The idea behind making a documentary is that one takes a topic and explores that world and lets the facts and film speak to it’s truths and it’s misconceptions. In recent years there have been documentary films that, against all rules, start out with an agenda instead of letting the journalistic nature of making the film take over. Many purists consider this a cardinal sin of the genre. We must come to terms with the fact that this is the direction the genre is headed.
One of the recent documentaries I watched followed the second of the styles I mentioned. It was titled “Dear Mr. Watterson”. It explored the rise and love of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes and it’s eccentric creator and abrupt ending. Filled with interviews of everyone from colleagues, agents, publishers and of course, fans, Joel Schroeder explores what was and has continued to a cultural phenomenon.
The most intriguing and fascinating parts seemed to revolve around Bill Watterson’s way of doing business and how he became the J.D. Salinger of comic strip authors.
Watterson had a massive comic hit on his hands almost immediately after Calvin and Hobbes hit the papers. The massive amounts of money to be made were almost immeasurable. It was well on it’s way to being the next Peanuts or Garfield. Watterson had different ideas. Bill Watterson refused to option his creation for any merchandizing what so ever. The choice to keep his artistic integrity was one he strongly believed and still believes to this day. Any Calvin and Hobbes products that are not his pint comics are not official merchandise and are fan created. Mr. Watterson has yet to approve toys,T-shirts or anything else. Even the most die hard fans struggle with understanding this and still buy any products that strike them.
The most notable absent interview from the film is that of Mr. Watterson himself. Widely revered in the comic community for his artistic ability and smart and beloved sense of humor, he continues to let his work speak for itself. Upset over the state of comics and the recognition the art form got, he knew when to walk away and that was while he was on top.
Dear Mr. Watterson was an aptly named film because this truly was a love letter to a piece of Mr. Schroeder’s life that made an enormous impact and, it turns out made an impact to millions of other people to this very day. I was 15 when Calvin and Hobbes concluded and it wasn’t until this documentary and a look back at my old books, that I realized how much of an impact it had on my childhood and even how it helped shaped my sense of humor. I can only hope it will continue to have the same positive impact for years to come.