How do I understand Calvin and Hobbes

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes : "I didn't want to be a ruthless filthy finch"

Bill Watterson always wanted to be like Charles M. Schulz. In the end, ten years and 3,160 black and white daily trips and colored Sunday pages were enough for Watterson to talk to the spiritual father of the peanuts to draw level and go down in comic history as one of the greatest cartoonists of all time.

After ten years and even one or the other creative break, Watterson had said it all and said goodbye to the newspaper comic stage with a colored strip on December 31, 1995. He fired Calvin and Hobbes with one last sleigh ride, so that from now on the two of them would explore the magical world on their own that was open to them to discover and conquer - Watterson, on the other hand, withdrew even further from the public than he already had.

Shortly after the wonderful three-volume complete edition in the USA, which will now also appear in German this year, as well as the "Ten Years of Jubilation Book" by Watterson's comments Calvin and Hobbes had appeared, journalist and longtime fan Nevin Martell set out to find the story behind the story, knowing full well that the Strip had always been created in a kind of voluntary isolation from fame and hype and that Watterson would not be easier to find than it used to be.

Now, after some delay, his original book “In Search of Calvin and Hobbes”, which was published in 2009, is finally being published in German (Carlsen, 304 pages, 24.90 euros). In it, Martell not only reconstructs the genesis of a brilliant comic strip - he also links it with the portrait of an unusual comic genius.

This required a lot of effort, the research turned into a lengthy cuddly tiger hunt with obstacles. After all, Watterson hadn't given an interview since the end of the 80s and lived extremely isolated. In the end, Martell also failed to lure Watterson out and win him over to his project or even just a conversation. However, he spoke to companions, old friends and numerous colleagues. Martell reports on his personal relationship with the Strip and on his efforts to write about Bill Watterson without Bill Watterson. This seems a bit self-centered here and there, but on the other hand it is almost reminiscent of Gay Talese, who once wrote a legendary Frank Sinatra portrait without even coming into direct contact with the star once ("Frank Sinatra has a cold") .

In addition, Martell writes with more insight than ever before about Watterson's career as well as his legendary strip - about the beginnings, the highlights, the arguments and pauses, the end and of course about why the consistent Watterson spotlight and a commercialization of his characters always declined and once even turned down invitations from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Jim Henson - as he never left his path, while he led his charismatic duo to new heights in the strips dedicated to the power of the imagination. Christian Endres spoke to Martell about his book

Nevin, you got the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes Discovered in 1987 when it reached its peak. What did you like straight away back then?

I immediately identified with Calvin because we had a lot in common. As a boy, I was also a kid with a lot of imagination and few friends. We didn't have a TV or computer in the house, so I was used to taking care of my own fun and getting lost in the alternate universes of science fiction novels and comic books. I saw Calvin as my comic book counterpart in many ways. I loved going on great adventure trips and playing clever rascal pranks. I understood his point of view very well. I still can. I hope that there will always be a part of Calvin within me because it helps keep life interesting.

How did you feel when you read the letter in which Bill Watterson informed his readers that it would be the end of 1995?

Like many other readers, I was incredibly sad to see the strip run out. Calvin and Hobbes reading was one of my favorite daily rituals. For a long time I cut out every strip in the morning and stuck it in a notebook. The strips weren't all funny - although they often made me laugh out loud. You got me thinking too. Watterson took the time to present his ideas and create situations that made you pause for a moment. You didn't have to, if you didGarfield or The Family Circusread, because these are one-dimensional creations. Calvin and Hobbes have a real intellectual depth that is very rare on a newspaper comic book pages. I immediately missed the intellectual obligation, even though I am enjoying it nowPearls Before Swineand Cul de sac to start the day.

Are you reading Calvin and Hobbes how many others are still in perpetual rotation today?

Not every day, but I love pulling the books off the shelf and diving back into them. It amazes me that whenever I read the Strip, I continually find greater depth in Watterson's work. Regardless of whether I see something new in the drawings to appreciate or have a revelation that is inspired by his writing - there is always something new for me.

When did you first get the idea to write a book about Watterson and the Strip?

Books are funny beasts. One day I just sat there and wondered what happened to my childhood heroes. After a little research, it was realized that Watterson was a real mystery, an anomaly. That alone was enough to make me want to find out more, but there wasn't really much information out there. So I put together an offer for a book in the hope that someone would take a bite at the idea that I would reveal this mystery. Fortunately, the first publisher I put the offer to - Continuum - grabbed it, and soon I was on my way to working on my once-in-a-lifetime dream project.

Have you never felt like you were acting "contrary to the Master"?

Believe me, that worried me a lot. I even had a couple of nightmares, one of which I described in the book. I wanted to tell Watterson's story as completely and thoroughly as possible, but I didn't want to be a ruthless filth. I didn't want to just show up on his doorstep like a sensational reporter and ask for an interview or something like that. I made sure that every attempt to reach him, his family, colleagues and friends was professional and never harassing. I have too much respect for the man to stalk him in a way that would have ensured our interaction would have been negative. I've had very warm feedback from his family and colleagues since the book came out, so I'm happy with what I've accomplished and how it came about.

In the end, it was all investigative journalism in its purest form. Can you roughly say how many hours of research went into the book, how many trips and conversations?

I've been writing the book for over a year. To do this, I conducted 125 interviews, traveled to Watterson's hometown to see the museum dedicated to his work, and invested countless nights and weekends to meet the deadline. It was undoubtedly the biggest project of my career, but it was totally worth it.

You wrote a book about Bill Watterson - without Bill Watterson at all. The great gay Talese once wrote a legendary Sinatra portrait without even coming into contact with the entertainer ...

It's an honor to be named on the same breath as Gay Talese! But I'm still working on getting its literary quality. Still, I appreciate the comparison, and it was a pretty similar situation as I had to write a book about a man who wouldn't say anything and would have preferred if the book hadn't been written at all. That made it even more difficult to write the book in a way, but it also freed me to be a little more experimental in terms of storytelling. Had Watterson cooperated, “In Search of Calvin and Hobbes” likely would have been a straightforward biography. Watterson's absence helped turn the book into a very personal journey based on journalistic investigation.

You didn't have any contact with Watterson, but you did have contact with Harvey Pekar, Jim Davis, Jeff Smith and others. What other experiences did you take away from working on the book?

One of the big parts was my trip to Ohio. I paid a visit to Watterson's hometown of Chagrin Falls, where I unearthed his earliest work as an artist and met with some of his oldest friends. Then I visited the museum, which is home to almost every original by Calvin and Hobbes. Being able to hold Watterson's work in my hands and see it up close has taken me to a whole new level of understanding.

What do you think - in the end, does one even learn more about a person by asking others about them?

When your target is not there to speak for themselves, you need to rely on the insights of others and the conclusions that come from them. In some ways, this collective impression gives you a more honest picture of the person. This is particularly interesting in Watterson's case, as famous people are often accused of having an artificial public figure and a 'real' personality. However, Watterson never created a public figure, though there is no question that there is a myth that has grown around him. So what I learned about him from other people was undoubtedly their thoughts on the 'real' Bill Watterson. That helped me a lot in making In Search of Calvin and Hobbes a truer and more realistic book.

Comics historians mostly deal with that Silver or that Golden Age. Bill Watterson and his duo are quite a young subject. Does that show the true significance and brilliance of the strip, which after ten years was already considered a classic?

Calvin and Hobbes is definitely a classic. There are few modern strips that can rival its influence in the expansion of the comic book medium, although I believe so The Far Side and Doonesburyhave done their part. Calvin and Hobbes thrived in an era when most characters needed movies, merchandise, and theme parks to attract attention. But they didn't need any of that because their readers got everything they needed from the strip itself. You don't have to ride the Spaceman Spiff roller coaster to understand what Calvin is experiencing. Watterson helps his readers step directly into their imagination. This is his greatest triumph.

A year after the original came out of your book, Watterson did interview a journalist after all.

I thought: This lucky guy! But I wasn't angry. It was just a five-question email interview for the Watterson hometown newspaper. Hats off to the reporter who holed this thing.

Has your relationship with the strip changed after writing the book?

There is still a part of me who reads the strip with childlike amazement, while another part is constantly on the lookout for new clues about the man behind it. Regardless of how I look at the strip, it still ensures that I sit in my time machine with my best friend and hang out with dinosaurs.

Is it a blessing or a curse in your eyes that we have to live without Calvin and Hobbes merchandise? Or was rejecting a franchise the only way the Strip could maintain its purity and uniqueness?

I think it's good that there isn't a lot of official merchandise because I think it would dilute the Strip's legacy. That being said, I love it when fans tailor their own Hobbes dolls, build their own abnormal snowmen, and make spaceman spiff outfits, as it all allows them to tap into the strip and show off their own creativity. Calvin and Hobbes was always about celebrating your imagination, so these personal projects respectfully pay tribute to Watterson's vision.

Patton Oswalt said in a conversation to you that if he had the chance, he would not pester Bill Watterson with specific questions about this or that strip, but would simply thank him. In the end, is this book your way of thanking Bill Watterson?

My book is part biography, part detective story and part love letter. I wanted to tell the story of Bill Watterson and his work, but I wanted to pay tribute to him too. I hope that “In Search of Calvin and Hobbes” gracefully captures all of the love, respect, and admiration for Calvin and Hobbes and their creators that exists within me.

A shortened version of the interview was already published in issue 1/2012 of the specialist magazine ALFONZ - DER COMICREPORTER. You can read the Calvin and Hobbes Srips in English here. And the blog of our author Christian Endres can be found here:

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