Strong Reaction To End Of Comic Strip

People are talking about Calvin and Hobbes, which will leave nearly 2,400 newspapers on December 31
By David Astor for Editor & Publisher
November 18, 1995 edition; Pg.38

As most comic fans in America now know, Bill Watterson will end Calvin and Hobbes on Dec.31.

Because the 10-year-old strip was so admired and so popular, reaction to the decision was swift and strong.

Hundreds of newspapers ran prominent stories. Editors and readers lamented the comic's imminent demise. And syndicates started scrambling to sell newspapers various strips to replace Calvin and Hobbes, whose mammoth list of nearly 2,400 clients is second only to Peanuts and Garfield.

"We're going to witness the most frenzied grab for real estate since the Oklahoma land rush," said Universal Press Syndicate vice president/editorial director Lee Salem, whose syndicate began distributing Watterson's comic in November of 1985.

Universal, of course, hopes to fill as many of these slots as possible with its own strips. But losing Calvin and Hobbes, barely a year after losing Gary Larson's Far Side, will unquestionably hurt the syndicate's bottom line.

"It will have an impact," said Salem. He did that Universal still has many other popular features. Also, the syndicate's Andrews and McMeel publishing division will release two more Calvin and Hobbes collections in 1996.

Watterson's collections, including the current Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, have sold more than 23 million copies.

And the reclusive cartoonist, who is said to be 38, may do some kind of work with Universal in coming years. "I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue," Watterson said in a letter to newspaper editors.

He also wrote that his decision to end Calvin and Hobbes was "not a recent or an easy" one.

"I leave with some sadness," he stated. "My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises."

Watterson had these final words for editors: "That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity."

The cartoonist, who previously took nine-month sabbaticals in 1991 and 1994, reportedly still had time left on his contract with Universal.

"But there's no way you can force someone to continue," said Salem, who noted that Universal will not distribute Calvin and Hobbes reruns.

He added that the end of the strip is "a loss for anyone who enjoys comics. Bil brought something really special and different to the comics page."

Another Bill, Fox Trot creator Bill Amend of Universal, will also miss Watterson's work.

"It's very sad news for me," he said. "Like most people, I'm a great fan of the strip. Seeing it in the newspaper was like a daily seminar on how to do a good comic. It inspired and motivated me to be a better cartoonist."

Amend added, "Bill Watterson is the complete package: a masterful illustrator and wonderful writer with a great sense of humor and a great sense of integrity."

One example of the last quality was Watterson's decision not to allow stuffed Hobbes tigers and other merchandising, which would have netted the cartoonist many more millions than he already was earning.

The Family Circus creator Bil Keane of King Features Syndicate agreed that Watterson has integrity. He also said that Calvin and Hobbes is "one of the best" strips of recent years -- and will be missed because it attracted readers to newspapers.

I feel every popular comic aids every other comic because it pulls people into the comics section," Keane remarked.

But the cartoonist didn't offer unqualified praise. Keane said Watterson's use of fantasy sequences was not quite as original as some readers thought, noting that other cartoonists had drawn imaginative digressions long before Calvin and Hobbes started. He added that the strip became somewhat "repetitive" during the last few months.

Yet Watterson is undeniably talented, continued Keane, who said he finds it hard to understand why someone with that ability and huge audience would voluntarily give up a comic.

Keane also said that, while Watterson had the right to end his feature, the decision is "not fair to the readers or to the editors who have paid good money and provided space in their newspapers."

He recalled that many papers "struggled" to rearrange their Sunday comics section to give Calvin and Hobbes the half page Watterson required after his first sabbatical.

And Keane said the reclusive Watterson "did nothing, as far as public relations goes, to further the image of cartoonists to readers and newspapers."

Watterson (profiled in E&P, Feb.8, 1986, p.34) also didn't endear himself to the National Cartoonists Society. He twice won the NCS Reuben Award as "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year," but did not come to either ceremony to accept the honor.

While many newspapers complained over the years about Watterson's half-page requirement and sabbaticals, numerous editors loved his comic.

"First Gary Larson and now Bill Watterson," said Rosalie Muller Wright, assistant managing editor/features at the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's a shame to lose these wonderful, imaginative cartoonists. Genius is rare in any field."