By Richie Reitzfeld
Dear Mr. Watterson, if you’ve yet to hear of it, is a Kickstarter-funded documentary which depicts the affect that the legendary comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, has had on fans across the world, and the influence that it’s had on other professionals in the comic book industry. I was lucky enough to get an invitation to an advance screening of the film on Thursday, and I must say, as a longtime fan of Calvin and Hobbes, it did not disappoint.
The film’s title, Dear Mr. Watterson, may be misleading for some, as the lore surrounding Bill Watterson’s status as a recluse begs for a documentary to be made about finding and finally interviewing him. However, the title is to be taken more literally than that. This film is nothing more than a love letter to Bill Waterson – a thank you from all of his fans, and all of the people he’s influenced.
If you’re a fan, this movie is a must see. There’s no question. It’s magic. We’re shown interviews with people from war torn, third-world countries who used to look forward to reading Calvin and Hobbes in the paper every day, just so they could have something to smile about. Hugely successful cartoonists such as Berkeley Breathed, the author and illustrator of Bloom County, talk about the gold standard that Watterson set both in terms of writing and art.
And contained within all of the interviews with various fans, and trips to comic book museums, is the story of the filmmaker himself, on whom Calvin and Hobbes has had an enormous impact.
He takes us to his house, shows us his collections, reveals to us his favorite strips and what they mean to him. And it’s so wonderful because every fan has their own favorite strip, and it’s their favorite for deeply personal reasons. Hearing someone else share with love the reasons that they’ve been touched by Calvin and Hobbes was, for me, pretty tear-jerking.
One of my favorite aspects of the film was how in-depth we were taken into the struggles that Bill Waterson had with those in charge of the syndications. Calvin and Hobbes was running at a time in which the funny pages in newspapers were becoming smaller and smaller, as they weren’t bringing in revenue like advertisements were. But Calvin and Hobbes was so successful that Watterson was able to demand that he get a full half-page for the Sunday funnies, with which to do whatever he wanted. This allowed for him to implement a new level of artistry in terms of his story panels would flow and interact with one another.
The stuff he was doing was, according to pretty much all of the cartoonists interviewed, on a level of quality that was rivaled by only a few comics in history, most of which have since been forgotten about – comics like Peanuts, Krazy Kat, and Pogo, all of which set a gold standard in their respective eras. In fact, Breathed goes so far as to say that Calvin and Hobbes is, and likely will be, the last ever truly memorable and standard setting comic.
These are the type of things you don’t ever learn about just from being a reader, especially if, like me, you missed out on Calvin and Hobbes when it was in the papers. That’s why every fan needs to see this. Because Bill Waterson is so quiet, no one really knows too much about Calvin and Hobbes. This, along with a couple of books that are highlighted in the film, as far as I’ve seen, is the go to resource for Calvin and Hobbes information.
Now, with all of this said. If you aren’t a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, I’m sure this all sounds a little over the top. And for a non-fan watching this film, I could definitely see someone saying, “Okay, I’m sure it’s good, but this is ridiculous.” Really all I have to say to that is, “read it.” Go to your local store or library and sit down for 2 hours and read a Calvin and Hobbes collection. Whether you think it’s worthy of all this praise or not, I guarantee you that you won’t feel your time has been wasted.
Dear Mr. Watterson hits select theaters on November 15th.