Documentary about Bill Watterson in the works?

On December 4th, The K Chronicles cartoonist Keith Knight wrote about being interviewed for a film about Calvin and Hobbes and Bill Watterson on his blog.

I was drawing in my local cafe when I struck up a conversation with an elderly man about a big influence, Jules Feiffer. Another guy approached and told me his friend was doing a documentary on the influence of Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, another huge influence. He invited me to be interviewed for the film.

This project just started and the filmmaker is looking for more folks to talk to. If you love Calvin and Hobbes and want to be interviewed, this guy may be coming to your town. Email me and I’ll put you in touch.

In the same post, Keith also says that he’s working on a “super-serious” project that would require him to change one of the frequently asked questions. I wonder which one it’s going to be, hmm?

56 thoughts on “Documentary about Bill Watterson in the works?

  1. No, Bill Watterson will not give an interview. At least face-to-face. For it is forbidden to look up on the visage of Bill lest you die. That’s what I’ve heard at least.

  2. Who gives a rat’s a#$$? Really…did he ever express one iota of interest in or respect for any of his contemporaries other than to insult them or tell them what untalented hacks they were? Spare me the cretinous insights of a self identified comics reincarnation of a JD Salinger wannabe…..

  3. I can’t recall any comments by Watterson about his peers that were terrible. Perhaps unpleasant to hear, but his criticisms were fair in my opinion. Watterson had enormous regard for Charles Schulz and a lifelong respect and love for Walt Kelly, who towers over and all strip artists then or since. Even Watterson. And Watterson would be the first to admit it.

  4. Watterson’s criticisms of Garfield was so dead on I felt as though I might be at church, cheering on the preacher.

    He did seem, however, to be almost angrily reclusive and resentful that he was famous enough to have other people want to talk to him. I never understood that part of it.

  5. I wonder if trying to stay private in a public medium has him vastly misunderstood. However, it makes no difference to me one way or the other if a documentary ever gets made. I’ll just enjoy the cartoons and move on.

  6. Watterson never struck me as angrily reclusive, like JD Salinger was (and is). He just wants a normal, quiet life. This wish was made difficult when he created a wildly successful comic strip. At first he gave interviews. Then, when he stopped, the story became how Bill Watterson Won’t Give Interviews.

    His autobiographical introduction of “The Complete C+H” was more than I ever could have asked for, besides the comics themselves.

  7. From what I’ve been able to glean from contemporary sources, the bad feelings toward Watterson stem not from his printed utterances so much as “private” conversations, i.e. addresses to cartoonists at seminars, and snatched conversations afterwards.

    The dissing has been going on for some years, but we’ll never really know exactly about whats, whens and whys, as it’s all down to hearsay, and we’re unlikely to get Watterson’s side of the story in any case.

    Wish we could.

  8. A written interview is one thing. A camera? I very highly doubt it.

    As for the reclusive stuff…he has an actual disorder…he can’t tolerate having strangers around him. It’s not his fault, it’s just the way he is, like some people have claustrophobia.

  9. My remembering is that he didn’t have much use for newspapers, syndicates, legacy strips and factory strips.
    Not to say it didn’t happen, but I don’t think he ever (he seldom?) criticized cartoonists of original creations. Though he seems to have been unrealistically upset that they didn’t stand up to syndicates and newspapers the way he wanted them to.

  10. >>From what Iâ??ve been able to glean from contemporary sources, the bad feelings toward Watterson stem not from his printed utterances so much as â??privateâ? conversations, i.e. addresses to cartoonists at seminars, and snatched conversations afterwards.

    Spot on.

    At least George C Scott refused his Oscar, but after publicly lambasting the state of cartooning and most of his contemporaries, Watterson accepted BOTH his Reubens with nary a word of appreciation towards his fellow cartoonists( who he held in such public and private contempt ) yet were gracious enough to bestow it’s highest award upon him.

    What’s the phrase for such a person?…mmm I think it starts and ends with a “T”…..

    Sorry Dawn…he could have sent a thank you note.

  11. “Whatâ??s the phrase for such a person?â?¦mmm I think it starts and ends with a â??Tâ?â?¦..”

    Is it “pedant”?

    By the way there should be no apostrophe in “it’s highest award”.

  12. Man, some of guys come off as wounded 7th graders who didn’t get their favourite ballers signature. Lambast him all you want, he is arguably the greatest cartoonist of the last 25 years. Personally, I find him incredibly overrated and not even close to Larson in the LOL department. But did you ever think that maybe he was being polite. Maybe not. Maybe he was proud. But who cares. My god, get over it. The vitriol that you hold for him sounds personal. He’s bigger than the awards he was given … if you can’t understand that or deign him unworthy because of the way he treated you … so be it. But to act like people wouldn’t want to hear what he has to say because he was disingenuous to a convention group gives yourself a lot of credit and does his MILLIONS of fans and the industry a disservice.

  13. >>>Heâ??s bigger than the awards he was given â?¦

    I’m certain he holds the same opinion. Defend him as you wish Lefitte, but he holds his readership to the same level of contempt as his contemporaries. My point being if you show nothing but contempt towards a group of people and the industry they represent, and wish to give the appearence of being consistent in ones’ principles, perhaps you shouldn’t accept their awards ….twice.

    It gives the impression that maybe you may not wholly believe your own vitriolic condemnations of an industry that made you a fabulously rich man. It’s like the socially aware billionaire who was so disgusted by the drunken avarice in the world that he threw his martini across the jacuzzi….

    You are more than welcome to hold him up as an icon of cartooning , and when it came to his art I would agree. He is in the class of Schulz, Kelly and Capp…But when it comes to being interested in his opins regarding comics and cartoonists…most professionals have already heard it.

  14. As much as I love Calvin and Hobbes, I tend to agree with Rick’s POV on Watterson. I obviously have never met the man, but based on all the articles I’ve read over the years, the interviews(the few available), other cartoonists comments about their interactions with the man, and just the way he turned his back on the industry and his fans…the heck with him.

    He wouldn’t allow the merchandising of his strip, as if nick-nacks of Calvin were below him and his strip? Many a fan simply wanted a mug, or a t-shirt, a Hobbes plushie, etc., based on their enjoyment of the strip(bootleg junk isn’t what we had in mind).

    And I never understood his standoffishness with his fans. Show the peeps that made you a bit of thanks and humility and sign an autograph now and again, wouldja?

    When I met Berkley Breathed last spring, he was refreshingly humble yet aware of his stature with comics fans. He was doing an in store for his children’s book, yet all we wanted to ask him about was . he didn’t mind at all…of course we all bought a copy of Mars Needs Moms LOL

    Could you imagine Bill Watterson posting and mingling here at TDC like several other syndicated cartoonists do? Ha…

  15. Aw, mannnnn…me and that big, opinionated, hole in my face.

    Aren’t I red in the face now.

    At least he’ll hate Rick, too, so I won’t be the only one not invited to his reindeer games…

  16. I don’t think he had contempt for his readers at all. He didn’t care for their opinions about his work…he didn’t want to read his fan mail…but is that “contempt”? I don’t think so. It was just a desire to not cloud his work with others’ opinions of it. He wanted it to be “pure.”

    Watterson is definitely as AR-TEEESSST, if you know what I mean. That’s why he didn’t want the merchandising. He wanted it to be ART and art only.

    Of course, cartoons have always been commercial. Cartooning isn’t just an art, it’s a trade. It’s always been a trade.

    Oh well, to each his own. I think we need to respect that he is who he is. He did give us a great comic strip.

  17. Getting back to the question of a documentary, in light of Watterson’s reclusive nature, for whatever reason, would a film maker be able to pull off a successful documentary on his work without him?

    In my opinion, a documentary film WITHOUT an interview from Watterson, would play more like a memorial to a dead man rather than an introspective piece about him and his work.

  18. I don’t feel the contempt for his readers either. I don’t know the man, but I want to know more about him. The fact that he didn’t get along with some of his peers in the industry is too bad, but it’s just a burp (if that) in his career, It’s not what defines him, In fact, I’d say 99.9% of his readers could not care less that he accepted an award and then renounced it or whatever he did.

    He’ll be remembered as one of the preeminnent cartoonists of the 20th Century, film or not.

  19. “would a film maker be able to pull off a successful documentary on his work without him?”

    Maybe they could make failing to get the full story part of the film itself. Like ‘Roger and Me’…or better yet, like the ‘Blair Witch Project’.

    The crew wakes up in the woods outside BW’s house to find stuffed tiger dolls on stakes around the camp. How awesome would that be??? 😀

  20. Pretty heavy discussion going on over here.

    I think I should go point out that this documentary is about Watterson’s INFLUENCE on other cartoonists, not necessarily about the man himself.

  21. I was searching through my archives and found that there are some photos of Bill W. Here is the last one taken of Bill at a Recluse Reunion.
    Photo of Bill

    By the way, I love Bill’s work and he can do anthing he wants with his personal life.

  22. JeffM says, “I highly doubt this documentary will happen.” Whether you want it to happen or not, or whether you give “a rat’s a#$$” or not (Rick), documentaries are made all the time WITHOUT the cooperation and/or participation of the subject.

  23. I read through the speech Mr. Watterson gave (nice post Alan). It seems ironic that he sites “Peanuts” as a major influence, and yet is critical of cartoonists that allow their work to be merchandised. There have been millions of cards, books, dolls, phones (yes, phones) and Lord only knows what else merchandised around Peanuts. And yet to my (admittedly biased) mind, Peanuts was brilliant to the last strip. I don’t see a real reason why cartoonists shouldn’t be allowed to market themselves. If someone wants to buy a doll of “Lio” or “Danae” or “Rat” or “Sherman” (the shark), that doesn’t have to compromise any artistic integrity.

  24. I recently read “Schulz and Peanuts,” and I can understand the type of merchandising that Watterson was railing against. Charlie Brown and Snoopy were literally everywhere selling nearly everything for ages, to the point where Schulz himself fought with the syndicate in the late 1970’s to gain final approval over any licensing. (One of the ridiculous things he cited were Charlie Brown razor blades in Germany.)

    However, I think Watterson’s ire was aimed less at Schulz and more at Jim Davis, who has all but said that he created Garfield to be merchandised and had already farmed out the real work on his strip by the time that speech was given.

  25. Contempt for his readership?

    I think not. The fact that he refused to compromise his property in the form of merchandising is all I need to know on how much he cares for his readership.

    Also, the fact that he ended the strip before it lost it’s appeal voice tells me how much he cares about his readership.

    Because of this, I have always considered Watterson the Howard Roark of cartoonist.

    To JRead:

    My comment had nothing to do with whether or not I want the documentary to happen. My comment was based on Watterson reclusive lifestyle. Sure, documentaries are made all of the time, and many without the subjects consent or input, but those types of biopics have at least pictures and footage of the person to fill in the gaps. Watterson has neither.

    Now if what Charles has said is true, it being a documetary about Watterson’s influence, then I think it would be a great idea and a very do-able project.

  26. I completely agree with Rick and the NCS on this matter regarding Bill Watterson.

    If the organization and its awards are not to your liking, then you don’t accept the award. Period.
    Just snubbing the awards ceremony isn’t enough.

    I had something like this many years ago, when I was the editorial cartoonist in Santa Rosa, Ca. I got a journalism award from an organization called the California Law and Order society (or something like that). This was very early in my career, and I suppose they liked the cartoons I did hitting Rose Bird, the California Supreme Court justice at the time. I knew nothing about the organization or their annual journalism awards, but I was flattered. I couldn’t attend their awards night, so they sent me my plaque. Later on I learned more about the organization, which was a group of right wing extremists, akin to the neocons we’re suffering with today. The next year, they wanted to award me again, and I said no thanks. That’s all Watterson had to do if he didn’t like the NCS or their awards (which are given by our peers), just say no thanks and give it to the guy who got the next highest votes. Same goes for Larson, who also snubbed the Reuben awards over the years. When the peers in your profession, any profession, nominate you for an award, you show up. Otherwise, it’s a poor reflection on you, not the organization or the profession.

  27. Bill Watterson did read and answer fan mail. I have a typed (by a typewriter, no less), signed letter to prove it. And it is very gracious; I will always treasure his words to me.

    “The Cheapening of the Comics” (which I think was published in the Cartoonist PROfiles, way back when) is one of the most important talks about comics since it was given. I think it’s even more powerful because it was given by a man in the midst of a successful comics career.

    You don’t often see people making good money at something come out and criticize it’s failings. Some people think Watterson was shooting himself in the foot; I think he was speaking the truth as he saw it. He wanted the best for the comics, and he was willing to put himself out there as an example of how it can be done.

    Dave, I agree about the apparent “Peanuts” dichotomy. Schulz was able to market his strip and maintain its artistic vision; Watterson felt he couldn’t do it. It’s more a matter of personality than a one-size-fits-all statement on how to draw a good comic strip.

  28. I have to go with Wiley and Rick, you really shouldn’t insult your peers when they are honoring you. Bad form. You can truly thank your peers and still make your points without getting into personalities by simply talking about the issues and challenges before the profession. No need to call people out on it. Just like we want to go out of the way to give BW the benefit of the doubt, he should do the same for his peers. It’s common courtesy (or uncommon courtesy, but courtesy none the less).

    BW’s forward to the Schulz bio was interesting and I don’t think I realized how his personal life and the strip overlapped (or at least not in those ways) … and like cliff notes, I’m not sure he did either until looking back on it. It’s probably more than coincidence, but was it really pre-meditated? Could have been, but who really has that kind of insight into themselves in the midst of the issues?

    As for BW, I still give him genius status on the strip, the rest I don’t have to deal with. He probably influenced cartoonists less than a Schulz because very few even attempt his approach to cartooning. Some of his storylines and gags might have been adopted from time to time, but I don’t think he revolutionized the art form. I continue to really enjoy the strip, but I think a documentary like this will not be of too much interest. Other than cartoonists, who’d really even be that interested, and with all the ticked off cartoonists, that’s perhaps even a very short list.

  29. Like Wiley, if I ever won a Pulitzer or an Academy, I would decline because these organizations are nothing but left-wing extremist, not unlike what we suffered through during the 90’s.

    😉 All in fun Wiley….

  30. Do you mean the 90’s of record economic prosperity, 8 years of peace and a balanced federal budget?

    god what a nightmare….

  31. Jeff, good point. But then again, how much more of an honor would it be to be recognized by mostly liberal peers that would still say you deserved it? It would be hard not to accept it to give hope to other conservatives (or libertarians or whatever) that their work might be considered high quality by their peers. Also true of the Wiley’s “neo-con” award, that they selected a liberal could be a tribute (however, this logic has it’s limits, I would agree with Wiley in refusing a KKK award in honor of his love of white eggs )! I guess the difference is – one is a group of your peers commenting on your profession, the other is a group of idiologs giving you an award for one of your positions they like … and if you can’t stand what they stand for … yeah, don’t accept it.

    After reading the BW speech that Alan posted, I don’t really see what’s all that offensive about it. Maybe it was the way he said it, the tone in his voice or the way he delivered it. It’s kind of like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door. I’m sure no one liked hearing it, but look how many of those cartooning issues have changed in 20 years. He didn’t name names and I think more cartoonists may have thought he was talking about them when perhaps we was only talking about a few.

    Perhaps some of the historians among you can answer this … apart from the often mentioned great cartoons of the early days, how much was just crappy filler back then too? It’s just like looking at an old house that has survived a century and saying “Wow, they don’t make them like that anymore.” When, in fact, the bulk of the houses back then weren’t either … that’s why there aren’t many to see anymore. It’s the illusion of quality. Did adventure strips die because of the cartoonists, or did they die because mass media and transportation has improved to the point that travel is no longer a fascination???

  32. “But then again, how much more of an honor would it be to be recognized by mostly liberal peers that would still say you deserved it?”

    Like Jeff MacNelly (3 times), Dick Locher, Steve Benson, Mike Rameriz…

    Yeah, that’s a real left wing organization, that Pulitzer committee.

  33. Yes Rick, economic prosperity that Reagan layed the foundation for, let’s not forget the internet boom (oh..forgot Al Gore invented that)..that gave rise to thousands upon thousands of online businesses that were untouched by left-wing pocket-picking…who was it again that wanted to tax the internet????

    Peace?, certainly you must be kidding…..WTC bombing, Mogadishu (chasing druglords, not evil rapist dictators), Bosnia, bombing Baghdad…

    But to remain on topic, Bill was wrong to shun his peers after being given the Rueben, that I will agree with you and Wiley on.

  34. One syndicate developed a comic strip after it had settled on the products: the strip was essentially to be an advertisement for the dolls and TV shows already planned. The syndicate developed the characters and then found someone to draw the strip. Lots of heart and integrity in that kind of strip, yes sir.

    The flip side to this is what a great strip Jim Meddick would create from the very opportunity Bill Watterson turned down! Robotman was a really funny strip long before the failure of the merchandising that bore the strip. Once Meddick really made the strip his own with Monty, it became one of the most underated gems of the funny pages in my opinion.

    Something from nothing. Just goes to show that not every “inkslinger for hire” is a “hack” as is often inferred…

  35. “Like Jeff MacNelly (3 times), Dick Locher, Steve Benson, Mike Rameriz…

    Yeah, thatâ??s a real left wing organization, that Pulitzer committee.”

    Steve Benson?? He seems to be liberal judging by archives of his work.

  36. Not when he won the Pulitzer. Steve had always been a staunch conservative. His work only seems more liberal now compared with the extremist rantings by the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, etc.

    But you have to understand what it takes to be a true political satirist. If you’re dogmatic with either political extreme, your work is boring because it’s predictable… just like the so-called commentators listed above. All they do is parrot talking points. A satirist cannot afford sacred cows and the target is always the same… the ones in power. As the political pendulum begins to swing in the other direction, so too will the work of real political satirists who have an ethical compass.

    I’ve known Steve for over 20 years now, and I’ve been very pleased to see his ability to turn his pen on those who thought they were safe. A good editorial cartoonist has a sensitive b.s. radar and will point it out, no matter where the source of the b.s. is coming from. And Steve is a VERY good editorial cartoonist.

  37. Coincidentally, there’s an item on Steve on E&P online today:

    His split from the Mormon Church took a great deal of courage. He has my undying respect for it.
    This was when he began to see things the way they really are rather than looking at everything through an ordained conservative prism, which was reflected in his work. His principles, morals and sense of ethics didn’t change. The conservative movement did. Now, like many other real conservatives, he is a strong critic of the extreme right wing that has taken over the Republican party and conservatism.

  38. Terms like “conservative” and “liberal” keep drifting around. If you look at Barry Goldwater, often considered the father of modern conservatism in America, his views (in 1964 and 1994) would be considered moderate-to-liberal in a lot of areas by today’s standards.

    And around 30 years from now, the pendulum will have swung the other way, and people we consider liberal today will be seen as moderate or even conservative. Then it will start to swing back again.

  39. We’ve drifted off from the relevance of this thread, but politics aside, I’m guessing there’s more to the BW story than just his FCA speech back in 89 that is bothering folks. The written speech seems over the top only in a few spots (like heavily glorifying the past) but overall seems reasonable enough. Was he condescending and preachy? Did he snub everyone and every event he went to? Or was it more of an agoraphobia or intensely private side or arrogance?

    The cartoonist community seems pretty friendly to me (so far), so I’m guessing that you’d really have to rub a lot of folks the wrong way to get such a negative reaction. Yes? No?

    What would the audience of a BW documentary be?

  40. Define “hack”?

    Would I take over a strip after its creator had died/retired?

    Actually I would. If I felt I could make it mine, add to it, improve or keep up the level (if that level was excellent). I would also do my own work at the same time.

    Would that make me a hack? No, I don’t think so. A hack is someone who takes on work with no ambition to make it good, to improve it, to maintain that improvement. A journeyman, if you will, or an incompetent, a mere time-server.

    Unfortunately there HAVE been many hacks appointed to positions on newspaper strips after their creators have died, and I have often said (and I stick by it) that I can name only one whose efforts have actually surpassed those of his predecessor, the strip’s creator.

    At one time in my career I WAS a hack. I drew the Count Duckula strip in the News Of The World, the biggest selling Sunday paper in the UK (and probably the planet) for too long.
    I was drawing my own long-running strip at the same time and worked full time as an animator. I didn’t care about the Duckula strip, and it showed. It wasn’t right that I continue with it, considering my attitude, so I gave the job to another cartoonist who better appreciated the exposure. In my opinion he did the job much better than me.

    So many hacks stay in their jobs because they have no chance of achieving any kind of notoriety or “success” outside them. I’m sure some are attentive to their task, and it’s just that they’re not any good, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing the job reluctantly (and it shows) or you’re keen but ordinary, you are still a hack.

  41. I guess it depends on what the strip in question was for me. If OGPI were to come to me and ask me to write a re-revived “Pogo” I’d be on it in a heartbeat, because I loved the strip (both versions) so much and would be willing to try and do it justice.

    However, should Chris Browne pass and King came to me about writing “Hagar” I would pass.

    If I were asked to pick up the torch for a strip that I loved, and that I thought I could continue the original creator’s vision (while adding my own touches), I would do it as a tribute to that creator. But I wouldn’t just sit there pounding out scripts for any feature a syndicate shoved in front of me.

    I think that’s the difference between a hack and a continuator.

  42. Can’t say for sure, Charles, I did Count Duckula for about a year, I think, and that might have been half or a third of the total time it was in the NOTW.

    All in all I reckon it ran a year longer than it deserved, which goes to show that it’s harder to get out of these gigs than get into them!

  43. Wow. I used to love watching Count Duckula. Nanny cracked me up. I’m with Charles, I never knew there was a Duckula strip. Sorry, I know, off topic.

  44. “Yes Rick, economic prosperity that Reagan layed the foundation for…

    You must mean the all time largest national debt ever created by an administration somewhere in the area of 3 trillion dollars only to be exceeded by the current republican administration…oh THAT foundation for prosperity.

    Oh and the first WTC bombing that resulted in the arrests and convictions of the perpetrators without having to invade a country that had nothing to do with it….

  45. I’m against legacy strips but I must confess if Hy Eisman should retire I would LOVE to take a crack at drawing the Popeye Sunday page, I love that ol’ swab!

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