Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer has an interview with Bill Watterson, writer/artist of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s an interesting, albeit short, interview that touches on a lot of the aftermath of Calvin and Hobbes’ finishing fifteen years ago. As an avid fan of Calvin and Hobbes at the time it was published, I was very disappointed at the time that it would be finished at the end of 1995. Both children and adults can relate well to Calvin and his world, and my interest in the funny papers (as my grandpa called them) waned significantly in 1996. Without C&H, there just wasn’t much for me to be interested in.
Since I was about thirteen years old at the time, I was quite upset. It was still funny and relevant. Why would somebody stop when they were at the top of their game? These questions stewed with me for a while, and I never really understood why until after many years of maturing. Watterson had said what he wanted to say with Calvin and Hobbes. He had a beginning and an end and he was content with that. My youthful desire for more comic strips notwithstanding, the strip finished on a high note and did not have a chance to become intellectually bankrupt. It took me a while to come to terms with that.
As I’ve grown, I’ve gained a bit of respect for people who have enough vision to know when they’re done with something. If you’re trying to tell a story, it has to end sometime. This is why a lot of serial anime (InuYasha, for instance) is terrible in my book because they just don’t know when to quit. It’s used as a license to print money, and the artistic integrity had vanished long ago. It’s probably not a coincidence that my favorite anime, Cowboy Bebop, had something to say at the start, middle, and end. Any more episodes would probably feel superfluous, but the “filler” episodes are still excellent standalone stories. I fell into a “can’t let it end” trap in a lot of my own writing – I suppose you have to let yourself experience mistakes so you can grow as a writer. The Mary Sue, as much as I despise it, is a core concept and litmus test of a good writer. You probably can’t recognize how to avoid a Mary Sue until you’ve written one. The same reason so many people fall into that trap is that we just don’t recognize it until it is too late. Doing dumb things in the name of “I know what I’m doing,” and all.
Today, I don’t have newspaper comics to tickle my funny bone, as I don’t subscribe to the Globe. Instead, I get my comics over the internet, where anybody, with enough effort, can publish themselves for the world to see. This means that without someone to screen potential comics for ne’er-do-wells, the signal to noise ratio gets biased far towards noise. I think it’s interesting that nobody asked Bill what he thought about internet comics, but I would figure he would be OK with it so long as people could retain their artistic control, which they largely do.
Calvin and Hobbes still has an impact on my day to day life. During the wintertime I must admit to wanting to build lots of snowmen and then decapitate them, with a waiting group of wailing snow brethren nearby. I use Calvinball as a term for “making up the rules as we go along.” I still think tyrannosaurs in F-14s is the coolest thing ever. If the world could be more like Bill Watterson – content to make their artistic statement and live their lives – perhaps it would be a better place.