For countless readers, comic strips reached a creative high point during the 1980’s. Lynn Johnston’s “For Better or Worse” came into its own with family humor, “Cathy” dealt with topical dating issues and career disasters while “Bloom County” kept readers laughing with Berke Breathed’s sense of humor.
In 1985, the landscape abruptly changed with “Calvin and Hobbes,” a beautifully drawn strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger. Creator Bill Watterson struck a chord with his art and writing, adding words like “transmogrifier” to everyday conversations.
Watterson gave form and substance to everyone’s inner child, albeit a bright, brash inner child with a vivid imagination. Ten years after “Calvin & Hobbes” debuted, Watterson retired the strip and took himself out of the spotlight.
“Dear Mr. Watterson,” a new film from Joel Allen Schroeder, offers a fan’s eye view of Watterson and his beloved creations. When reached by phone for an interview, Schroeder talked about project and his own feelings toward Calvin and Hobbes.
Q: I liked the film because it brought back good memories about reading the comics every day. After “Calvin and Hobbes” disappeared, I lost interest in the comics section of the paper.
I would have to agree; it was sort of the same thing for me. I looked for something else to replace it, but couldn’t find it. While making the film, I’ve come to that sort of realization-and even greater appreciation-of the strip because it was like this perfect storm that gave us “Calvin & Hobbes.”
Then it was gone. I am ever so grateful that we got the strip that we got.
[ Click here to see Craig Mahoney’s depiction of a grown-up Calvin]
Q: The first strip that stuck with me was when Calvin was introduced to death: he found an injured baby squirrel. There was a whole story arc, but I don’t know if it lasted a week or two weeks.
It was the raccoon actually. I think it was about a two-week storyline. That’s a great example of the sort of depth of the characters. You get to see another side of Calvin and, of course, his love for animals and nature.
Q: Your film features you talking to a lot of people, including a lot of famous people. How long did it take to put everything together.
It’s been over 6 years since we got our first interview. It was a slow burn at first. It started out as-and it still is-a passion project. It started to move forward faster once we raised money on Kickstarter.
When we began, it was us doing it in our free time. Basically, [during] the entire shooting process, everyone was volunteering their time. That tends to make things drag out longer than if you could just schedule something: “Be here, we’ll shoot this” instead of “When are you guys available? Okay, we’ll do it then.”
Is there anyone on the planet who does not like “Calvin & Hobbes?”
I don’t know how there could be. I’ve seen this said various places online and in person. People say things like “If you don’t love ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t trust you. You don’t have a soul.”
Your film must be reawakening that love for the characters, especially in people who left the comic pages behind as we did.
We’re not alone; we enjoyed the strip. When it ended, we didn’t find anything to replace it. I think there are a lot of other people who had their collection of books, but maybe they went away to college. And you’ve only got so much room in that dorm room. Suddenly, those books are in your parent’s attic for a couple of decades.
I’d love to hear from people who say watching the movie-or even just hearing about it-has caused them to get out their “Calvin and Hobbes” books again for the first time in a long time. Or they decide to get the complete collection because they had some of the books before, but not everything.
Have you reached out to Bill Watterson himself?
While making the film, I never wanted it to be a story about us trying to track him down. I didn’t want that to be in the movie; I didn’t want that to be the story or the perceived story about the film.
We debuted the film in Cleveland; he lives in the Cleveland area. It showed at the Cleveland International Film Festival back in April. The right thing to do was to invite him to come see it, at least make him aware that it was showing. But we never reached out for an interview.
Luckily, when we did extend the invite for the screening, we were able to get a DVD to him. He has seen it.
“Dear Mr. Watterson” is currently showing in limited theatrical release.