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Cartooning in the footsteps of Bill Watterson

Comics Riff blogger Mike Cavna interviewed Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson on the topic of doing a kids strip after Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

Richard sums it up:

Oh boy, has it ever. Calvin’s little sneakers are big shoes to follow, and don’t even try to fill them. Watterson pretty much permanently defined a hyperactively imaginative 6-year-old, who is, of course, the perfect occupant of a comic strip. Children fit into a comic strip remarkably well, especially those of small stature but vivid personality. Watterson’s genius was to not only create a particularly vivid kid, but to make that kid’s imagination the other character in the strip.

So my conclusion is, Watterson sure hasn’t made my job any easier.

Your thoughts?

Community Comments

#1 Beth
August/19/2008
@ 11:43 am

I love Cul de Sac! It’s one of my favorites in the new cartoons. (Others: The Knight Life, Watch Your Head, On a Claire Day, Daddy’s Home. This entire group, in my humble opinion as a “civilian,” is superb.) I am a piano teacher, and the series on the oboe recital was priceless. It’s taking the small details and happenings of life and giving them an observant and amusing twist that makes Cul De Sac so great.

#2 Lar deSouza
August/19/2008
@ 12:21 pm

I think Mark Tatulli’s “Heart of the City” has come very close to the Watterson-esque charm of imaginative children. Perhaps his focus on a girl instead of a boy has prevented Calvin comparisons?

Later :)

#3 Garey Mckee
August/19/2008
@ 2:10 pm

If I may be so bold, I believe Richard’s writing is actually BETTER than Watterson’s in many instances.

Watterson was great for quick character studies which over all defined Calvin’s dominant personality. However, Richard seems better at accomplishing longer story arcs.

Beth mentioned the oboe recital. When Petey had his out of body experience when called up to the stage, that was one of the most brilliant visual story telling conventions I’ve seen in a comic strip in a long, long time. In my opinion, better than Watterson could have done.

#4 Phil Wohlrab
August/19/2008
@ 9:21 pm

“Watterson was great for quick character studies which over all defined Calvinâ??s dominant personality. However, Richard seems better at accomplishing longer story arcs.”

It’s easy to drag out a story arc, it happens when you come up with an idea, like “going to the beach”, and continue to draw strips without having any idea how the story ends. Knowing the Beginning middle and end of the story arc before hand will make for a more concise story with a better flow.
A really long story arc is the result of poor planning.

Technically, You could cover every detail of a beach vacation for a years. Everything from eating crabs with a hammer to standing on top a lighthouse, to getting pooped on by a seagull could be a potential strip.
It doesn’t tell us much about the characters but at least they’re doing something other than sitting around commenting on what they see on TV.
And I do think Cul De Sac is a good strip so far.

#5 Garey Mckee
August/20/2008
@ 1:45 am

You’re right Phil. Perhaps I should have used the term “effective story arc” rather than “longer story arc.”

#6 Jesse Cline
August/20/2008
@ 7:37 am

The pace of Calvin and Hobbes usually did not use story arcs, I don’t think its an accurate assessment to say its not as effective, or the writing isn’t as good, as another strip that does use them. Is Lynn Johnston, the queen of effective story arcs, a better writer than Gary Larson? It’s apples to oranges. And anyway, if you want an example of an effective Watterson story arc, read the series of “little raccoon” C&H strips. Its enough to make a grown man cry.

#7 Rod McKie
August/20/2008
@ 8:41 am

You’d certainly make Watterson cry with that attitude, he wasn’t impressed with dumbing down. To Kill a Mockngbird is enough to make a grown-man cry, and so are the speeches of Martin Luther King Jnr and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Calvin and Hobbes was a marvelous comic strip and Cul-De-Sac is also well on the way to being one. That is all any cartoonist can aim for.

#8 Jesse Cline
August/20/2008
@ 9:32 am

Well certainly he would be impressed with you deriding me for saying I was effected by one of his comic strips. Sorry for “dumbing down” with cliches, but I was making a comment on a blog, not writing a thesis.

#9 Garey Mckee
August/20/2008
@ 7:41 pm

I didn’t mean to cause any strife. And Jesse makes a good point about comparing apples to oranges. But that comparison was already made by the very nature of Mike Cavna’s interview. So with that in mind, I still maintain that Richard’s writing in Cul de Sac is in some instances better than some of the writing in Calvin and Hobbes.

#10 Jim Thomas
August/20/2008
@ 9:18 pm

If we are going to talk about Watterson, here is something that has been bothering me. In his ten year anniversary book where he talks about not wanting to do the strip anymore so he could work in other formats at a more deliberate pace, my question is: Why not web comics?

I am not suggesting just bringing Calvin and Hobbes back, but any work. Do we think it could never live up to the actual strip of C&H, or the prestige and nostalgia that would, perhaps unfairly, make all new work pale in comparision?

This is more of a general question about how people would feel about a Bill Watterson return to comics via the internet.

My contention is that since the success of most web comics comes from the commerce of selling something on the site, that Watterson might not even give this suggestion a thought. But who wouldn’t pay a one time fee of ten dollars to see what Bill Watterson still has to say?

#11 Garey Mckee
August/20/2008
@ 11:04 pm

Jim I would wonder if Watterson would feel the omni-present shadow of C&H just too much to even consider doing another strip, regardless of the media chosen as it’s host.

#12 Wiley Miller
August/21/2008
@ 7:21 am

Maybe Watterson is doing a web comic, but under an alias, where he has adopted a different style.

#13 Norm Feuti
August/21/2008
@ 7:32 am

“Maybe Watterson is doing a web comic, but under an alias, where he has adopted a different style.”

Have you ever seen Bill Watterson and Chris Onstad in a picture together? Think about it.

#14 Corey Pandolph
August/21/2008
@ 7:54 am

Alright… You all forced me to say it: The Fake Rockstar is really Bill Watterson.

There, I said it.

#15 Norm Feuti
August/21/2008
@ 8:09 am

“The Fake Rockstar is really Bill Watterson.”

I KNEW IT!

#16 Mike Cope
August/21/2008
@ 8:24 am

This has the potential of being like that jail scene in ‘The Mask of Zorro’ …

“I’m Bill Watterson!”
“No, I’M Bill Watterson!!”

Hmm … Maybe Bill Watterson is Zorro :)

#17 Corey Pandolph
August/21/2008
@ 8:38 am

“This has the potential of being like that jail scene in â??The Mask of Zorroâ?? â?¦

â??Iâ??m Bill Watterson!â?
â??No, Iâ??M Bill Watterson!!â?

-which was stolen from one of the greatest guy movies of all times: “Spartacus”…

#18 Josh McDonald
August/21/2008
@ 8:51 am

“â??This has the potential of being like that jail scene in â??The Mask of Zorroâ?? â?¦

â??Iâ??m Bill Watterson!â?
â??No, Iâ??M Bill Watterson!!â?

-which was stolen from one of the greatest guy movies of all times: â??Spartacusâ?â?¦”

I think they stole it from “Life of Brian”. Who in Hollywood can remember back far enough to steal from “Spartacus”?

#19 Mike Cope
August/21/2008
@ 9:17 am

“which was stolen from one of the greatest GUY movies of all times: â??Spartacusâ?â?¦”
(emphasis added)

My machismo just curled up and died!

My mistake … Kirk Douglass is Bill Waterson :)

#20 Mike Cope
August/21/2008
@ 9:18 am

(Douglas)

#21 Garey Mckee
August/21/2008
@ 4:53 pm

I’ve often thought Corey’s line quality is reminiscent of Watterson’s. I’m not being facetious, I truly think it is.

#22 Corey Pandolph
August/21/2008
@ 5:52 pm

Wow, thanks Garey. It’s a good thing I’m really Bill, or I may take that… as… a…

Now I’ve confused myself.

#23 Phil Wohlrab
August/21/2008
@ 6:53 pm

Wait, I thought Watterson was back in papers.. whats it called..Frazz?

#24 Garey Mckee
August/22/2008
@ 3:31 pm

“Wow, thanks Garey. Itâ??s a good thing Iâ??m really Bill, or I may take thatâ?¦ asâ?¦ aâ?¦”

Yes, yes. It was a compliment. Please forgive me for my momentary softness.

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