I finally finished reading Looking for Calvin and Hobbes by Nevin Martell. I congratulate him on his effort and I recommend the book to anyone interested in learning a bit about Watterson. Unfortunately the book only gives a “bit” of information about Watterson because the cartoonist has worked so hard to expunge himself from the public record. As I see it Martell has done his best to piece together the bits and pieces available to him into a brief narrative of Watterson’s life. Unfortunately, it is not enough when considering what one hopes to learn when reading the history of an important figure. Therein lies my critique of the book, I wish there were more in it about Watterson. The author appears to concede the point himself by calling the book an “Unconventional story…” which explains why the book comes across as more of a travel log of the authors journey than a detailed study of the subjects life. When you get down to it though, I do think the fault lies more with Watterson than with Martell.
Having read Watterson’s own words and after reading his associates opinions on the matter I still have a hard time understanding Watterson’s point of view. I recognize his need for privacy but I don’t understand his disdain for commercial promotion and borderline contempt for the cartoon industry and his peers. It seems that one of the reasons Watterson pulled away was his discomfort with the commercial promotion of his work. In his opinion any licensing or marketing of his work would destroy the content and diffuse his art. I really can’t disagree more.
In my opinion, Art is and always has been a contract between the artist and their audience. One can’t be removed from the other. It goes along with the saying “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” or in other words “If an artist creates a work that no one sees and appreciates, is it Art?” The arrogant artist in me says “Yes!” but the realist in me says “No.” To me Art is what happens in the mind of the audience in the viewing. If an artist or cartoonist pulls too far away from their audience and wants to control their feedback like a tyrant then I think they’ve lost touch with what could be an invigorating and mutually beneficial partnership. There is a limit to what can or should be done, especially when dealing with kid friendly cartoon characters, in terms of marketing, licensing, and promotion but, what would have been the harm in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon? Did “A Charlie Brown Christmas” ruin the Charlie Brown characters? I don’t think so, in fact I think it only enhanced the public’s regard for them.
Ultimately Watterson has the right to do things as he sees fit, but his silence is a great loss for those of us that could learn so much from him.