The art of Bill Watterson

By Rob Treynor

March 31, 2014

Calvin & Hobbes was newspaper comic strip which appeared in 2,400 papers worldwide during its run from 1985 to 1995.

During its heyday, it was widely popular. Close to 45 million copies of the 18 Calvin & Hobbes books have been sold.

However, due to creator Bill Watterson’s strong beliefs about his art, one could never find any officially licensed Calvin & Hobbes merchandise (other than books). Watterson often has stated that he took great pride in the fact that he drew every line and wrote every word on his own.

A new exhibit at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and Library on the campus of The Ohio State University explores Bill Watterson’s artwork and creative process. The exhibit, entitled “Exploring Calvin & Hobbes,” runs through Aug. 3.

For those unfamiliar with the comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes features a towheaded mischievous boy named Calvin and his toy stuffed tiger, Hobbes. When the two are alone, Hobbes is anthropomorphised into a living, talking tiger. When others are around, Hobbes reverts to his toy state. The strip is kind of a cross between Christopher Robin and Dennis The Menace.

The exhibition, curated by Jenny Robb, explores Watterson’s mastery of the art form that is the newspaper comic strip. The exhibit focuses on the characters, the writing, and the layout.

The exhibit also touches upon Watterson’s influences. Original comics by Charles Schulz, Jim Borgman and Garry Trudeau — artists that helped shape Watterson’s style — also grace the walls of the gallery.

Watterson is a staunch supporter of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and Library. He told curator Jenny Robb, “The library helps counteract the art world’s condescension to the ‘low art’ of cartoons, and it protects work that would otherwise be scattered or lost. In making original work available for anyone to study, it also gives us access to our own history. You know, if you’re a painter, it’s simply taken for granted that you’ll spend a lot of time in museums studying great paintings, but if you’re a cartoonist, it used to be very hard to see an original cartoon drawing. When you see an original Steve Canyon daily strip — they’re gigantic — it’s an entirely different experience than seeing a newspaper or book reproduction. There is much to appreciate and learn about this wonderful art.”

Bill Watterson, 55, grew up in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of both Akron and Cleveland.

Prior to creating Calvin & Hobbes, Watterson received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College in 1980, and did a short stint as the political cartoonist for the Cincinnati Post.

In a 2010 interview with The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the reclusive Watterson said, “An artwork can stay frozen in time, but I stumble through the years like everyone else. I think the deeper fans understand that, and are willing to give me some room to go on with my life.”

Watterson is currently stumbling through the years in Cleveland Heights, on the east side of Cleveland.

“Exploring Calvin & Hobbes” runs through Sunday, Aug. 3, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, 1813 N. High St., Columbus. The museum’s hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Rob Treynor may be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 19 or via Twitter @RobTreynor.