William Boyd "Bill" Watterson II (born July 5, 1958) is the author of Calvin and Hobbes. He was author and artist during the strip's decade-long run. Calvin and Hobbes abruptly ceased publication in 1995, when Watterson decided to retire. He is now removed completely from the public eye, and is reluctant to take interviews, preferring to let his work speak for itself. He drew Calvin's father to look exactly like himself, for symbolism. Bill is currently 62 years old.
Watterson was born in Washington, D.C., where his father, James G. Watterson (1932-2016), worked as a patent examiner while going to law school, until becoming a patent attorney in 1960. The family moved to Chagrin Falls, Ohio when Bill was six years old; his mother, Kathryn, became a city council member. He has a younger brother, Tom, who is a high school teacher in Austin, Texas.
In 1980, Watterson graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio with a degree in political science. Immediately, the Cincinnati Post offered him a job drawing political cartoons for a six-month trial period. Watterson was however denied further employment beyond the trial period. At some point, he picked up a job designing advertisements, which he supposedly "detested".
During this time, he turned his attention to being a self-employed cartoonist. He was once approached with a offer to create a strip featuring the character of a robot with a propeller on his head, which had a huge licensing program planned with plush toys. He decided not to work said character into the strip of what would become Calvin and Hobbes, as he was offended working on a character that wasn't his own and creating a strip just for advertising. He thus returned once again to designing advertisements for a while.
He attempted six concepts for a cartoon strip, all of which were rejected. His seventh attempt, "Calvin and Hobbes", was his first success.
Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin and Hobbes was first published on November 18, 1985 to great public approval. During its run, Watterson became known for battling against the arbitrary structure publishers imposed on newspaper cartoons and the limited size of contemporary comic strips. A common problem for many strip structures is the editing out of the first two panels, which often contain "throwaway jokes" as the cartoonist is unsure they will make the final cut. While Watterson had throwaway jokes, sometimes the first two panels also contained scenes germane to the story arc. Watterson managed to get an exception to this constraint for Calvin and Hobbes, allowing him to draw his Sunday cartoons the way he wanted. In many of them the panels overlap or contain their own panels; in some of them the action takes place diagonally across the strip.
While it was considered that Calvin and Hobbes would become animated, Watterson decided against it for a combination of factors; being against merchandizing, concern about hearing Calvin speak would water down the strip, and having to work with a multitude of animators and producers. Ultimately, Bill Watterson stated he takes pride in the strip being a "one-man business".
With rare exception, all characters in Calvin and Hobbes are made up and not based from personal experience. Contrary to popular belief, while Hobbes was based off a cat named Sprite, Calvin was not based off Bill's childhood and is a fully fictional character. (Watterson once remarked that if any character was like himself, it would be Calvin's father, who resembled a clean-shaven version of him). Other cartoonists, such as Bill Keane, used younger versions of himself and his family as inspiration for The Family Circus, or fellow Universal cartoonist Lynn Johnston used her family as model for her strip For Better or For Worse. However, due to her heavy dependence on copying her real-life family, Johnston drew sharp criticism that she was making a fast buck off the misfortunes of her husband and children by having her cartoon family perform corresponding embarrasing stunts. As Bill Watterson is against merchandizing, he has never exploited his friends or family in said manner, and barely made reference to real people, only in having Calvin's dad remark on "building character" or working as an attorney (the elder Watterson's career). Watterson also said that in college he made a strip for a German class called Raumfahrer Rolf, about a cigar-smoking space adventurer, which later became the basis for Calvin's "Spaceman Spiff" persona. Many of Watterson's Calvin books are dedicated to his family or close friends.
It is well-known of Watterson's stance against merchandising, preferring to profit solely from the strength of his work through publishing and collection issues, instead of trying to make a fast buck off trinkets and other paraphernalia of his characters. This was somewhat similar to Walt Disney's outook, who had the attitude that he would do a good job in his work and the money would take care of itself. In 1993, Bill Watterson battled Universal Press Syndicate when it was discovered his contract allowed for merchandising. After a prolonged battle, Universal agreed to renegotiate the contract to allow Watterson to disapprove licensing of anything relating to Calvin & Hobbes. Although ultimately victorious, the legal bickering had taken its toll on Watterson, and he took a sabbatical. For much of 1993, no new Calvin & Hobbes strips were produced, and newspapers reran older strips.
Despite Watterson's personal feelings, he has limited a small amount of authorized Calvin goods, such as a T-shirt showing Calvin making faces and a rare book called Teachng with Calvin & Hobbes. In 2009, Bill Watterson authorized the US Postal Service to feature Calvin & Hobbes on a postage stamp that honored comic strips, whereupon Calvin was part of a collection with the likes of classic cartoon characters Garfield, Beetle Bailey and Archie Andrews.
Most goods featuring Calvin and Hobbes are knockoffs. Some, such as college T-shirts showing Calvin and Hobbes binge drinking or leering at women or dancing to a record, or car window decals showing Calvin urinating on a logo, are blatantly unauthorized and in violation of Watterson's stance that the strip is not meant to show vulgar behavior. Bill Watterson has let it be known of those who would display Calvin performing vulgar acts, stating "only vandals and thieves make a fast buck off Calvin".
Since Watterson's retirement, he had been known to ship random autographed copies of his Calvin books in the hopes of surprising a few lucky fans. Bill Watterson terminated this gesture as well when he learned that his autographed books were fetching top dollar at auctions.
In a brief letter newspaper editors made public November 9, 1995, Watterson announced his retirement:
- Dear Editor:
- I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
- That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
- Bill Watterson
The last strip of Calvin and Hobbes was published on December 31, 1995. Since retiring, Bill Watterson has taken up painting, often drawing landscapes of the woods with his father. He has also been learning about music. He has also published several anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes strips. He tries to avoid the public eye and many newspapers have tried but failed to contact him. He felt that comic strips were a form of art and that they were being undermined. He also wanted to change the Sunday Strip format and felt like he was being pressured by deadlines.
Maxim is one publication that attempted to interview him and failed (it would have been highly unlikely for Watterson to accept being interviewed by a raunchy magazine like Maxim given his past insistence that Calvin & Hobbes are not meant to be associated with vulgarity). In their October 2005 issue, they stated their failure was that Watterson requested that Universal Press Syndicate not forward any fan mail.
A short film about Calvin & Hobbes titled Dear Mr. Watterson was produced by a couple of fans. The film interviewed multiple people, to include Seth Green of Robot Chicken (who once did a Calvin & Hobbes parody), telling of how Calvin & Hobbes impacted their lives. Although the film was named in honor of the children's book Dear Mr. Henshaw, where a boy corresponds with a reclusive author, the producers insisted this film is homage and not yet another media attempt to extract Bill Watterson from retirement.
In comparison to other cartoonists, Watterson has had notable similarities. Like Charles Schultz, he never had any assistants on the daily strip, unlike many cartoonists whose works continue as "zombie strips" after the cartoonist's death, being taken over by assistants ghostwriting as the original cartoonist. However, both strips from Schultz and Watterson are published today as reruns.
Watterson is married to a woman named Melissa, to whom he dedicated one of his Calvin and Hobbes books (another being to his brother Thomas). Since his retirement from Calvin and Hobbes, the couple has had a daughter named Violet.