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More positve news for Dear Mr. Watterson

The documentary Dear Mr. Watterson debuted in Cleveland yesterday. I?ve mentioned it several times on this blog. Word and Film talks to Joel Schroeder, the director. I know there?s been some criticism about the film as invading the privacy of Bill Watterson, but I think the record is pretty straight what this film is trying to achieve.

“Let’s be frank, we’re talking about a comic strip, right?” Schroeder told me. “This is ink, brushes, and paper. It’s the simplest from of art you can conjure up. If this one guy, who is a pretty normal guy, can have all this impact with a comic strip – to me, bottom line, the film has to ultimately become about the power of art.”

Noticeably the film makes no effort to contact Watterson, whose infamous preference for privacy reaches near-J. D. Salinger levels, which from the start was something Schroeder had no interest in trying, despite the pressure to do so from his partners. “It took some members of the team a while to understand the angle I was coming from,” said Schroeder. Though he freely admitted that it was obviously a tough decision to understand. “It seems a little weird, right?” Schroeder said with a laugh. "You’re making a film about Calvin and Hobbes and you never even pursue the man who created it.

Joel gave me access to an advance viewing of the documentary. I hope to write up a review soon.

Community Comments

#1 Justin Riley
April/11/2013
@ 12:13 pm

Absolutely the right choice not contacting Bill Watterson. His preference to be left alone is well known. Any attempt to contact him would’ve been insulting and futile. It would only have added a sad anecdote to the story. I’m glad Schroeder knew where to draw the line.

I look forward to the film. The trailer looks great!

#2 Mike Cope
April/11/2013
@ 1:12 pm

If this documentary was made posthumously, I don’t think anyone would question or criticize whether or not it disrespects Mr. Watterson’s personal requests for privacy.

That said, provided Joel Schroeder is as genuine as he appears, I see no harm in cartoonists and fans alike sharing in this appreciation for one of the greatest comic strips ever created sooner rather than later. Based on the clips released thus far, I think there’s tremendous value and inspiration for many to discover yet, and this film will only help encourage younger cartoonists to pick up their own pens, dream, and create.

Documentaries about cartoonists and their work are nothing new. There’s just a finite list of names that can stand on their own. Bill Watterson is obviously one of them.

#3 Pete McDonnell
April/11/2013
@ 1:21 pm

I look forward to the film; I don’t remember ever seeing a documentary on a cartoonist before, just some TV infotainment shows on Charles Schulz.

#4 Donald Rex Jr.
April/11/2013
@ 1:27 pm

When I did my taxes this year I realized I made 65% of my dollar sales of collectables on eBay last year from selling Watterson’s work. Interestingly I sell it as art objects, rather than straight collectables. and mainly, I believe, to people who don’t usually frequent comic shops or conventions.

#5 Mike Cope
April/11/2013
@ 1:44 pm

@Pete… A few that I’ve seen repeated on TV over the years include R. Crumb, Lynn Johnston, and Ben Wicks.

#6 Phil Judd
April/11/2013
@ 2:46 pm

Looks great. Similar to the ‘Stripped’ film in the making it’s great to see some contemporary doc’s covering these guys. And I admire his respect of Waterson and focusing on the strip as the subject for the film not the man. The strip reveals Waterson anyway as any strip does of it’s creator. Anything more is just intrusive to the artist and should be left alone unless they want to participate and share. Looks great can’t wait to see it.

#7 Jeff Knurek
April/11/2013
@ 7:16 pm

I intent to flush Mr. Watterson out of his bunker. It’s funny, I drew an older (guessing of course) Bill Watterson and Berkeley Breathed in a Jumble for this Saturday. I just know he’ll call me to tell me how honored he is and we’ll become bestest friends! Well, maybe Berke will. Both are my favorite cartoonist. I’ve enjoyed their imaginations more than they’ll ever know.

#8 b.j. dewey
April/12/2013
@ 11:42 am

Also look forward to seeing the film. Re Schroeder’s comment about a comic strip being only ink, brushes, and paper and the “simplest” form of art, I think anyone who has done enough strips long enough knows how very much more there is to it. Ink, brushes, and paper are just the start (and they don’t include digital processes) and even those three are effective only if chosen well to properly reflect what the cartoonist is trying to say.

#9 Dave Stephens
April/13/2013
@ 2:30 am

Nothing more challenging than “simple”. Artists tend to know that. Most folks think it’s all just natural ability, like being born tall or strong. They think a portrait is “hard” and cartoons are “easy”. Which is hilariously incorrect. But that’s how it is…

#10 Phil Hands
April/16/2013
@ 9:05 am

I saw the film last night in Madison. It was very respectful of Mr. Watterson’s desire for privacy. The film does show Chagrin Falls, Ohio and it really feels like you are in a Calvin and Hobbes strip. For die hard Calvin and Hobbes fans (like the folks on this forum), there isn’t much new information or many insights that we don’t already know. But for a general audience, I’m sure it would be quite enlightening.

My favorite scenes were the depictions of Watterson’s early work for local paper in Chagrin Falls. It was cool to see the early nuggets of genius.

The film, however, doesn’t get to Kenyon College in Ohio, where Watterson went to school (with Jim Borgman). I also graduated from Kenyon and used to spend nights in library looking at Watterson’s cartoons from the student newspaper. He did both a strip (about drunken college students) and weekly editorial cartoon. Both were very good.

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