“Tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich!”
I first discovered “Calvin and Hobbes” in high school, where a curious glance in to one of their trade collections led to a love for the comic that’s lasted for many years. “Calvin and Hobbes” ended in 1995, but has continued to be an important part of many people’s lives. From fans, to modern cartoonists, Biller Watterson has left a large legacy behind, after “Calvin and Hobbes” went exploring. “Dear, Mr. Watterson” isn’t just a wonderful and insightful exploration in to the popularity of the comic, but why the comic has been so influential, years after its end.
To make things even more unusual, its creator Bill Watterson hasn’t just shied away from fame and headlines, but he’s for the most part stayed away from any kind of publicity, in order to maintain he privacy he treasures. “Dear, Mr. Watterson” is a fantastic love letter to Calvin and Hobbes and its fans, and how its gone on to continue living in relevance, even after its creator retreated in to seclusion to avoid any and all publicity for himself. There’s no real definitive answer for Watterson’s actions, nor does he ever appear, but director Joel Allen Schroeder nonetheless travels to Watterson’s home town of Chagrin falls to visit the local museum. There, Watterson has contributed pieces of his own to be restored for visitors, and Schroeder is able to garner and insight in to Watterson’s art style, and ability to so fluidly convey comedy. Director Schroeder, along with Watterson’s fans, spend most of the documentary theorizing on why Watterson outright rejected the mainstream.
Why would Watterson dismiss fame and publicity of all kinds? And why would he refuse any and all kinds of licensing, voluntarily turning down almost a billion dollars in potential sales for merchandise from his comics? Creator Bill Watterson is often respected by many for his refusal to sell his characters, but many interview subjects still have a difficult time wrapping their heads around turning down millions, possibly billions, of dollars. Much of that baffling turn is put in to context when Schroeder begins examining how the comics strip section of the printed news papers have begun shrinking, thus making it impossible for artists to express their own works of creativity for readers. Watterson is talked of as being not only an advocate for his fellow artists, but as someone who openly despised the folks that handled his creation. Turning his back on licensing ends up being a snub to the folks anxious to exploit his creations, and not his fans.
Many cartoonists put it in to the context of characters like Snoopy and Garfield that began life as strip characters, and became so saturated in pop culture, they transformed in to impersonal corporate mascots. This decision to snub merchandising (as well as requests to meet folks like Spielberg, George Lucas, and Walt Disney et al) puts him at odds with many of his long time friends and fellow artists, some of whom cheered on Watterson’s rallying, while others decried his protests. Perhaps, much like Hobbes to Calvin, these characters are flesh and blood to Mr. Watterson. And he just couldn’t stand to exploit them for easy cash. “Dear, Mr. Watterson” is a gem that pays homage to “Calvin and Hobbes” and sheds light on the reclusive Bill Watterson. Joel Allen Schroeder helps audiences gain a newfound appreciation for the artist, as well as the dying art form of the comic strip.