Tag: Calvin and Hobbes

NEW! Bill Watterson retrospective book, “Exploring Calvin and Hobbes”, shines new light on Watterson’s thought process, inspirations


Comprised of exclusive chats between cartoonist Bill Watterson and The OSU Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum curator, Jenny Robb, Exploring Calvin and Hobbes is the longest interview with the widely beloved Watterson ever to be published. While providing an opportunity to study Watterson’s mastery of the comic strip art form through engaging characters, thoughtful writing, and creative layouts, this definitive book also gets to the heart of what makes the Calvin and Hobbes creator tick.

Many of you joined us between March and July of 2014 for The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum’s (BICLM) exhibit Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, a revisit of the beloved comic strip created by Watterson, which included work from his collection of more than 3,000 originals housed at the BICLM. The show broke all previous attendance records and delighted thousands of Watterson fans, old and new.

But even if you didn’t make it to the show, you are in luck! The show catalogue was released TODAY and includes a new and extensive Watterson interview with BICLM curator Jenny Robb. And of course no Watterson book would be complete without art from cartoons and cartoonists that Watterson identifies as influential, including Peanuts, Pogo, Krazy Kat, Doonesbury, Pat Oliphant, Jim Borgman, Flash Gordon, Bloom County, and Ralph Steadman.

As a special treat for our friends, Bill Watterson is allowing us to share some excerpts from his new book, Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, right here on the BICLM blog. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is so very lucky to call Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, a friend.  We hope you enjoy this sampling of the new work and we’ll see you at the museum!




Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, The Ohio State University
April 17, 2014

JR: It’s been a pleasure working with you on the exhibit Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, and I’m delighted to have this opportunity to sit down with you to ask you some questions about your life, your career, and comics. To get started, can you describe what it was like to grow up in northeast Ohio?

BW: 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. 

JR: My husband and I are looking at houses, and whenever we see one with a woods, we call it a Calvin and Hobbes backyard.

BW: To be honest, we didn’t tramp around the woods all that much. Because it was low and heading toward the river, it was somewhat marshy and brambly. You’d get stuck full of prickers of tangled in brush, wit your feet starting to sink into muck. We’d venture in occasionally, but it’s not like I was Christopher Robin.
But I loved having that much nature around us. It mitigated the suburban feel, which I imagine is why my parents chose the property. Having something a bit wild and mysterious and beautiful at the end of the yard was a memorable thing. 
Now it’s a subdivision, of course. Looking at a cul-de-sac of McMansions doesn’t have the same impact on the imagination. We like to think their basements are wet.

JR: So what were you like as a child?

BW: Everybody else was really weird, but I was completely normal. (laughter) I was generally a quiet kid. I live in my head like Calvin, but I was the opposite of Calvin in terms of courting excitement and risk. It wasn’t hard for me to meet the expectations of grown-ups, and I quickly figured out that if you did that, they left you alone and you could do what you wanted. So that was easy. It was negotiating the snake pit of school kids that I found difficult. My home and the slightly older kids in my neighborhood were a refuge.
I loved to draw, of course. When I was about Calvin’s age, I was very interested in birds and dinosaurs, and I liked to draw them. I say I was interested in them, but I don’t know that I actually read or learned anything about them. I just thought they were cool to look at, and I got so I could identify and draw all sorts of them. My interests were quite fanatical in their way–and at the same time, incredibly superficial!

JR: Your parents were encouraging?

BW: Yes, very encouraging, very supportive. My mom was basically my audience until I went to college, and my dad often introduced me to art supplies. He could draw pretty well, although he never had much time for it until later. When I was doing the strip, we’d go out and paint together on visits. 
I think my dad was the one who told me Pogo was probably drawn with a brush. I tried copying Pogo characters–this was maybe in high school–but a brush line is hard to control at best, and because my brush was too large,–probably a watercolor brush,–I couldn’t do it. It was very frustrating, so I went back to pen, and it wasn’t until college that I gradually figured out you can get tiny brushes that will make a thin line, and I worked on developing the necessary touch. There was never any information back then, but I always had materials to play with.
Really, I suppose the biggest gift my parents gave me was a lot of time. There was never a sense that I should be doing something else. If I was up in my room drawing, nobody bothered me. That kind of time is just indispensable. It’s not a luxury, it’s an absolute requirement. You’ve got to mess around–it’s the only was to figure stuff out.
It’s hard to reconstruct this accurately, though. My memory is that I spent hours and hours drawing, but it may have been fifteen or twenty minutes, who knows. A kid’s idea of a long time is not reliable information. But I drew comics from a very early age. It was the only kind of art I understood, and it connected immediately. The simplicity of the drawings was like a big welcome mat. My whole childhood was about cartoons. I just loved them.


…to read the full interview, pick up a copy of Exploring Calvin & Hobbes at a bookstore near you!

For more information, check out Michael Cavna’s review of the book for The Washington Post here


New Interview! Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson and Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson talk libraries, comics, and the creative process with Ohio State

Dear Friends:

We are delighted to welcome you to two exhibitions of original cartoon art by Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, opening March 22, 2014. The shows will provide a unique opportunity to see—up-close—the original art of these two gifted cartoonists.


The exhibition will include the very first “Calvin & Hobbes” strip. November 18, 1985. © Bill Watterson – Used by permission of the artist. Bill Watterson Deposit Collection, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Curator Jenny Robb recently chatted with Bill Watterson about comics and the upcoming exhibit:

Jenny Robb: Why did you choose to place your collection at The Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum?

Bill Watterson: Long ago my friend Rich West recommended the library to me. I met Lucy Caswell and was much impressed with her vision and scholarly professionalism. Some years after I stopped the strip, I wanted to get my work into a more protective, permanent environment, so the choice was a no-brainer. And now of course the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is even better. It’s a remarkable institution, and the fact that this fabulous resource is right in my home state is icing on the cake.

JR: The library and museum is focused on preserving and providing access to materials documenting the cartooning art form for public viewing and research. How do you feel this arrangement benefits the public? 

BW: The library helps counteract the art world’s condescension to the “low art” of cartoons, and it protects work that would otherwise be scattered or lost. In making original work available for anyone to study, it also gives us access to our own history. You know, if you’re a painter, it’s simply taken for granted that you’ll spend a lot of time in museums studying great paintings, but if you’re a cartoonist, it used to be very hard to see an original cartoon drawing. When you see an original “Steve Canyon” daily strip—they’re gigantic—it’s an entirely different experience than seeing a newspaper or book reproduction.  There is much to appreciate and learn about this wonderful art.

JR: It’s been almost 30 years since Calvin and Hobbes launched, and almost 20 since it ended. How did it feel to revisit the strip for this exhibition? 

BW: Oh, it’s fairly weird. There’s a sort of jet lag when you time-travel to your own past.

JR: When conceiving of a new strip, did the words or images come first? Or, is it a hybrid process?  Is the process fraught or does it flow?

BW: Most often I’d begin with the words. Generally, the writing underwent so many revisions that there was no point in drawing anything until the dialog was fully set.  I could always visualize the pictures anyway.  It was the writing that gave me fits.

JR: As newspaper readership—and, subsequently, production—declines, do you think there will be fewer opportunities for the average person to forge a lasting bond with a character the way that people did with Calvin and Hobbes

BW: That would be my guess. I can’t really picture the average person going to the trouble of curating his own little comic section, much less reading a new and unfamiliar strip for months to build up a relationship with it. There’s so much other content available—instantly and all for free—that there’s no reason to stick around if you’re not immediately enthralled. We consume everything like potato chips now.  In this environment, I suspect the cartoonist’s connection with readers is likely to be superficial and fleeting, unless he taps into some fervent special interest niche. And that audience, almost by definition, will be tiny. It’s a very different world from the days when everyone in America knew who Popeye, Dick Tracy or Charlie Brown was.

JR: How has the digital era and social media freed cartoon artists?

BW: Anyone can publish now, and there are no restrictions of taste, approach, or subject matter. The gatekeepers are gone, so the prospect for new and different voices is exciting. Or at least it will be if anyone reads them. And it will be even more exciting if anyone pays for them. It’s hard to charge admission without a gate.

JR: Richard Thompson’s work will be on display along with yours.  What makes him a standout to you? 

BW: Very few cartoonists do so much, so well. Richard is a wonderful writer and one of the rare ones who can write truly unique, hilarious characters. He’s drawn incisive caricatures, lavish illustrations, and one of the most beautiful comic strips I’ve ever seen. And just when you think it couldn’t be better, sometimes he paints the stuff. Richard has the extra-deluxe, jumbo-size skill set. It’s an inspiring body of work.


Illustration from “The Indispensible Calvin and Hobbes”, 1992. © Bill Watterson – Used by permission of the artist. Bill Watterson Deposit Collection, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum


LowRes richard thompson 4

Richard Thompson’s “Cul de Sac”, January 29, 2008 © Richard Thompson, collection of the artist – Used by permission of Richard Thompson

Exhibited along with Bill’s work is the immensely talented creator of Cul de Sac, Richard Thompson. Exhibition Curator Caitlin McGurk got the opportunity to chat with Richard:

Caitlin McGurk: What are your favorite comics currently being published, in the newspaper pages and beyond?

Richard Thompson: Pearls Before Swine, Frazz, and a few others. Currently the comics scene is so atomized, it’s hard to limit favorites to newspaper strips

CM: What is your take on how the digital era and social-media has affected cartoonists, and further more, what are your thoughts on the “death” of print?

RT: It’s sad and confusing.

CM: Tell us about your process with creating Cul de Sac.  Were the characters speaking to you after a while, or were the storylines a struggle?

RT: It was frighteningly easy. The characters came alive and I lost control of them early on. It was like dictation. The plots were so tenuous it didn’t matter what direction they went in. I always thought of it as an organic process. I’d just stand back and let it grow.

CM: How much of Cul de Sac is based on your own memories of childhood, or your experiences with your family?

RT: A lot. Almost none of it is specific enough that you could point to a given situation and easily find its inspiration.

CM: What is the best advice that you could give a young cartoonist?

RT: Run.

Try everything. Comics are, as they say, blowing up. The chance for invention is great but the chance for moneymaking is small. Right now creators are pretty much screwed.

CM: Where did you derive your inspiration for Richard’s Poor Almanac, and were there other reasons to discontinue it beyond a focus on Cul de Sac?

RT: I’ve gotten several dream jobs. Richard’s Poor Almanac was one of them. Each cartoon was sui generis (a curse and a blessing). I ended it when it became clear it was suffering in relation to Cul de Sac. I couldn’t juggle both cartoons.

CM: Who or what were the biggest influences on you as a cartoonist?

RT: Any cartoonist whose name begins with an ‘S’: Sorel, Steadman, Steinberg, Sempe…I’m considering changing my name to “Sthompson.” Basically anybody who makes me want to draw. The list is endless.

CM: I understand that you and Bill Watterson have a close friendship. Can you tell us about the history between the two of you, and your thoughts on his work?

RT: I guess you could say that the whole world has a close friendship with Calvin and Hobbes (I know I do).  I’d known Rich West, one of Bill’s closest friends, for years.  Unknown to me, he sent Bill some of my old work and Bill liked it.  God knows I admire his work and comic genius immensely, so getting approbation from him made my head swell noticeably.  It was like receiving an ‘atta boy’ from Jesus Christ.

LowRes richard thompson 3

Richard Thompson’s “Cul de Sac”, November 4th, 2007 © Richard Thompson, collection of the artist – Used by permission of Richard Thompson


Join us this summer for Exploring Calvin and Hobbes and The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object: A Richard Thompson RetrospectiveMarch 22 – August 3, 2014 / free / Tuesday-Sunday – 1pm to 5pm / Monday – Closed 

As an added bonus, the Wexner Center for the Arts will be screening the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson at 4pm on Saturday, March 22, followed at 7pm by John Hubley at 100, a viewing of the incredible animation by the creator of Mr. Magoo.

And if you visit campus after May 17, take a short walk over to the Wexner Center for the Arts and check out famed cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ show: May 17 – Aug 3, 2014 / Tuesday-Sunday – visit wexarts.org for hours and admission fees. It is going to be the summer of cartoon art at Ohio State!


For reprint and image use permissions, please contact Jane Carroll at carroll.296@osu.edu.