A Short Biography Of Bill Watterson

by Tim Hulsizer, 2002

William B. Watterson II was born in Washington D.C. on July 5, 1958. At age 6, his family moved to Chagrin Falls, OH, where he spent his childhood alone much of the time, drawing as often as he could. In high school, he drew cartoons for the school newspaper and yearbook. His parents both served on the city council, and it's interesting to note that his father is a patent attorney, the same profession as Calvin's dad. Bill has a younger brother, though little is known about him, which is the way Bill prefers it. An intensely private man, Watterson seeks solitude for himself and for his family.

Bill attended Kenyon College in Gambier, OH from 1976 - 1980, where he drew for the school newspaper 'The Kenyon Collegian'. Graduating with a degree in political science, Bill was immediately hired by The Cincinnatti Post as a political cartoonist. Though knowledgeable about the subject matter, Bill always felt ill-suited for that particular vocation, and the paper felt the same way. Less than six months after he'd begun, he found himself back on the job market.

Over the course of the next five years, Bill worked at a variety of jobs, including a tabloid newspaper, where he arranged layouts and art for sales flyers, hating every minute of it. In his spare time he was drawing comic strips and sending them to syndicates, hoping to get picked up and carried in newspapers. His biggest influences, he has said, are the classic comics Peanuts by Charles Schultz, Krazy Kat by George Herriman, and Pogo by Walt Kelly.

Watterson's big break came with his fifth comic strip idea, "In the Doghouse," when the United Features syndicate signed him to a development contract. Success would be delayed, however, due to United Features' feeling that they couldn't sell the strip to newspapers. Universal Press Syndicate then stepped in, struck by the personality of an obnoxious little boy with a stuffed tiger. Though skeptical about the possibility of the characters sustaining an entire strip by themselves, Bill applied himself to the task at hand. Happily, the strip took shape almost immediately, and the syndicate began distribution of Calvin and Hobbes in 1985.

Although Bill never joined the NCS (National Cartoonists Society), he went on to win two of their coveted Reuben Awards (named after cartoonist Rube Goldberg) for "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year" in 1986 and 1988. He did not appear at the awards ceremony on either occasion.

Never one for the limelight, Watterson ceased giving interviews around 1987. The 1990's brought about many changes for Bill and his comic strip, not the least of which was his relocation to New Mexico with his wife Melissa and their three cats, Pumpernickel, Sprite, and Juniper Boots.

Bill took two sabbaticals from the strip in 1992 and 1994. At the end of the first, it was announced that Calvin and Hobbes would have a new requirement for newspapers. On Sundays, the strip would be printed at half-page size, enabling Watterson to concentrate on packing more text and unusual layouts into his drawings without worrying about legibility or formatting issues.

In late 1995, Bill decided to end his acclaimed strip at the close of the year. Fans were crushed, and the newspapers began scrambling to fill the huge void left in their comics sections.

Since the end of the strip, Bill has returned to live a cloistered life in Ohio, where the locals try to pretend there isn't a comics legend riding his bike to the store for milk sometimes. He still refuses interviews, insisting that celebrity is pointless at best, though he was kind enough to share some of the original Calvin and Hobbes strips with the world in a 2001 exhibition at Ohio State University.

He stated in the exhibition catalogue that he's devoted much of his time in the past few years to learning more about one of his passions, painting. As to the question of whether he might publish some of his post-Calvin work at some point, we can only speculate. One would certainly hope so, as Bill's departure from the newspaper comics pages has robbed us of one of our best-loved, most talented illustrators.