A Stroke of Genius

Some pieces of pop culture seem to possess a vitality far beyond their contemporaries, or even what the normal life-expectancy of such things tends be. It’s the reason we all feel dumbfounded when these bits and pieces that have become as reliable as a “good morning” at the start of our day suddenly go unsaid. Sure, the greeting was never actually expected to ensure a pleasant–let alone good–morning for anyone, but something about its subtle optimism has always been enough to trick even the most down-trodden of people into responding with just the slightest bit of enthusiasm.

When cartoonist Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip reached daily syndication in 1985, he probably didn’t realize that he would be the one to extend a warm cup of coffee and a “good morning” to the globe’s breakfast table every day for the next ten years straight.

So what makes Watterson’s comic strip so great, that, even after 15 years out of publication, its 6-year old star named after the 16th Century Reformation theologian, John Calvin, and his accomplice, a six-foot tall imaginary tiger named after Thomas Hobbes, a political theorist of the same era, will appear in reruns in newspapers worldwide this year?

Maybe its because for twenty years, Watterson wrote and illustrated the comic himself, and at the end of its run, refused to sell the rights to any company offering cash to replicate Calvin’s image as a delinquent peeing on a peace sign/flower/Ford Logo/”Democrat”¬† as a window sticker.

(Makers of these images have only narrowly avoided lawsuits due to their obscurity)

Maybe it is because of the nature of the comic itself. Readers fell in love with the mischievous, yet innocent character of Calvin, and the way that even his parents didn’t quite know what to expect from his devious impulses. Or maybe it was the reliable sarcasm of his stuffed cohort, Hobbes, who seemed to be possessed by a fragment of Calvin’s psyche, and yet, had an agenda all his own.

Either way, some have argued that, at its height, after appearing in over 2,400 newspapers and 18 books across the world, Watterson’s comic strip rivaled Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” in artistic vision.

After retiring the strip in 1995, a near-reclusive Watterson also retired to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. In 15 years, he has avoided the public eye and allowed his characters to exist solely within the pages of newspaper archives and comic strip collections.

Recently, John Campenelli, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Watterson’s hometown paper, scored an exclusive interview with the cartoonist.

Long live the classics.


1 Response to “A Stroke of Genius”

  1. 1 Brian
    February 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Of any comic strip, or possibly literature of any kind, I encountered as a young child, Bill Watterson’s work helped to shape my expectations of the world in which I was growing up more than any other. I remember staring at a particular comic strip thumb-tacked to a bulletin board in a hallway in my house at the time, marveling at the artistry of the creatures depicted and wondering if any of them actually existed. While I could scarcely make out the words, much less their multiple layers of meaning, that moment planted into my brain a desire to learn more, to begin a journey down a path that would lead me to become so close with Calvin and his friend Hobbes that they very well may have existed. As my reading skills grew I began amassing collection after collection of the comic strip owning nearly every book in publication. I would look forward to my bedtime, because it would mean taking part in some kind of ridiculous adventure, be it escaping from a hideous beast beneath my bed, or hiding in a tree, hurling crab apples at Susie.

    As I grew older, my roots in Calvin and Hobbes left me with a yearning to experience the creative, sometimes ludicrous, and often politically charged media that might help me achieve the same sort of enjoyment I gained from that comic strip. However, pieces such as those by Watterson are few and far-between.

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