Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Eternal Quest

Nevin Martell; Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip (The Continuum International Publishing Group; 2009; ISBN 978-0-82642-984-1; cover artist not indicated).

While I am still not much of a comic book reader, I have had a long love of comic strips, starting with Prince Valiant and Peanuts and Dick Tracy (my grandfather worked for The (New York) Daily News, and would bring home the Sunday comics for us ahead of the print run). In college, Doonesbury was all the rage. Far Side adorned my desk calendar and my coffee mug for a time.

And then there was Calvin & Hobbes. The ongoing adventures of a small boy and his stuffed pet tiger (who, depending on your point of view, was either alive or still a toy) as they battle against the forces of education, parents, neighborhood kids and more. For years, it was one of the first things I turned to. I bought the collections (now firmly in the hands of my daughter, as big a fan as I ever was), clipped strips and laughed.

Then the strip paused...for a sabbatical. It came back and then...retired.

What happened? Why did Watterson, at the top of the syndicated world, leave?

These same questions bothered Nevin Martell and he set out to try to figure out what had happened. His quest led him throughout dusty archives of newspapers where Watterson had his start, to people Watterson had worked with and the syndicate that distributed the strip. Over the course of the quest he tried (on multiple occasions) to get an interview with Watterson himself, both to learn the reasons behind the departure and to show that people out there still missed the strip.

Martell learns a lot on his way and the quest is an interesting one. Without giving it all away, spoilers, sweetie, he mostly succeeds but is left with as many questions (in some respects) as he started with.

Will Calvin & Hobbes ever appear again? Martell's picture of Watterson paints the picture of a creator who just wanted to create...exist in a bubble, isolated from the public. Too bad he could not find a balance!


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