Whatever happened to Watterson?

Notoriously media-shy cartoonist Bill Watterson features in the comic-strip documentary film “Stripped”, to be screened at Design Indaba FilmFest 2015.

After 19 years missing in action, legendary cartoonist Bill Watterson had a rather prolific 2014. Remarkably, the elusive creator of Calvin & Hobbes gave a world-first audio interview with the makers of the film “Stripped” and produced a drawing to be used as the film’s poster. Watterson also produced a 15-panel comic strip as well as appeared incognito as a guest artist on Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. 

Calvin & Hobbes, the story of an imaginative six-year-old boy and his trusty tiger friend, ran for 10 years until Watterson retired the strip in 1995. During the height of its popularity, it was printed in 2 400 newspapers worldwide. It is still one of the world’s most loved illustrated cartoon series.

Watterson has always been an intensely private man, never seeking to make extra money from his fame, nor through exploiting the fame of his characters: he never agreed to have any merchandise of Calvin & Hobbes created. 

In 1995 when he announced the end of Calvin & Hobbes, Watterson wrote in a short statement that he believed he had achieved and said everything he could in the medium. He maintains that he doesn’t regret his decision and said in an interview with Cleveland's The Plain Dealer in 2010 that he believes “Calvin & Hobbes still finds an audience today because I chose not to run the wheels off it”. 

Watterson hadn’t created a comic since the end of Calvin & Hobbes, nearly 20 years ago, until he illustrated the film poster for "Stripped". The film looks at the comic as an art form and at its future in a world where the newspaper and print industry is dying. In the paper versus pixels argument, Watterson claims that the connection between the reader and the art will become more superficial as more and more un-curated comics are available.

“We consume everything like potato chips now,” said Watterson in an interview with Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson.

“Anyone can publish now, and there are no restrictions of taste, approach or subject matter. The gatekeepers are gone so the prospect for new and different voices is exciting. Or at least it will be if anyone reads them. And it will be even more exciting if anyone pays for them. It’s hard to charge admission without a gate.”

2014 was a fertile year for the cartoonist: as well as the "Stripped" poster, he also featured as a secret guest cartoonist on Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine in the form of a young girl called Libby (Bill[y] backwards) who believes she can do a better job of running the strip than the main author-character Stephan. 

Watterson also published a 15-panel comic about a newspaper subscriber (contrary to the fears expressed in the film "Stripped" – here the near-extinct newspaper subscriber still exists) who is only interested in the funny pages. The comic doesn’t feature any dialogue: “Telling a story only in pictures is one of the great strengths — and greatest pleasures — offered by comics,” Watterson once said.


Watch the trailer for "Stripped" and all of the other trailers of the films to be premiered at Design Indaba FilmFest 2015.