Before fans of the renowned comic and cartoonist get too excited, it should be quickly noted that it will be reruns of "Calvin and Hobbes" that newspapers can publish from Sept. 4 to Dec. 31. And Watterson will reply to queries in a controlled way via Andrews McMeel Publishing.
The reruns and question-answering are designed to promote "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" -- AMP's huge, three-volume, 23-pound collection of all 3,160 "Calvin and Hobbes" strips that ran in newspapers between Nov. 18, 1985, and Jan. 1, 1996. The hardcover, slipcased set -- which will be released Oct. 4 with a first printing of 250,000 -- also includes new art and an introductory essay by Watterson.
Universal Press Syndicate, which was sending "Calvin and Hobbes" to more than 2,400 newspapers when Watterson retired, will distribute the 17 weeks of daily and Sunday strips (selected from various years of the comic's run). This "encore" serialization will be similar to what Universal did in 2003, when it offered newspapers three months of "Far Side" reruns to promote "The Complete Far Side" collection of Gary Larson's comic that AMP released that fall.
AMP has received about 1,000 questions for Watterson since posting, earlier this month, a form people can print from AndrewsMcMeel.com. AMP is also seeking queries for Watterson by sending out material for newspapers to publish if they so desire. Questions need to be postmarked by June 15, and Watterson is scheduled to answer selected ones by Sept. 1. His responses will probably be assembled in a Q&A that newspapers can publish.
Many of the questions for Watterson -- who's still only in his 40s -- have so far been predictable. They include "Why did you end 'Calvin and Hobbes'?," "Will you ever do another comic?," "What have you been doing since you retired?," etc. "We're hoping to get more introspective questions that people put a lot of thought behind," said Rebecca Murray Schuler, director of publicity at AMP.
AMP is choosing which questions to send on to Watterson, who will decide which ones to answer.
Schuler told E&P that AMP gave Watterson a "wish list" of things he might do to help promote the October book, including possibly giving one or two media interviews. Then Watterson came up with the idea to answer reader questions, she said.
Will journalists use this opportunity to also submit some questions via the AMP form? "That's possible -- I consider them fans of the strip too," Schuler replied.
Watterson almost never spoke to the media while doing "Calvin and Hobbes" -- though he did talk with E&P for the magazine's Feb. 8, 1986, issue. In that interview, Watterson recalled getting several pre-"Calvin and Hobbes" ideas rejected -- starting with "a sort of outer-space parody" in 1980. One of the failed strips contained two minor characters -- a boy (Calvin) and a tiger (Hobbes). A syndicate suggested that Watterson make the duo the stars of their own comic, yet ultimately didn't sign it. Universal did.
Still, Watterson initially worried if "Calvin and Hobbes" would catch on. "My concern was really very basic: whether the strip would make enough in sales so it could continue," the cartoonist told E&anp;P in the 1986 interview.
"Calvin and Hobbes" quickly exploded in popularity, of course, and Watterson was able to quit his job doing advertising layout. Previously, he had also worked briefly as an editorial cartoonist for The Cincinnati Post.
In a 100th-anniversary-of-comics poll conducted by E&P for its 1995 syndicate directory, respondents voted "Calvin and Hobbes" the best comic then currently in syndication. Another indication of the strip's popularity is that Watterson's 17 previous books have sold more than 30 million copies.
Dave Astor is a senior editor at E&P.