Movies: Dear Mr. Watterson

My parents used to get the newspaper. Between that and Peter Jennings, they knew all they felt they needed about what was happening in the world. Sunday mornings meant the kitchen table would be strewn with sections of the Dallas Morning News while Dad sat either at the table or, if it was warm enough, outside on the patio, with his coffee and whatever part of the paper he was on. He was methodical about working his way through it. And my goal was to grab the comics and Parade before he could miss them.

So, yes, like many my age I grew up with Calvin & Hobbes. While Garfield had been my first comics love, and I'd also had many Peanuts books (the really old ones, where the characters looked very different from the more modern form), I read the adventures of Calvin and his stuffed tiger regularly and was often oddly touched by the insights provided. Calvin & Hobbes was not like other comic strips. It was funny, sure, but it often went deeper than that too.

Dear Mr. Watterson touches on this—it talks not to Bill Watterson (of course not) but to other cartoonists and to fans of the strip and sort of skims the reasons why Calvin & Hobbes has such a following. It bumps against Watterson's open criticism of the artist vs. syndicate system, his refusal to monetize his work through marketing and so forth. But ultimately there is not a lot of depth to this documentary. How can there be when Watterson himself is such a recluse? And so, though I can share Schroeder's love of Watterson's work, the final result is a fannish gloss of what makes Calvin & Hobbes special to Schroeder and readers worldwide.

What the documentary did bring home to me is that I live with a Calvin. His name is Robert, and he carries around a beat-up, much-loved stuffed white tiger. And he makes a lot of trouble, but he also has bizarrely logical and philosophical moments and is largely unimpressed by grown-ups, especially when their answers to his questions fall short of expectations. And now I realize that I can sit down with Robert and show him Calvin, and he'll see that there are others out there like him. Kindred spirits. And it's going to be wonderful to see that world through Robert's eyes.

So, you see, a documentary—a kind of love letter is what it is, really—about how great Calvin & Hobbes is was never needed. Nor was marketing. Because the readers, generations of them down through the ages, are the real reward for Watterson's magnificent work.

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