Those who are already familiar with Calvin and Hobbes, the boy-and-his-tiger comic strip from artist and writer Bill Watterson, are likely also aware of Watterson’s strong position on the subject of merchandising. While there’s no doubt a market for Calvin and Hobbes mugs, T-shirts and plushy toys (as the existence of bootleg versions shows), Watterson said in an interview that he felt all of the merchandising options offered to him would, “violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.”
Calvin and Hobbes ran for ten years, between 1985 and 1995, and since publication of the last strip there still hasn’t been a Calvin and Hobbes TV show, a video game or a big-budget movie with Spaceman Spiff going on exciting CGI adventures. Since many of the stories (not to mention one half of the title charactered) were fueled entirely by Calvin’s six year-old imagination, it’s possible to imagine a family movie along similar lines as upcoming Ben Stiller comedy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but will a Calvin and Hobbes movie ever get made?
Perhaps one day it might, but it won’t be with Watterson’s involvement. Speaking in a recent interview with Mental Floss, the artist and writer said that his admiration for film as an art form hasn’t convinced him that the two best friends need the big screen treatment, nor that he should have a go at getting them moving:
“The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but 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.”
The full interview, a rarity for the reclusive author, is definitely worth a read, and includes some interesting reflections upon Watterson’s darker days of fighting for legal and creative control of the characters that he created, to the point that he felt “truly scared I was going to lose everything I cared about.” He expressed what seemed like a deep dislike of the concept of someone coming in and taking over his comic strip, which makes it unlikely that we’ll see Watterson giving any studios permission to hire other writers and animators for a Calvin and Hobbes movie during his lifetime.
Given how much weight movies based on comic books currently carry on Hollywood, Watterson was also asked what he thought about the way in which comic books are changing now that their mainstream appeal is growing. Though there’s a definite sense that he’s none too enamored by the advent of the digital age and the effect that it’s having upon comic book distribution, Watterson nonetheless offered up a fairly balanced view of what the future of comic books might hold.
“Personally, I like paper and ink better than glowing pixels, but to each his own. Obviously the role of comics is changing very fast. On the one hand, I don’t think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now. On the other hand, the mass media is disintegrating, and audiences are atomizing. I suspect comics will have less widespread cultural impact and make a lot less money. I’m old enough to find all this unsettling, but the world moves on. All the new media will inevitably change the look, function, and maybe even the purpose of comics, but comics are vibrant and versatile, so I think they’ll continue to find relevance one way or another. But they definitely won’t be the same as what I grew up with.”
No doubt there are fans who are frustrated by Watterson’s resistance to the idea of animating Calvin and Hobbes for the big screen, or giving someone else permission to do so, but perhaps Calvin and Hobbes is one comic strip that doesn’t really need to be turned into a franchise.