Maybe someday, officials will put up a statue marking this quaint village as the birthplace of "Calvin and Hobbes. " Just don't expect cartoonist...
CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — Maybe someday, officials will put up a statue marking this quaint village as the birthplace of “Calvin and Hobbes.”
Just don’t expect cartoonist Bill Watterson to attend the unveiling ceremony. It’s been nearly 10 years since he abruptly quit drawing one of the most popular comic strips of all time. Since then, he’s been as absent as the precocious Calvin and his pet tiger, err, stuffed animal, Hobbes.
Some call Watterson reclusive. Others say he just likes his privacy.
“He’s an introspective person,” says his mother, Kathryn, standing at the front door her home. It’s where Watterson grew up. Calvin lived there too, so to speak. Watterson used the well-kept, beige Cape Cod-style house as the model for Calvin’s home.
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Watterson has acknowledged satirizing his father, who is now a semiretired patent attorney, in the strip. Jim Watterson, 73, says whenever Calvin’s dad told him that something he didn’t want to do “builds character,” they were words he had spoken to his cartoonist son.
After “Calvin and Hobbes” ended, Jim Watterson and his son would paint landscapes together, setting up easels along the Chagrin River or other vistas. He laughed that sometimes they’d spend more time choosing a site than painting. But they haven’t painted together for years.
Avoiding the public
So what’s Watterson been up to since ending “Calvin and Hobbes?” It’s tough to say.
His parents will say only that he’s happy, but they won’t say where he lives, and the cartoonist could not be reached for an interview.
His former editor, Lee Salem, also remains mum, saying only that as a painter Watterson started with watercolors and has evolved to oils.
“He’s in a financial position where he doesn’t need to meet the deadlines anymore,” Salem says.
Watterson’s parents respect — but have no explanation for — their son’s extremely private nature. It doesn’t run in the family. Kathryn is a former village councilwoman, and Jim is seeking his fourth council term this fall. Their other son, Tom, is a high-school teacher in Austin, Texas.
Bill Watterson, 47, hasn’t made a public appearance since he delivered the commencement speech in 1990 at his alma mater, Kenyon College. But he recently welcomed some written questions from fans to promote the Oct. 4 release of the three-volume “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes,” which contains every one of the 3,160 strips printed during its 10-year run.
Among his revelations:
• He reads newspaper comics but doesn’t consider this their golden age.
• He’s never attended any church.
• He’s currently interested in art from the 1600s.
Sorry to see him go
Salem, who edited thousands of “Calvin and Hobbes” strips at Universal Press Syndicate, says that Watterson is private and media-shy, not a recluse. Salem didn’t want to see the strip end, but understood Watterson’s decision.
“He came to a point where he thought he had no more to give to the characters,” Salem says.
“Calvin and Hobbes” appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers during its run, one of the few strips to reach an audience that large.
Its success was rooted in the freshness of Calvin — an imaginative 6-year-old who has the immaturity of a child and the psychological complexity of a 40-year-old. As for Hobbes, the device of Calvin viewing him as alive and everybody else seeing him as a stuffed animal was simply brilliant, Salem says.
Their all-encompassing bond of friendship — being able to share joy and have fun together, yet get angry and frustrated with one another — was another reason for the strip’s success.
Universal would welcome Watterson back along with “Calvin and Hobbes” or any other characters he dreams up. “He knows the door’s open, and he knows where we are,” Salem says.
Followed his dream
As a child, Watterson knew he would be an astronaut or a cartoonist. “I kept my options open until seventh grade, but when I stopped understanding math and science, my choice was made,” he wrote in the introduction to “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.”
He loved “Peanuts” as a child and started drawing comics. He majored in political science at Kenyon. Thinking he could blend the two subjects, he became a political cartoonist but was fired from his first job at the Cincinnati Post after a few months. So he took a job designing car and grocery ads, but continued cartooning, even though several strip ideas were rejected.
But Universal liked “Calvin and Hobbes” and launched its run Nov. 18, 1985, in 35 newspapers. Calvin caught Hobbes in a tiger trap with a tuna sandwich in the first strip. He spent the next 10 years driving his parents crazy and playing make-believe as his alter egos Spaceman Spiff and Stupendous Man.
Many of the best moments, though, were time spent alone with his pal, Hobbes.
Watterson ended the strip on Dec. 31, 1995, with a statement: “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.”
The last strip shows Calvin and Hobbes sledding off after a new fallen snow. “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy … let’s go exploring!” Calvin says in the final two panels.
Fans cried out in letters for Watterson to change his mind. Some, like Watterson’s parents, say the funny pages haven’t been the same since.
People continue to ask the Wattersons if their son will ever send Calvin and his buddy Hobbes on new adventures.
“He might draw something else, but he won’t do that again,” Kathryn Watterson says.