Book Report: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

For someone who hates moving as much as I do, I’ve sure done it a lot. One of the bright spots of packing up all your possessions, transporting them to another state, and unpacking them again is that you rediscover things you either forgot you had or didn’t realize how long it’s been since you saw it and really appreciated them.

For my latest (and hopefully last) move, I was very happy to rediscover The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which my wife and daughter gave me for Christmas a few years ago. Rereading the stories about a little boy with a wild imagination who, along with his semi-alive tiger best friend, turned empty boxes and downhill wagon rides into grand adventures brought a smile to my face.

But most of all, I liked rereading about how creator Bill Watterson stood up for his creativity.

In the Internet Age, kids like my 6 year old barely know what a newspaper is any more. Like many people before me, I honed my reading skills on the Sunday comics section and in the ’80s Gary Larson’s The Far Side and Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes were by far my favorites. Watterson’s work was far more elaborately drawn than Larson’s and both were wildly popular.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes retells the story of Watterson’s battle with his syndication company and an army of layout editors at local newspapers around the U.S. upon returning from a sabbatical (and is also told in the Wikipedia article on the strip).  Take a look at this graphic from the Wikipedia article:

Even today, a typical Sunday comic (almost always the only one to appear in color all week due to cost constraints) is made up of three rows of content.  Different newspapers use different layouts for their Sunday strips, so comic strip authors are asked to create their work in such a way so that it can be broken up and reassembled in different ways.  Most commonly, the first row is a “throw away” row that has little or nothing to do with the plot in the other two rows.  That is done so that some newspapers can run the comic as a half page with 3 rows while others can orient the same work as a one third page with two rows.

Since the Sunday strip is the only one done in color, Watterson felt restricted by this logisitcal issue and to fully exercise his artistic freedom, wanted to be guaranteed that the real estate for all three rows would be used.   Such a promise would allow him a much larger canvass on which to work and be far more creative with the stories he was trying to tell.  After a battle with the powers that be, Watterson got the flexibility he wanted and the creativity he exercized in the Sunday work after the sabbatical is evident in the complete collection of his work I was so pleased to find again.

Admittedly, this story is opposite the one I like to tell about how restrictions breed connectivity.  In this case, though, one man’s outside the box thinking and willingness to challenge the status quo resulted in a better end product.

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