.
In 2001, Watterson was contacted by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University about a possible exhibition of his work. Watterson agreed to participate and decided to highlight his Sunday strips. He chose thirty-six of his favorites, displaying them with both the original drawing and the colored finished product, with most pieces featuring personal annotations. Watterson also wrote an accompanying essay that served as the foreword for the exhibit. The exhibition was called "Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995" and was opened on September 10, 2001. It was taken down in January 2002, and an accompanying published catalogue with the same title as the exhibit came out as well.
Beginning March 22, 2014, Watterson is exhibiting again at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. In conjunction with this exhibition, Watterson also participated in an interview with the school.
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