When one reads most online bios of Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, most start with a birth date and then quickly jump to his time at Kenyon College where he drew cartoons for the college paper. But before Kenyon College, Bill contributed cartoons to his high school newspaper and yearbook. To my knowledge, these cartoons have not been widely circulated – I can’t find any of them on the web.
Last week I was contacted by a former editor of the high school newspaper in Chagrin Falls, OH where Bill grew up. She was the paper’s editor during the 1973-1974 school year when Bill was a sophomore. She describes 15 year-old Bill as quiet and reserved, “but unlike my other classmates, he always turned his work in by the deadline!”
This editor has rediscovered several copies of three different issues of the high school paper containing Bill’s early work and she’d like to find a home for these issues with one or more collectors. She has 21 copies of the May 13, 1974 which contains two of his comics. She also has seven copies of a Nov. 6, 1973 issue also containing two of cartoons. From her description she has two copies of one other issue that contains one comic.
If you would like to own one or more of these issues, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll put you in contact with the editor. Serious inquiries only, please.
With that said, let’s check out some of Bill’s earliest work:
Cartoon accompanying story of a fund raiser for Prom.
Making fun of the cafeteria food
A cartoon regarding “the annual battle of the classes on the football field”
In the comments, Brian Fies notes the rapid progression some artists experience during those early years. What we’re seeing above is a very non-exceptional high school artist. When we look at a mere three years later (1977, see below), we see a giant leap forward in artistry. Two years beyond that we see Watterson’s style starting to imagine. See examples below. These images below are pulled from the Rare Bill Watterson Art web site, a great resource on in the wild sightings of his work.
Here’s the artwork he did for the cover of a book of editorial cartoons (1977)
Here’s one of his first cartoons at Kenyon College.
3 thoughts on “Exclusive: See Bill Watterson’s high school cartoons”
Another good example of something wonderful I’ve seen in a lot of artists: a sudden dazzling leap from ordinary to extraordinary. These cartoons are not good. You’d find their like in any high school paper in the country, and there’s little hint of greatness to come (although that chicken shows some promise). But sometime in the next few years, BAM! There’s Bill Watterson. EARLY Watterson, but recognizably him.
You see the same in the juvenelia of Alex Ross, Jack Kirby, and many others: not the gradual improvement in skill you might expect, but a quantum leap from “Nothing special” to “Holy cow!” in a very short span of time, typically around age 20 or so. If I ever had a chance, that’s the first question I’d ask: what clicked in your brain to make that happen?
I could be off; maybe the artists themselves wouldn’t see it like that. But I think it’s sometimes true.
Executive functioning in the brain begins during the early twenties. That would explain the “quantum leap” that the author mentions in the article.
” At age 20-29, executive functioning skills are at their peak, which allows people of this age to participate in some of the most challenging mental tasks.”
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions
It is as biologically timed as walking and speaking. Yes, it can be very sudden and very dramatic when those abilities kick in. It can literally be like a light switch turning on.
As nothing more than a fan (he and Breathed are by far my favorites since Pogo stopped), I think a lot of it has to do with maturity…that is, caring enough to spend the time to do the best.
Even within his published work, he displayed two styles: his typical Calvin “line drawing” daily cartoons, and the highly detailed dream pictures.
What is very clear is his genius with facial expressions. Note the chicken, the axeman, and the Juniors.
That was great stuff. Thanks!
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