March 17, 2015

Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” gives his biggest interview in new book


Exploring Calvin and HobbesExploring Calvin and Hobbes, an exhibition catalogue released yesterday, includes the longest published interview of Bill Watterson‘s career. In 35 pages (including illustrations), Watterson reflects on the comic strip twenty years after its end.

It comes as little surprise to Watterson’s fans that the cartoonist chose to leave most of the details surrounding the comic to the imagination. He has declined nearly any opportunity for an interview. He has also, famously, refused to merchandise his characters.

“It seems the less I do and say, the better everyone likes my work!” he explains.

Jenny Robb, the curator at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, finally spoke with Watterson about the characters, his own childhood, and the life that his work has taken since he retired the comic strip. The book’s publication coincided with a Watterson exhibit at OSU, presented jointly with Richard Thompson, illustrator of “Cul de Sac.”

An excerpt from the book is up on the OSU Library’s website. Watterson says:

I grew up in Chagrin Falls, which is a small town, an outer suburb of Cleveland. It was originally a mill town in the 1800s, and a paper-bag factory was still going when I was growing up. They used to dump their dyes right in the river, so as a kid I remember seeing the river turn red and so on, if you can believe it.  The town is fairly upscale now, but back then maybe a little less so. There was a hobby shop, a stationery store, three little drugstores, two hardware stores, and so on. Small local businesses where you could get pretty much anything you’d need without driving somewhere else. The Main Street bridge goes over a big natural waterfall, and Victorian buildings surround the town triangle, which has a bandstand in the middle of it. It’s one of these quintessentially American towns that dot Ohio. Very Normal Rockwell – all white, very Republican. I had a sheltered childhood.

Our house was on a one-acre lot, at the outskirts of the village, with a big woods behind us. We didn’t own the woods, but it extended all the way to the river, and you couldn’t see an end to it. Our yard dropped continuously from the back door to the woods, so it was a truly fabulous sledding hill. There were a handful of neighborhood kids about my age, so we messed around unsupervised in a way that kids don’t seem to do anymore. Many of our mothers were home, so they’d just turn us loose and nobody worried.
Sometimes in the strip I tried to illustrate those big empty summer days spent messing around. It seems very anachronistic now that kids’ lives are organized to the minute.

Michael Cavna of the Washington Post describes the interview as “wide-ranging and revealing and illuminating and engrossing and self-deprecating and poignant and, of course, deeply funny.”

In comics, Watterson says, “If you draw anything more subtle than a pie in the face, you’re considered a philosopher.”



Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.