BILL WATTERSON: When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts, so I wanted to be the next Charles Schulz. I didn’t understand what that meant of course, but it seemed like a plan. You came to your comic strip from a different path,
RICHARD THOMPSON: Yeah. Off in my own little world of being a pretend cartoonist. Without a plan.
BW: So how did you envision cartooning? What was your experience of it as a kid?
RT: Well, Schulz pretty much defined “cartoonist.” But I remember in fifth grade, a friend’s older sister had some Pogo books and we spent the day poring over them. That was the first time I understood some of the jokes. It was pretty intimidating and dense for a kid.
RT: Yeah, mostly strips. Comic books were hard to find. And a strip is a one-person deal. Not like animation, where you’ve got to work with other people.
BW: As a kid, animation just seemed out of the question to me. I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing it.
RT: It was interesting. But even when I was old enough to maybe try it, I always hated the idea of working with others.
BW: Plus, you needed film equipment and all that.
RT: Yeah. Really, though, I did cartoons without any clear thought of having a future in it.
BW: Any other strips or cartoons that had any impact as a kid?
RT: Some strange ones. There was a panel called Mr. Tweedy about a hapless little guy. I don't remember who drew it. And there was Freddy by a guy who signed as Rupe. I think he was local.
BW: I don't know either one.
RT: I think it was probably in one paper. Also, Wizard of Id... BC... And Mad Magazine of course. I discovered that when I was probably ten.
BW: I remember there was some shock value in bringing Mad home.
RT: Right. (laughs) I remember the first time I picked it up in the grocery store and said I wanted to buy this. My parents looked at it and went ickkk. But my dad finally read it and started giggling. He had a good sense of humor, thankfully.
BW: My next-door neighbor bought it regularly, and he'd bring it over and I'd pore over the drawings. Eventually I worked up the nerve to ask my mom if I could get it. There were a number of years when I really thought Mad was the cat's pajamas, although now I think it was pretty formulaic. But even as a kid, it seemed out of the mainstream of cartooning. It was off in its own world.
RT: It seemed to open up this whole subculture.
BW: Could you imagine yourself doing something in that direction?
RT: Kinda vaguely.
BW: I could never see a way in. I couldn't imagine myself drawing movie and TV satires. I guess Don Martin did the closest thing to a regular cartoon, but in that grotesque style. Or Dave Berg's whatever....
RT: The Lighter Side Of (laughs). I'd often read it first. It was always so square!
BW: Right! So what did you respond to in Mad? What aspect?
RT: Oh, the art. The Aragones drawings in the margins and stuff like that. There was no one thing. Spy vs Spy, which was kind of exotic. And of course the parodies, where you discover caricature.
BW: I marveled at Mort Drucker, but I didn't see any road between here and there. At that age, my drawing skills were pretty much limited to drawing things in side-view outlines.
RT: I would try, but... I do remember seeing David Levine drawings of Nixon in like, sixth grade, in my classroom. My teacher was an anti-Nixonite. These beautiful, elegant drawings of Nixon--I remember being fascinated by it. He was using ink like paint, almost.
BW: What, the hatching?
RT: Yeah. So elegant.
BW: I never really responded to Levine. The likenesses were strong, but sort of like stone sculpture, or something- -not warm. I dunno. I remember Oliphant's caricatures really impressed me--so wild and cartoony, compared to Drucker. But getting a likeness is really hard. What made you want to do that?
RT: Caricature was something that'd always interested me. Later, as a freelancer, I thought the more arrows in my quiver the better. When I showed the art director at the Post, Mike Keegan, some pages of caricature sketches, he was delighted. I was suddenly taken more seriously too. I remember the British show Spitting Image had just premiered, and it gave me the kick I needed.
BW: Hm, I'm trying to think what else was in the air back then...
RT: I remember we had a bunch of New Yorker cartoon books in the classroom. This is like fifth or sixth grade. The teacher would bring them from home or something.
BW: OK, you moved in more sophisticated circles than I did!
RT: I didn't quite understand them. There's a Roz Chast drawing about her as a child finding Charles Addams cartoons, and I remember finding those too, and how gruesome they were. And the painting in them was soft and..
BW: The grays?
RT: Yeah, like no one else.
BW: I was probably a bit older when I saw New Yorkers. You know, if it was a cartoon, I'd jump to read it, but I don't remember them making much impact. Well, actually, I still like George Booth a lot. He's one of the few New Yorker cartoonists whose drawings are funny.
RT: I remember being impressed with New Yorker cartoons, but I probably didn't understand much.
BW: How about comic books? Nothing?
RT: Some. They were hard to find. I'd find them occasionally, and then I'd probably whine 'til I got them. If they were Batmans.
BW: Really, they were hard to find? My town had three drugstores that used to carry them, and I'd get them sometimes, but superhero comics didn't do a lot for me.
RT: Archie and whatnot... I had a few of those but I was never really into them.
BW: One summer my neighbor gave me this huge box of Archie comic books, and I read them in the car on some family vacation. I have no idea where he got them, but there were a zillion of the things, so my brother and I sat in the back seat reading one after another until it nearly killed us. We read ten thousand Archie comic books and they were all exactly the same.
RT: And the drawings are so clean.
BW: Yeah, very slick. Even then I thought they were dumb and outdated. It's a bizarre memory. How about underground comix? Did they have any impact on you?
RT: Some. I came late to undergrounds. I had friends who collected them (Henry Allen has Zap #0) but my main exposure was all in histories and anthologies. I liked, revered Crumb, though he is overwhelming, and thought Wonder Warthog was freaking hilarious.
BW: I saw some in college and I liked Wonder Warthog too, but on the whole, the undergrounds didn't make much connection. I preferred sillier, more cartoony stuff, I suppose.
What non-cartoon things made an impression on you as a kid?
RT: My folks liked doing things and making me a part of it. I remember when the Mona Lisa came to town. I was about six. We stood in line for a long time. Red draperies and guards every few feet, and then ventually, there it is. My mom liked it a lot. The whole way, she was telling me what an important painting it was and the story of it. She had a great appreciation for culture. She didn’t have any great understanding of it so much as just liked it, I guess.
BW: Wow, I guess you’re one of the few people who’s ever seen it without a foot of bulletproof glass in front of it.
RT: I think so. You couldn’t get right up to it--there were velvet ropes. But you could breathe the same air. (BW laughs)
BW: I don’t remember much exposure to fine art--just the popular culture of the day. I think of my childhood as the Batman TV show, the Beatles, and the moon landings. Although I do remember in middle school there were a few years when I read all the Doctor Dolittle books. I loved those--the idea of talking to animals. A PETA sensibility ahead of its time. It probably had some subliminal influence on my strip. What aspects of pop culture did you participate in?
RT: Well yes, the moon landings and take-offs. You knew it was important when the teacher pushed the TV into the classroom.
The reclusive creator's artwork from the recently finished three-day collaboration with Stephen Pastis on Pearls Before Swine will sell Aug. 8, 2014 at Heritage Auctions, proceeds to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
DALLAS – The original artwork for the recent three comic strip collaboration between Bill Watterson, the cartooning genius behind the much-loved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, and Pearls Before Swine cartoonist Stephen Pastis – taking place in a three day run in June 2014 in Pearls – will be sold at Heritage Auctions on Aug. 8, 2014, with proceeds from the sale benefiting The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
"Anytime original Bill Watterson comic art shows up for auction it's a huge deal," said Todd Hignite, Vice President at Heritage Auctions. "His collaboration with Stephan Pastis was an unexpected treat for his millions of fans. Now, thanks to this auction, fans will get to take the original art home while raising money for a great cause."
The collaboration between the two artists came at the suggestion of Watterson and was immediately embraced by an overwhelmed Pastis, who, like some many modern cartoonists, was greatly influenced by Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes. The trajectory of the three strip arc follows Pastis' comic strip alter-ego as he turns the drawing of the comic over to a precocious second-grader named Libby for three days. The results are both wickedly funny and uniquely Watterson, while remaining true to the sharp humor that defines the Pearls Before Swine strip.
At Watterson's request, the artwork is being sold on behalf of Team Cul de Sac, a non-profit charity established by editor/designer Chris Sparks on behalf of Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson, who is battling Parkinson's Disease – a piece of artwork done by Watterson depicting one of Thompson's Cul de Sac characters sold in 2012 as part of a charity auction to benefit Team Cul de Sac – and the profits from the sale of the original art (Heritage is waiving the seller's fee on the artwork and will also contribute half of the Buyer's Premium) will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
Heritage Auctions is the largest auction house founded in the United States and the world's third largest, with annual sales of more than $900million, and 850,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and receive access to a complete record of prices realized, with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.
Look for the 656-page Complete Cul de Sac (Andrews McMeel Publishing) in May 2014,
reports Reuben Award-winning cartoonist Richard Thompson on his blog. “Annotated, copyedited, collated, and now covered. The only thing left to
be done is the printing and gluing it or sewing or whatever they do to make it
hold together. And, of course, buying
it,” Thompson writes. Now the second big announcement: Thompson will join
cartoonist Bill Watterson (yes, of Calvin & Hobbs fame) for a two-man
exhibit in 2014 at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museumat
Ohio State University.
Local author Nevin Martell has written in to let us know that his book on Bill Watterson is out in a revised paperback edition:
I just wanted to send a note to let you all know that the paperback edition of "Looking for Calvin and Hobbes" is out now. You should be able to find it at fine booksellers everywhere and you can also pick it up on Amazon for only $11.48!
The book comes with an extra chapter, which explores some elements of Watterson's life that came to light after I handed in the final manuscript and it talks a bit about the promotional tour for the book, which was an intriguing journey in and of itself.
If you don't want to buy the book again for just the extra chapter -- and I totally understand if you don't; I hate it when bands put out "Deluxe Editions" with two new songs that you feel compelled to own -- I suggest you support your local library by borrowing a copy from them.
A couple of nights ago, Nevin Martell read from his new book, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes at Big Planet Comics. I've reviewed the book already, but Nevin's illustrated lecture for "the love child I've been working on for the past two years" as he put it, is worth seeing, because he "uncovered a lot of art that no one's ever seen before."
Much of that was Watterson's early high school and college cartoons, and his stint as a professional political cartoonist, but Nevin also showed us what Watterson's most recent public art has been. He's done these projected illustrations for a friend's Spanish Day, a Flamenco guitar rock opera.
Comi, KS: The current Doonsbury replacement strip, despite the fact that I can't remember its name, has been pretty good. I thought this week's strip was hillarious -- but I'm 39 and I'm barely barely old enough to remember the "Hey, Kool-aid!" ad campaign. Was there a later resurgeance that I missed out on? Or does nobody under 35 stand a prayer of understanding that joke? Seems like the punch line--so to speak--would have worked a lot better in 1978 than 2008.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I barely remembered it. I like this strip, though it is one of the more blatant Far Side ripoffs around.
and later in the chat,
The Four To, PS: OK, how about the Mount Rushmore of cartoonists?
I think Walt Kelly and Charles Schultz have to be there, but then it gets harder. I have to go with Watterson next, but then that last spot is very, very tough -- my list of possibles includes Feiffer, Trudeau, Breathed, Larson, Hollander, Adams, and MacGruder, all of whom were groundbreaking in different ways.
Who goes on your mountain?
Gene Weingarten: I take Schulz off the list and put Larson and Trudeau up there, but you won't get that many to agree. I don't think you can take Kelly off the list, but both Larson and Trudeau belong there. I am in the minority in my views on Schulz.
Re: Mount Rushmore of Cartoonists: Which weighs more heavily in your decision on this: artistic or writing talent?
Gene Weingarten: Writing. Though Kelly may have been the best cartoon artist ever.
Larson couldn't draw. He still needs to be there. -------------------- Palookaville: Hey, Gene, can we have a moment of silence for Ted Key, who died recently at 95? Key created Hazel (the Saturday Evening Post cartoons from which the TV show was spun), Diz and Liz and -- which I hadn't realized -- Sherman and Mr. Peabody. An American giant.
Gene Weingarten: I didn't know he did Sherm and Peabody! And Hazel was good, too. Very dry humor. Hazel, as I recall, was a maid with a dry, cynical sense of humor, who basically controlled the household.
Richard Thompson's "Cul de Sac," is a comic strip about the life of a pre-school girl named Alice Otterloop. It is a light-hearted comic strip centered around a four-year old girl and her suburban life experiences on a cul-de-sac. with her friends Beni and Dill, older brother Petey and her classmates at Blisshaven Academy pre-school. Alice describes her father's car as a "Honda-Tonka Cuisinart" (Cuisinart being a toaster brand) and talks to the class guinea pig, Mr. Danders. She has the typical older brother who plays jokes on her, and she contemplates ways to keep the scary clown from jumping out of the jack-in-the-box with friends.
Richard Thompson has been drawing "Cul de Sac" for the Washington Post for nearly three years. He also does the comic strip, "Richard's Poor Almanac" for the Washington Post, which he been creating for the past 10 years. Thompson's work can be seen in galleries and in several illustrated works.
"Since we came up with 'Cul de Sac' for our magazine three years ago, it's become one of our more popular features. A December 2006 web survey (randomized, but not fully scientific) indicated that 43.2 percent of our readers read 'Cul de Sac' all/almost all the time, which placed it in the top third of our recurring features. We also have anecdotal evidence that the readers who follow 'Cul de Sac' feel very attached to it — based on many impassioned letters, both to the editors, and to Richard.," explains Tom Shroder, editor, The Washington Post Magazine.
From Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes":
"I became a big fan of Richard Thompson when I saw his book, Richard’s Poor Almanac. Thompson has a sharp eye, a fun sense of language and a charmingly odd take on the world. Best of all, his drawings arewonderful—something one doesn’t often see in cartoons anymore. I'm delighted to see 'Cul de Sac', and I have high hopes that Thompson will bring a much-needed jolt of energy to the daily newspaper. We have a real talent here."