Monday, July 23, 2007

On sticking to one’s guns, Pt. 1

[[I’ve always admired those who’ve stuck to guns and got out whilst ahead...the English version of The Office and Rowan Atkinson’s lovely Blackadder series spring to mind. Found this piece about Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson on The Writers Almanac. Who knows whether it’s the whole story, but I find it inspiring nonetheless.]]

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. But his strip was eventually picked up by Universal Press Syndicate.

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.