Saturday, August 9, 2014
BILL WATTERSON INTERVIEWED BY THE GHOST OF MARK TWAIN
Ghost of Mark Twain here. What to say of Meilori's?
I will tell only of the lone jazz club in the darkest of the French Quarters alleys;
the feared tomb of many a New Orleans visitor. It is an old and whispered-about haunt whom none remembers ever not being where it is tonight.
I cleared my throat as old Bill warily eyed the ghostly clientel milling through Meilori's.
"I admire you, Bill. You had an idea, executed it, then moved on. And you ignored the clamor for more. Why is it so hard for readers to let go?"
He took a sip of his iced tea ( he told me Meilori's did not encourage one not to be at his sharpest).
"You can’t really blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like. The trade-off, of course, is that predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic."
I tapped his drawing of Calvin and Hobbes as Groot and Rocket. "Thanks for drawing this for me, Bill."
Bill made a face. "How could I not? You're one of the greats ... and you threatened to have the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft keep reading me bedtime stories until I did!"
"Speaking of movies, Bill, you spoke well of Pixar awhile ago. Would you consider letting them animate your strip?"
" I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned.
It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it."
I scratched my moustache. "I’m assuming you’ve gotten wind of people animating your strip for YouTube?"
Bill nodded, "Every artist learns through imitation, but I rather doubt the aim of these things is artistic development.
I assume they’re either homages or satiric riffs, and are not intended to be taken too seriously as works in their own right. Otherwise I should be talking to a copyright lawyer."
"Talking about lawyers, your fight over protecting Calvin and Hobbes from licensing deals, and your battle to increase the real estate for your Sunday page comic, are legend."
Bill sighed, "Just to be clear, I did not have incredible autonomy until afterward. I had signed most of my rights away in order to get syndicated, so I had no control over what happened to my own work, and I had no legal position to argue anything.
I could not take the strip with me if I quit, or even prevent the syndicate from replacing me, so I was truly scared I was going to lose everything I cared about either way.
I made a lot of impassioned arguments for why a work of art should reflect the ideas and beliefs of its creator, but the simple fact was that my contract made that issue irrelevant."
I cackled a laugh, "One story that made the rounds was that a plush toy manufacturer once delivered a box of Hobbes dolls to you unsolicited, which you promptly set ablaze.
For people like me who share your low opinion of merchandising, this is a fairly delightful story. Did it actually happen?"
"Not exactly. It was only my head that burst into flames."
I cocked my head at Bill. "Is Calvin autobiographical?"
Hobbes might be a little closer to me in terms of personality, with Calvin being more energetic, brash, always looking for life on the edge.
He lives entirely in the present, and whatever he can do to make that moment more exciting he'll just let fly...and I'm really not like that at all."
I lit my cigar. "Would it be the accurate to call Charles Schulz the major influence on you?"
Bill nodded, "Oh yeah. As a child, especially, Peanuts and Pogo were my two biggest influences. Schulz, in Peanuts, changed the entire face of comic strips.
Things that we now take for granted--reading the thoughts of an animal for example--there's not a cartoonist who's done anything since 1960 who doesn't owe Schulz a tremendous debt."
"You took up painting after the strip ended. Why don’t you exhibit the work, Bill?"
"My first problem is that I don’t paint ambitiously. It’s all catch and release—just tiny fish that aren’t really worth the trouble to clean and cook.
But like with Harper Lee, my second problem is that Calvin and Hobbes created a level of attention and expectation that I don't know how to process."
I grinned crooked, "Have you ever peeled one of those stupid Calvin stickers off of a pickup truck?"
Bill sipped his tea and smiled wide. "I figure that, long after the strip is forgotten, those decals will be my ticket to immortality."
I started to fade from my chair, and Bill yelped, "Hey! Don't go! Who's going to get me safely out of this nightmare?"
I just chuckled and faded clean away, leaving Bill yelling, "This is NOT funny!! Mark! Maaaark!"
* "Rocket and Groot" by Adi Fitri
* Based in part on Mental Floss Interview with Bill Waterson:
What Thea Gilmore was singing in the background at Meilori's: