"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Less is More

Been thinking a lot about the term “recluse” this weekend. There is such a negative association with it. But is it such a bad thing? Anyhow, this caught my eye–a short interview with the “reclusive” creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Bill Watterson, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Readers became friends with your characters, so understandably, they grieved — and are still grieving — when the strip ended. What would you like to tell them?

BW: This isn’t as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of 10 years, I’d said pretty much everything I had come there to say.

It’s always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip’s popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now “grieving” for “Calvin and Hobbes” would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I’d be agreeing with them.

I think some of the reason “Calvin and Hobbes” still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it.

I’ve never regretted stopping when I did.

I think this is a rare quality in a writer, columnist, artist, you name it–the ability to leave sooner rather than later, especially when you are a success. I was duly impressed with the visual wonder of Avatar but I would have been that much more impressed if the movie was an hour shorter.


1 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 1, 2010 12:44 pm

I was impressed by "The Dark Knight", but it certainly could have been chopped by 30 minutes.

As for Calvin and Hobbes, if my best friend's 5-year-old son had red hair, he'd be the incarnate of Calvin.

Here's my fave C&H theme:

2 bp1   ~  Feb 1, 2010 1:45 pm

I still read C&H every day online. Just last week he had a string where Dad was trying to get Calvin to pose for a picture for the family Christmas Card. I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes ('cause any parent can relate). The story being told and the way he imagines it with his artwork - just so well done. Second only to Peanuts in my list of all time favorite comics.

And yeah - I agree with your thoughts. It's rare when someone walks away on top like that. For all time I will think of Moose walking away after a 20-win season. Another smart dude who had life beyond his day job.

3 rbj   ~  Feb 1, 2010 1:47 pm

[2] Same here, rereading online.

And as much as I miss Calvin & Hobbes, I am glad he walked away with the strip still in good form and not old and tired.

4 The Hawk   ~  Feb 1, 2010 4:30 pm

I don't think walking away while you're "on top" is necessarily an admirable quality, but walking away when you know you've got nothing more to contribute is. However it's also pretty rare to be able to look at yourself and say the well is dry, so I don't fault anyone who can't do that.

And I'm talking about the arts mainly; in sports I actively dislike players who leave without emptying the tank completely. Like Jordan; some were disappointed with his inability to let go but that psychotic tenacity is what made him so great in the first place. In the end, the drive to compete was greater than the need to dominate.

5 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 1, 2010 4:42 pm

[4] In sports, I admire the tenacity, but at the same time, am usually disappointed (when its an athlete I like) or disgusted (when its someone I don't care for) when it happens. Sense of self is an important quality, one I'd prefer my athletic heroes to demonstrate.

On this note, I fully expect Mo to hang 'em up as soon as he can't get the job done effectively any more. I'm pretty sure, outside of Moose, I've never seen any athlete more aware of his limitations and more comfortable with his place in the world, regardless of what his skill level is.

As for the arts, I applaud Waterson for going out on top, and I am grateful that he did not make Calvin & Hobbes into a franchise to be carried on by his children and grandchildren (or whoever they can get to do the strip). Besides cheapening it in a way that would have been horrible - Calvin and Hobbes themselves never would have gone for it - it gives me a greater appreciation for those strips and my childhood, when I ran to the front porch in my pajamas every morning to get the paper, to read Calvin & Hobbes (and check the Yankees box score).

6 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 1, 2010 5:05 pm

Yes, I think that is an interesting distinction, between "going out on top" and "when you've got nothing left to say." Sometimes they coincide with each other. The Brits seem to have that great formula with TV shows--they don't make enough of them for the show to really sour. Maybe they don't develop fully either, but how many episodes of FAULTY TOWERS were there? Less than 24 I'd guess.

7 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Feb 1, 2010 9:11 pm

[6] Only 12 Faulty Towers episodes! John Cleese turned down millions of $ to make more. Same for the original Brit version of "The Office" (which is by miles and miles better than the US one.)

Going out at any time must be tough..I was poking through Bill James Historical Abstract the other day, he had a short bit on Lou Gehrig near the end of his career. He fielded a ground ball and ran to the bag, then got a "nice play, big guy" from some teammates. Gehrig was devastated, as they were complimenting him for a routine play..

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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