It’s been over ten years since Calvin and Hobbes — a comic strip about a mischievous six year old and his imaginary pet tiger — was retired from syndication, but an overwhelming, cultural affection for creator Bill Watterson’s work endures to this day. Just ask filmmaker Joel Schroeder, whose own love of the comic inspired him to begin work on the documentary “Dear. Mr Watterson.” Through a collection of interviews with Watterson’s friends, colleagues and many fans, Joel aims to explore the memories, meaning and lasting impact that Calvin and Hobbes have had on generation after generation of readers.
Read what Joel had to say about his film below. Support it here.
A lot of people identify with this project on a very sentimental level. I know that I do! What do you think makes Calvin & Hobbes so culturally significant to us?
That is exactly the question that we want to explore. How can a comic strip touch so many lives? What sets Calvin & Hobbes apart from every other strip you read? Why did I find it impossible to replace Calvin & Hobbes when Bill Watterson retired the strip so many years ago? Why do people feel so connected to Calvin & Hobbes in such a rare and unique way? Sorry to answer your question with a question…
And, closely tied to the first question, what made it so significant to you?
I don’t remember when I first was introduced to Calvin & Hobbes. I do know that I became hooked, and I know that I identified with Calvin. We were both blond, had wild imaginations, and were fascinated with some of the same things: space, dinosaurs, nature, mutant snow goons. But we were also vastly different. I did well in school, had plenty of real friends, and had never had an imaginary one, tiger or otherwise. Calvin’s unique personality was addictive. I felt he was a part of me, and that I wanted to be a part of him. In all my childhood, there were so many things that came along that I enjoyed or appreciated at the time, but there is nothing else that has stood the test of time that I honestly enjoy as an adult with the same love. It took me years to realize how special Watterson’s creation was to me, but it was that realization that has led to this film being made.
Any noteworthy anecdotes or discoveries from your time spent on this documentary?
There are a couple great anecdotes that I’ve got to withhold at this time and save for the film, but there are many great experiences we’ve had making this project so far, and many more to come, guaranteed. I’ve heard from so many people who have shared their love of the comic strip, but the most meaningful experience so far has probably been meeting a father and son in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, while we were filming there in October.
The father had enjoyed Calvin & Hobbes as a college student, and had passed on that enjoyment to his son. There have been several times that my eyes have welled up just a tiny tiny bit as I have interviewed people for this film, and seeing this case of two generations of a family express their love of Calvin & Hobbes was one of those moments, when I felt so connected to another person through a comic strip, as silly as that sounds. It proves just how special and timeless Calvin & Hobbes is. If this film does nothing other than inspire people to dust off their Calvin & Hobbes collections and reread them or share them with a son or daughter or niece or nephew or friend, then it is worth it.
Do you have a favorite strip? (Mine is the Sunday one where Calvin and Hobbes decide that having to go to bed won’t stop them from playing with each other — they’ll just fall asleep and DREAM about playing with each other. The final frame is them sleeping next to each other, each smiling as they — presumably — dream-play.)
There are so many wonderful strips. Watterson could be amazingly touching, hilarious on multiple levels, sarcastic or ironic, dark or serious, and sometimes many of these at the same time. I still have quite a stack of favorites that I cut out of the Appleton Post-Crescent more than 15 years ago. I love what I call the “denial” strip, the final Calvin & Hobbes strip ever “let’s go exploring!”, the “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” water balloon strip… For some reason though, which is hard to put in words, my favorite strip is from February 21st, 1993.
Calvin is in his toboggan, at the top of a deadly precipice, edging out further, deciding whether or not to go. He suddenly is rocketing down the side of the mountain at death-defying speeds, until we see him in the last frame, where he looks back at the bunny hill behind him, and sighs. I love this strip. It demonstrates Calvin’s endless imagination, yet it also also has this intense sadness for me, as Hobbes is not present. It just means something special to me.
How has your use of Kickstarter been so far?
Kickstarter has been amazing. We’ve been working on the film for quite a while, but with funding being an obvious barrier that slowed our pace. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to fund this film than having a large collection of Calvin & Hobbes fans put their resources together to make this happen. We surpassed our goal in three weeks instead of three months, so having time still left to raise funds before our deadline is really exciting, as it will enable us to push further than we thought we could. I keep telling people, a community and a website like Kickstarter.com is absolutely a huge tool and resource to help projects like ours get off the ground in a great way. In six months, we’ll be able to look back and we’ll wonder where we’d be without Kickstarter.
Beginning thoughts, actually. I’m so excited about what our Kickstarter fundraising will allow us to do with “Dear Mr. Watterson,” and I’m very honored to be a part of the Kickstarter community. I very much feel Kickstarted.