Thursday, July 05, 2007

Calvin and Hobbes and Integrity

Here's integrity, from Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac today (much more text than he recites on the air).

It's the birthday of cartoonist Bill Watterson (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1958). He created the cartoon strip "Calvin and Hobbes," which ran from 1985 until 1995. He studied political science in college, and originally planned to become a political cartoonist. He got a job at the Cincinnati Post, but his editor insisted that he focus on local politics, and Watterson couldn't get a handle on the Cincinnati political scene. He lost his job after a few months and began drawing up plans for possible comic strips, including a strip about a 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger. This idea caught the attention of the United Features Syndicate, but they told Watterson they would only run the strip if he would insert a "Robotman" character that could be sold as a toy.
Watterson didn't want to turn down his first possible syndication deal, but he also didn't want to give up control over his own characters. So he rejected the offer. Eventually, United Features Syndicate bought the strip anyway. It began to appear in newspapers on November 18, 1985, and within three years it was appearing in more than 600 papers. It told the story of the 6-year-old boy, Calvin, and a tiger named Hobbes, who appears to be a real tiger to Calvin but appears as a stuffed animal to everyone else.
Once the strip became wildly popular, Watterson began to get offers to license the characters for toys, T-shirts, greeting cards, and movies. He could have made millions from all the merchandising opportunities, but he decided to refuse all the offers. He said, "My strip is about private realities, the magic of imagination, and the specialness of certain friendships. [No one] would believe in the innocence of a little kid and his tiger if they cashed in on their popularity to sell overpriced knickknacks that nobody needs."
Watterson worked on the strip for 10 years, and then decided to retire and devote his time to painting. He has declined any interviews or photographs since his retirement, and hasn't shown any signs of returning to cartooning. But in 2005, he published
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a three-volume set containing every Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that ever appeared in syndication.
Bill Watterson said, "There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do."

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