On New Year’s Eve of 1995, Bill Watterson published the 3,150th and last Calvin and Hobbes strip. Since then, we’ve seen a host of good-to-very-bad takes on the comic: cartoons, apps, bizarre live-action reboots—even a search engine.
Now there’s a documentary, Dear Mr. Watterson, which explores the impact the boy and his anthropomorphic tiger had on both readers and Watterson’s colleagues. The film began as a pet project for director Joel Allen Schroeder, who started interviewing fans of the strip in 2007; his Kickstarter project, created in 2009, then raised more than twice his initial $12,000 goal. The movie’s been picked up by a distributor, and the first trailer has just hit the Web:
Thankfully, there looks to be no Salingeresque search for the reclusive Watterson, who has rarely ventured into the public eye since the strip’s conclusion. Instead, we see fellow artists discussing the legacy of one of the great comic strips of all time, among them Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County, Bill Amend of Foxtrot, and Stephan Pastis of Pearls before Swine. An especially welcome appearance comes from Lee Salem, who was Watterson’s editor at Universal Press Syndicate for the 10 years the strip ran.
The documentary also touches on Watterson’s stubborn and admirable refusal to concede the comic’s rights, a defiance that now seems a key part of the strip’s legacy. Almost no Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside the book collections. (One exception: the increasingly rare and sought after Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes textbook.) Watterson himself ended the strip partly due to his frustration with the artistic compromises syndication imposed.
Calvin and Hobbes was initially viewed as too literate for kids and too fantastical for adults, but instead the strip’s subtle riffs on loneliness, friendship, and adolescence bridged the gap between the two. It’s unclear if Dear Mr. Watterson will delve into Watterson’s complex artistic ambitions or stick with praise for his obvious achievements. Either way, it’s probably a must-see for diehards. It’s scheduled to arrive in theaters Nov. 15.
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