How Calvin and Hobbes Inspired a Generation

A film explores the extraordinary influence of Bill Watterson's creation.

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Since its concluding panel in 1995, Calvin and Hobbes has remained one of the most influential and well-loved comic strips of our time. Calvin and Hobbes follows a six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, as they explore the world around them. Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic, drew 3,160 strips over ten years and notably refused to license his characters for commercial purposes.

A forthcoming feature-length documentary, Dear Mr. Watterson, examines the far-reaching appeal and impact of Calvin and Hobbes, 18 years after Watterson stopped inking new panels. In an excerpt of the film above, comic strip artists speak to how they were personally influenced by Calvin and Hobbes. The full film is a fascinating exploration into the artistic and philosophical harmony of the strip, narrated by filmmaker Joel Allen Schroeder.

In an interview with The Atlantic's Video channel, Schroeder talks about the comic strip and his experience making Dear Mr. Watterson:

The Atlantic: What do you think sets Calvin and Hobbes apart from other comic strips?

Joel Allen Schroeder: Watterson is clearly an amazing artist. You look at his Sunday strips in particular and the imagery just sucks you in. And then you add in his wonderful writing, the depth of his characters, Calvin's limitless world and the humanity that is present in Calvin and Hobbes and I think those are some of the ingredients that make the magic. And then when you consider Watterson's high standards for his work and his respect for the comic strip medium, I think that is what takes Calvin and Hobbes to another level.

A young <i>Calvin and Hobbes</i> reader

Since Calvin and Hobbes ceased publication in 1995, how do you think the perception and impact of the strip has changed?

Because of Watterson's decision to avoid endless merchandising of his characters, we can only get our Calvin and Hobbes fix by digging out our books. We're not saturated with Calvin and Hobbes in commercials or on toy shelves or at theme parks and that helps to keep the strip intact. It isn't watered down, longtime fans still crave it, and new readers will always be introduced to the characters in their original, intended medium. Watterson has said it before, and stated the same idea again more recently: "Calvin and Hobbes was designed to be a comic strip and that's all I want it to be. It's the one place where everything works the way I intend it to." Watterson wrote the strip in such a way that it is timeless, and as long as people continue to read it and pass it along, I think it only stands out more as a work of excellence.

Why did you choose to title the film Dear Mr. Watterson?

The inspiration for the film came out of the idea of writing a letter to Bill Watterson, but that letter never happened. I'd never know what to say, and so, in a way, that unwritten letter sort of transmogrified into this film. The name has always felt appropriate, even though I hope that viewers see the film as more than strictly a love letter of sorts.

Did you attempt to reach out to Bill Watterson for the film, and has he given any thoughts about the final product?

I knew of Watterson's private nature before the project began, and I never wanted to make the film a search for him. The mythology surrounding Bill Watterson is often focused on his status as a "recluse" (a word I really don't like), but I really think the fascinating story has to do with how he put ink to paper for a decade and created something that really means something special to so many people from around the world—and continues to hold that significance. The minute we start tracking him down, that more important story becomes secondary. Bill Watterson has, indeed, seen the final film, and we know that he appreciated our choices to make it less intrusive.

What do you hope your film will add to the conversation surrounding the comic strip?

First of all, I hope anybody who sees, or even just hears about the film, will be inspired to search out their Calvin and Hobbes collections and find a cozy place to sit down and go exploring for a little while. Beyond that, I hope it promotes conversation about art and the impact of art. I think wonderful and amazing things that have a positive impact in our world should be talked about and celebrated. I'm pretty sure if that continues to happen, other people will be inspired to make more wonderful and amazing things that have a positive impact. And if this film prompts viewers to introduce Calvin and Hobbes to a friend or a family member, or even a stranger ... that's perfect.

Dear Mr. Watterson begins its theatrical run and will be available for download on November 15. To learn more about the film and check theater release dates, please visit DearMrWatterson.com.

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Sam Price-Waldman is an associate video producer at The Atlantic. More

Price-Waldman's documentaries have been featured by Vimeo Staff Picks, on PBS, and at film festivals including AFI SilverDocs and Full Frame.
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