The Cartoonists

   by Susanna McLeod               

Bill Watterson, Creator of Calvin and Hobbes

9 March 2001

   It was no surprise that the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was a huge success, from its debut in just 35 newspapers on November 18, 1985 to retiring on January 01 1996 with 2400 newspapers. The inventive and philosophical 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger (who comes to life only in Calvin's presence) have made people laugh, and think, around the world. The almost 30 million copies of the 14 Calvin and Hobbes books ensure they will continue to entertain for a long time to come.

    Cartooning was a way of life for Bill Watterson. As a child, he read and studied the comics pages. He drew cartoons in school on the edges of his notebooks. He drew them on the bathroom walls and for the school yearbook. He drew cartoons for his college newspaper for four years.

    William B. Watterson was born on July 05, 1958 in Washington, DC to parents Jim and Kathryn. He grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. His father is a patent lawyer, his mother a Township Trustee. He received his BA in Political Science from Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio in 1980. He is married to Melissa and they enjoy life in a century house in an undisclosed village somewhere in the USA.

    After graduation, Bill got a job as an editorial cartoonist for the Cincinnati Post. The job lasted only a couple of months. He found he was not interested in political cartooning and enjoyed the comics much more. A job as layout artist for a tabloid shopper, designing car and grocery ads in a windowless basement of a convenience store provided essential income. He hated it and considered himself and co-workers prisoners, just waiting for the last second on the time clock to click before escaping each day.

    Bill submitted many comic strips to the big syndicates over a five-year period. He was not one to give up from rejections. Calvin and Hobbes first showed up as lesser characters in another strip sent to United Features. The syndicate suggested that the pair be the main focus. Bill found that the duo worked well for him almost right away and that he was comfortable working with them. He submitted the new comics for approval. Unfortunately (for United Features), they declined the strip anyway. Bill sent it to Universal, where the strip was accepted for syndication in 1985.

    Calvin and Hobbes has brought several awards to Bill Watterson. He was the youngest cartoonist to win the Reuben Award for "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year" in 1986. He won the Reuben again in 1988 and was nominated again in 1992.

    Bill takes his work seriously. In an address to the 1989 Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University, he said "I try to give readers the best strip I'm capable of doing. I look at cartoons as an art, as a form of personal expression. That's why I draw and paint special art for each of my books, and why I refuse to dilute or corrupt the strip's message with merchandising." He believes that newspapers, syndicates and cartoonists can do better, that the business interests prevent the cartoon art form from growing.

    He finds inspiration in Peanuts, Pogo and Krazy Kat. "These three strips showed me the incredible possibilities of the cartoon medium... . All these strips work on many levels, entertaining while they deal with other issues. These strips are just three of my personal favorites, but they give us some idea of how good comics can be. They argue powerfully that comics can be vehicles for beautiful artwork and serious, intelligent expression."

    Cartoonists need fresh ideas regularly to keep their strips strong. "Sometimes the best way to generate new ideas is to go out and learn something," he noted and that, "Much of the job of being a cartoonist lies in keeping alive a sense of curiosity and wonder."

    To enhance his creative flow for Calvin and Hobbes, Bill returned to his childhood interest in dinosaurs. He said, in the Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book, that he "tried to learn more and depict dinosaurs more accurately. I do this partly for my own amusement, and partly because, for Calvin, dinosaurs are very, very real."

    The creator of Calvin and Hobbes is a quiet man. Maintaining his privacy is of utmost importance to Bill Watterson. He refuses to give interviews, he makes no public appearances. He doesn't even answer his fan mail.

    In his final statement on retiring the strip on January 01, 1996, he said, "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."

    You can enjoy Calvin and Hobbes on or head to your bookstore for your own copies of Bill Watterson's books.      
© Susanna McLeod 2001  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on