The latest on 'Calvin and Hobbes'

By David Astor for Editor & Publisher
March 19, 1994 edition; Pg.59

Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, whose wildly popular comic appears in about 2,200 newspapers, is taking another nine-month sabbatical.

His Apr.3 - Dec.31 break will start slightly more than two years after his previous one ended. That hiatus lasted from May 5, 1991 to Feb.1, 1992.

Why a second sabbatical and why so soon?

"Bill wants to get away from the daily grind for awhile and do a lot of painting, like he did during his first break," Universal Press Syndicate vice president/editorial director Lee Salem said. "He wants to regenerate himself."

Salem added, "It's difficult for those who are not creative to judge the pressures faced by those who are. Some cartoonists can work for years without a break while others need one. We have to be flexible."

He said Watterson, unlike many superstar cartoonists, does not use assistants. Also, Calvin and Hobbes has more detailed art and text than most humor strips.

"He puts himself entirely into the strip," the Universal executive said. "The toll is considerable."

During the coming hiatus, Calvin and Hobbes clients will receive reruns of Watterson's comic from1989 and 1990.

Most of the clients are expected to publish the reruns, as they did during the first hiatus. Newspapers fear losing Calvin and Hobbes to rival dailies if they don't carry the repeats and/or believe that old Watterson strips are better than new episodes of many other comics.

During Watterson's first sabbatical, Universal was criticized for charging full price for repeats from 1985 and 1986. This time, the syndicate is offering the 1989-90 reruns for free.

Salem explained that Calvin and Hobbes already had numerous clients by the late 1980's, meaning many readers have seen the strips that will be repeated this year. Because the comic had a relatively small client list in the mid-1980's, he added, the reruns syndicated during the 1991-92 sabbatical were new to many readers.

Of course, millions of readers also have seen previously published Calvin and Hobbes strips in the best-selling book collections published by Universal's Andrews and McMeel company.

Watterson, who virtually never talks to the press, started Calvin and Hobbes in 1985 and went on to win two National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards as "Outstanding Cartoonist Of the Year."

His comic now trails only Peanuts and Garfield in the number of subscribers.

Other widely syndicated Universal caroonists who have taken leaves in recent years include Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau, The Far Side creator Gary Larson and Cathy creator Cathy Guisewite.

BONUS: Here's a look at the announcement letter newspapers received from Universal Press Syndicate just before the second sabbatical.