October 18, 2013

Mental Floss scores an interview with reclusive Calvin and Hobbes creator


The cover of December’s Mental Floss Magazine. The issue features an interview with reclusive Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

Mental Floss thrilled a generation of nostalgics when they announced today an interview with Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson in their December issue. The creator of a supremely popular comic strip that has only gotten better with age, Watterson made the surprising decision to end the comic strip in 1995 and go full recluse. According to The Guardian, this is only the second interview that Watterson has granted since his retirement.

Including Watterson in a “Top 10 Most Reclusive Celebrities” feature alongside Greta Garbo, Dave Chappelle and Marcel Proust, Time Magazine wrote that it was the constant, daily deadlines and the artistic constraints of the small comic panels that led him to retirement. Time also noted that Watterson has always fiercely guarded the rights to 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. According to the magazine, “Watterson consistently resisted pressure from publishers to merchandise his comic, believing that it would devalue the characters.”

The editors at Mental Floss say they’re not sure why Watterson chose to break his silence in their magazine. Editor-in-Chief Mangesh Hattikudur told Poynter:

We have a few theories: It might be because we have ties to Ohio, and a town near where he grew up (we used to operate our little shop out of Chagrin Falls; his signed comics often show up in a book store around there). Or it might be because of how Jake approached him– in a very journalistic over a fawning fan way. We weren’t totally sure it was him– even though we put two fact-checkers on the case– until his syndicate had to go to him for approval to use Calvin and Hobbes as the main art on our cover (he’s very protective about licensing). He gave us permission immediately.

Watterson seems to be edging back into the public eye; in addition to the Mental Floss interview, the Washington Post notes an upcoming art show at Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University in Columbus, and an announcement that “Calvin and Hobbes” e-books are on the way. The publisher’s press release notes, “The first e-books will be available on tablet formats only and will be priced at $12.99 each. The hardcover and paperback formats of the three treasuries have collectively sold more than 10 million copies.”

Mental Floss posted an excerpt from the interview on their website. A few selections are below.

On a Calvin and Hobbes movie:

Years ago, you hadn’t quite dismissed the notion of animating the strip. Are you a fan of Pixar? Does their competency ever make the idea of animating your creations more palatable?

The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.

On the legend of Watterson receiving a delivery of unsolicited, and unapproved, Hobbes dolls:

Purely for trivia and posterity’s sake, if you could indulge some (even more) inane queries: One story that’s made the rounds is that a plush toy manufacturer once delivered a box of Hobbes dolls to you unsolicited, which you promptly set ablaze. For people who share your low opinion of merchandising, this is a fairly delightful story. Did it actually happen?
Not exactly. It was only my head that burst into flames.

And on immortality:

Owing to spite or just a foul mood, have you ever peeled one of those stupid Calvin stickers off of a pickup truck?
I figure that, long after the strip is forgotten, those decals are my ticket to immortality.

The full interview will only be available in December’s print issue of Mental Floss.


Julia Fleischaker is the director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.