Nevin Martell writes reverently of Bill Watterson in
Looking for Calvin and Hobbes. The far reaches that Martell goes to find out who Bill Watterson really was, took him into the world of cartooning and going into the depths of Bill Watterson’s past. Numerous cartoonists were interviewed: Jim Davis, Bill Amend, Lynn Johnston, Stephen Pastis and many others. Martell even tracks down childhood friends, teachers, professors and business associates.
He tells of Watterson’s growth as an illustrator doing political cartoons to transitioning full time to a start up strip to Calvin and Hobbes becoming the social behemoth it was on the comic pages. Over the course of this history, Watterson was serious about his craft, cartooning and his characters. So serious that he disputed with his syndicated, threatening to walk about when his contract was renewed. Watterson despised the commercialism and licensing that pervaded comics, and how syndicates controlled the market, with papers keeping old, stale comics alive with artists filling in after a creator had passed on.
But there’s a richness to this story, seeing where characters originated, whether from family or friends to ideals Watterson held dear, which came out in his comics. Martell traces Calvin and Hobbes’ influence to later artists, and while near universal praise is given to Watterson, many still don’t get why he walked away.
Looking for Calvin and Hobbes is an in depth portrait of a man many grew up with, that shunned the spotlight. Well sourced, nuanced and detailed it reads easily, and sometimes it comes across too attached.
While reading, Martell captured what I missed about the strip and what made it unique, and what Watterson brought to the funny pages.