If you know me at all, you know I had to see this film.
In November of 1985, “Calvin and Hobbes” made its debut. It is not hyperbole to say that for the next ten years, the strip not only changed the comic strip forever, but helped to define a generation of reader. The strip, indeed, became such a force in the comic strip arena that Watterson was able to break from traditional newspaper formatting in getting his strips run, to take multiple extended sabbaticals – each time returning to a hungry public, and earnestly enforce his vision of what he wanted the strip to be…who he wanted Calvin, Hobbes, and his other characters to be. That the strip remains so well known and loved decades after it ended its run despite almost no merchandising is a testament to just how beautifully crafted Watterson’s vision was.
This film starts out as an examination of how and why creator Bill Watterson walked away from a strip which was still at the height of its popularity, why he refused to cash in on all of the marketing offers which came his way, and why he then dropped completely off of the radar after the strip’s run had ended. Gradually, the film turns into an analysis of the strip’s true impact on multiple generations of readers and, indeed, an entire medium. That this is done without Bill Watterson’s “voice” and is pieced together by his peers and partners, as well as his fans, makes the work stand out. Watterson has steadfastly guarded his anonymity, dodging interviews or public appearances – indeed, local media outlets who have tried over the years have been unable to locate him – so it falls to those who knew him through his work to tell his story, which is where the beauty of this film lies. It lies in a generation of fans lovingly passing along Calvin and Hobbes to their children; in his peers saying how much they wish they had his vision; in those he cited as influences praising him and saying he took their efforts and improved on them.
Any documentary can parrot a great person’s life and times or tell their story from their own perspective. It takes something special to stand out as an open letter from fans (in the most fanatical sense of the word) to a dear friend and mentor, like Mr. Watterson.