Bill Watterson

Just arrived at my house, this excellent 2014 volume:

Bill Watterson, Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue (Andrews McNeel, Kansas City MO)

The exhibition took place at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum of the Ohio State University, where Watterson has placed his collection of Calvin and Hobbes materials.

The volume has a preface by Jenny E. Robb, the curator of the exhibition; an extensive interview of Watterson by her; and a nice assortment of essays by Watterson about things Calvin/Hobbesian. Here I’ll talk about the influences he cites on his work.

First, there are specific cartoons:

Peanuts, Pogo, Krazy Kat, Flash Gordon, Doonesbury, Bloom County

From the beginning:

Watterson: “Peanuts and Pogo shaped my ideas of comics when I was growing up, but Krazy Kat was probably the most important strip to me when I was working.”

On Krazy Kat on this blog, see this 4/23/14 posting.

Then, Flash Gordon, something of a surprise. My 2010 posting on “Flash Gordon over the years” begins with Alex Raymond’s comic books, which started the whole business in 1934. A sample cover:


These comics were the influence on Watterson, who says that the “cheesy, costumed space drama is a guity pleasure”, with a narrative style that is “perfect for Spaceman Spiff’s breathless descriptions of his own exploits”.

Spaceman Spiff is the most prominent of Calvin’s alter egos, in fantasy adventures. Here’s Spaceman Spiff in action:


That takes the list of cartoon influences above up to strips roughly contemporaneous with Calvin and Hobbes: Doonesbury and Bloom County.

Watterson also cited two political cartoonists, Pat Oliphant (often savage, but always meticulously drawn) and Jim Borgman (less slashing, more softly drawn, and more language-oriented); I posted on the two of them earlier today.

That brings us to the last influence Watterson cites, again a surprise: the cartoonist, caricaturist, and illustrator Ralph Steadman (posted about here on 6/6/14), whose work often exhibits a considerable savage streak; Steadman was the illustrator for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: