Thirty years ago, the comical adventures of a six-year-old boy named Calvin and his tiger best friend named Hobbes captivated readers.
Named after theologian John Calvin and philosopher Thomas Hobbes as “an inside joke for poli-sci majors,” as its creator said, “Calvin and Hobbes” was first published November 18, 1985.
Creator Bill Watterson had graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in political science in 1980 and promptly started working as a political cartoonist for the Cincinnati Post. The paper fired him after three months, but he continued drawing, even as he struggled to create a comic strip that worked.
He pitched a comic to United Feature Syndicate, publisher of “Peanuts,” in which a little boy and his toy tiger were supporting characters. The company recommended that he focus on those characters, and though it ultimately rejected the strip, Universal Press Syndicate accepted it.
Within a year, “Calvin and Hobbes” was being published in roughly 250 newspapers. By the time Watterson ended the strip in 1995, it was appearing in more than 2,400 newspapers. It had become a beloved classic.
But through it all, Watterson remained an enigmatic figure. Find out more below.
1986: Watterson became the youngest person to win the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year from the National Cartoonists Society. He won again in 1988 and was nominated once more in 1992.
December 31, 1995: After a little more than 10 years of the comic, the final 'Calvin and Hobbes' strip ran. It was being published by more than 2,400 newspapers at the time.
Watterson announced his retirement with this statement:
'This is not a recent or easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.'
It has been estimated that Watterson and Universal Press Syndicate lost out on $300 million to $400 million by not accepting merchandising deals.
Watterson refused to licence the comic because he felt that it cheapened the experience. In a Q&A on his publisher's website, he said it 'seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.'
He was also worried that he might lose the comic, having originally signed away a majority of his rights to get the comic syndicated.
In a 1987 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said, 'But it seems that with a lot of the marketing stuff, the incentive is just to cash in. It's not understanding what makes the strip work.'
Watterson was, and still is, also strongly against an animated version of the comic strip. In a 2013 interview with Mental Floss, he said, 'As a comic strip, 'Calvin and Hobbes' works exactly the way I intended it to. There's no upside for me in adapting it.'
More than 23 million 'Calvin and Hobbes' books are in print and 14 book collections have sold a million copies within their first year of publication.
In 2005, the 20th-anniversary collection was published by Andrews McMeel and each copy sold for $US150, making it one of the most expensive books to appear on the New York Times
In 2014, 'Exploring Calvin and Hobbes,' an extensive interview with Watterson, was published.
The car decal of Calvin peeing on the Ford logo is not a sanctioned 'Calvin and Hobbes' item. In a 2005 Q&A, Watterson said he 'clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.'
Though Watterson was adamantly against licensing, he did approve select items such as two calendars (1989 and 1990), a language tutorial book called 'Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes,' and a postage stamp issued by the US Postal Service in 2010.
2010: Reruns of the comic were still being published in 50 countries, though none were being reprinted in North America.
2012: Due to the rarity of 'Calvin and Hobbes' items, an original 1986 comic strip by Watterson was sold for the record-breaking price of $203,150.
2014: Watterson teamed up with 'Pearls Before Swine' creator Stephen Pastis on a series of three comic strips.
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