What techniques did Bill Watterson use to make Calvin and Hobbes a masterpiece?

Originally published at: What techniques did Bill Watterson use to make Calvin and Hobbes a masterpiece? | Boing Boing


For me the main technique Watterson employed was an amazing ability to tap into and depict the vivid wonders of childhood imagination. That comic often brought back some of my own fanciful prepubescent flights of fancy.


They have lasting power, too. I have the first three compilations, and my 6- and 9-year-olds keep begging me to buy the rest.


Watterson is basically my role model. He created a beautiful thing that endures, by himself, in near total anonymity. He made more than enough money to be comfortable but doesn’t seek more than that. No merchandise, no cartoons, etc. Doesn’t do interviews or otherwise seek fame. He just did this one great thing. I’m always striving for the same.


Definitely not a fame-seeker but he usually grants an interview maybe once every five years or so.


Totally agree. I thought that they might reveal that he had an amazing ability to show the internal workings of an imaginative child mind, in his interactions with his favorite stuffed tiger. But he also managed to delve deeply into the human condition and social craziness. Bottom line of course-they’re funny.


Bill Watterson is fantastic, but ahem…this is not new.


My kid was a reluctant reader. A pile of Calvin and Hobbes books in the house literally resolved that issue. Largely because he was (and is) the 21st century avatar of Calvin in many ways.


I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Watterson acknowledge the influence of Winsor McCay and “Little Nemo in Slumberland” on “Calvin & Hobbes”.


Yes, Watterson wrote about those influences (along with other strips like “Krazy Kat”) in the introduction to at least one of his collected volumes. He never claimed to be the first.


So what?

“Rembrandt is fantastic, but people were doing portraits in chiarascuro before him.”
“Bach is fantastic, but the idea of even temperament was done before him.”

Whether or not every detail and aspect was original of itself, he studied it, incorporated it into his style, and created masterworks.


It has to do with idea that some folks think comics are at death’s door, as Devin says. Folks have done fantastic work before him, so why not after?


And folks have done fantastic work after him.

Just not, any more, primarily in newspaper syndication.


C&H stood out like a diamond in the rough of all the mediocre and bland Sunday comics. I kinda wound up resenting other comics in the papers once C&H stopped being published. Felt like wasted space.


Which is a real shame, as technological advances in what we can do with the internet have opened many doors to bringing back that level of sophistication and beauty to the comics that is generally seen today in forms like graphic novels.

I’m good with webcomics vs newspapers. My sorrow over the gradual demise of local newspapers is more about the decline of geographic community than about comics.

In the day perhaps, newspapers were the main way to make comics accessible to the masses, and to curate what maybe were the better ones. But given how few I ever really liked, I have to question how well that worked.

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Like a lot of my friends who also work in the corporate tech world I liked Dilbert a lot. Not up to early Groening or Larson, but still creatively on point often enough.

Then I discovered Adams’s blog from his comic website. And saw him saying before almost anyone else how we needed to pay attention to Trump as a real contender. He sold me on that “clown genius” idea. That really impressed me with his insight.

Till it started becoming apparent just how much of a narcissistic shitshow Adams is himself. His insight was less from genius than from recognizing a fellow traveler. “Takes one to know one.” Genius without character is just a waste.

Yeah, right with you on resenting other newsprint comics.

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I honestly doubt that was ever true. National syndication of comics in newspapers happened almost immediately, so you were getting a cross section of the same dozen-or-so major comics in every newspaper in the country. There may have been a few exceptions with a few local papers running local artists, but by and large we all got the same ones. The only changes were really generational. Older readers had more Andy Capp, Dagwood, and Doonesbury, while younger readers saw more Family Circus, Far Side, and Garfield.

Much like syndicated television, comics were chosen to be mildly amusing, but most of all uncontroversial and sure not to upset conservative white people in the Midwest.

Honestly, to folks like BBers, it was not the least bit surprising when Adams backed Trump. Adams is a garbage human being and we’ve known it since the very start of his blog many years ago. Almost immediately he started writing about “men’s rights”, “reverse racism”, transphobia, and all sorts of other Dark Intellectual shit you’d hear from Jordan Peterson or Joe Rogan. We talk about him a fair bit here, as a good test case of whether you can love the art but hate the artist. For me the answer was no. My love of Dilbert was instantly ruined when I learned what an asshat Adams is.


Ass-bert. /s


All I knew initially was the art - I never even knew (or cared) that his blog existed before I discovered it during Trump’s (second) campaign. His early arguments that Trump really could be a contender didn’t strike me then as being in favor so much as "even if you think this guy is a shit-clown, don’t just dismiss him because you think enough people will recognize (or even give a damn) that he’s a shit-clown. Nor, as it turned out, even the lying, raping, power-mad, narcissistic sociopath he really is.

If I’d seen what you describe about Adams sooner I would have written him off far earlier. I seldom care enough to go research artists, so I was late to the discovery. (I’ve read BB casually and anonymously for years and years. Maybe I should have gone deeper sooner :wink: )

And yeah, in some cases I do fall on the “love the art” side. But not when I understand the artist is SO despicable, and then I just can’t see the art without also seeing the morally bankrupt person he is. His comic just pisses me off now.