Youtuber Kristian Williams aka kaptainkristian, who created this "video essay", contends that as meaningful art goes, the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is timeless in its appeal, and special because it didn’t give in to crass commercialisation. The introduction to Calvin and Hobbes is always through the comic strips. “If you want Calvin and Hobbes you have to seek it out, it's not going to be shoved down your throat.”
The comic strip, which debuted in November of 1985 and came to an end in 1995, is certainly timeless. Reading it remains meaningful and enjoyable whether you are 6 or 16 or 30. It is rare to meet someone who doesn’t like Calvin and Hobbes. And new generations keep discovering the imaginative world of a mischievous six-year-old and his stuffed tiger with joy.
Its reclusive creator Bill Watterson has never given in to insistent demands of licensing the strip or its characters for merchandising or movies or video games or any other form. He explained his reasons in the introduction to the 1995 The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book.
Besides cheapening the original, he wrote, “The world of a comic strip ought to be a special place with its own logic and life, I don’t want some animation studio giving Hobbes an actor’s voice, and I don’t want some greeting card company using Calvin to wish people a happy anniversary, and I don’t want the issue of Hobbes’ reality settled by a doll manufacturer. When everything fun and magical is turned into something for sale, the strip’s world is diminished. Calvin and Hobbes was designed to be a comic strip and that’s all I want it to be. It’s the one place where everything works the way I intend it to.”
Watterson, besides his personal reservations, had to battle the Universal Press Syndicate he had signed on the comic’s rights to. After a five year long battle, Watterson prevailed and the “exploitation rights” were returned to him.
He writes, “For years, Universal pressured me to compromise on a ‘limited’ licensing program. The syndicate would agree to go along with the rest. This would be, in essence, my only shot at controlling what happened to my work. The idea of bartering principles was offensive to me and I refused to compromise. For the matter, the syndicate and I had nothing to trade anyway. I didn’t care if we made more money, and the syndicate didn’t care about my notions of artistic integrity. With neither of us valuing what the other had to offer, compromise was impossible. One of us was going to trample the interests of the other.”
There is still merchandise based of the comic that you’ll find, but know that those are all illegal.
To have stuffed Hobbes toys would make sense to most, but there’s a famous anecdote that when a toy manufacturer sent a box of unsolicited Hobbes dolls to Watterson, he burnt them all. When asked in an interview by Mental Floss magazine if that was true, he replied, “Not exactly. It was only my head that burst into flames.”
For several years after he stopped Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, the cartoonist did not produce anything available to the public. In June 2014, however, he created three strips (here, here and here) for Stephen Pastis’s comic strip Pearls Before Swine, featuring a six-year-old girl named Libby.
The revelation was made after all three strips were out, as Watterson wanted. Read the whole account on Pastis’ blog.
Earlier that year, Watterson also agreed to an interview for Dave Kellett’s documentary STRIPPED which looked at the transition of comics from newspapers to the internet. And he drew the film's poster – a cartoonist jumping out of his clothes in shock.
Watterson is possibly more reclusive than even JD Salinger. A search for photograhs on Google yields only two. And though this video wasn’t an on camera interview, it was certainly a big surprise.