I have loved comic strips for the longest time.
While Peanuts is my first great love, and has been joined my affections in recent years by such superlative strips as Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, and the insightful and adorable artistic triumph that is Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts, it is Calvin and Hobbes that I return to time and again when I want to be amused, touched, intellectually delighted, and just have a good old fashioned laugh.
Calvin and Hobbes (1985-1995), which follows the adventures of a know-it-all but thoughtfully precocious six year old named Calvin and his sardonically-insightful, long-suffering stuffed tiger toy Calvin (who is, of course, real to anyone with enough imagination and Calvin has it in spades; mutant snow goons anyone?), is whimsical, clever, and not afraid to explore all manner of weighty, existential dilemmas in the context of a little boy trying to figure out how life works.
And learning, not that he’ll admit it, that he really doesn’t have all that many answers in his limited repertoire of life knowledge.
Hobbes on the other hand, though driven by a tuna fish addiction that causes havoc at times, does his best to survive Calvin’s outrageously expansive attempts to push the boundaries of what’s possible for a small boy, offering sage advice for living even though it is rarely listened to, and even less frequently, acted on.
Calvin’s nameless, long suffering parents, who essentially act as foils for their witty one liner spouting progeny, face all manner of indignities including having their positions terminated regularly thanks to poor opinion polls (his eye-rolling dad), and aerobic-heavy chases to get their willful son into bed at night (his exasperated but ultimately loving mum).
But when all is said and done, though they speak of wanting to give him back sometimes – in one strip, Calvin’s dad says he would have preferred a Dachshund dog – they love him, despite the fact he will likely send them prematurely grey.
All that intelligence, wit and wisdom has garnered Calvin and Hobbes legions of fans, including of course yours truly, among them one Joel Allen Schroeder, a director who in 2007 began to interview fans of the much loved strip about why it means so much to them.
These interviews began a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2009, which raised double its goal of $12,000, and now three years later we have the first trailer for Dear Mr Watterson, a documentary which is essentially a love letter to the comic strip that ended way too early (partly due, it is said, to Watterson’s dislike of trading off his artistic aspirations for the commercial realities of syndication).
While the famously private Mr Watterson does not make an appearance – not that I expected him to but the fan in me desperately wishes he would have consented – many of his colleagues and fellow comic strip artists do including Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County, and to my eternal delight, Stephan Pastis of the uber-clever Pearls before Swine.
There’s also an appearance from Watterson’s long time editor at Universal Press Syndicate, Lee Salem, which is especially welcome given it’s as close to a first person account as we’re going to get in Watterson’s absence.
It is the sort of documentary you dream of someone making, and I am insanely grateful that Joel Allen Schroeder has done it.
Dear Mr. Watterson opens on November 15, after airing at selected film festivals in April and June, with release dates for other territories such as Australia (please someone release it! I will crazy toboggan anywhere for you in thanks) not confirmed at this time.