Three Cheers for Watterson | Letters | Chicago Reader

Three Cheers for Watterson 

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To the editors:

To the editors who are "championing" the good of their readers in protesting Bill Watterson's decision to run his popular Calvin and Hobbes strip in a half-page format [Hot Type, January 31]: Who do you think you're kidding? Your cheap excuse exists only to ease the bile in your throats that an artist, the creator of an extremely popular comic strip, can dare have some input in how his work is presented.

As Watterson recounts, Sunday features at one time took up an entire page each. The quality of the art in the best of these (Little Nemo, Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon, for example) is breathtaking. But when editors, for economic reasons or just plain greed, tried to stuff the strips three, four or more to a page, it wasn't the reader who reaped the "benefits." Today's comics page is such a jammed mass of miniature artwork that much of the enjoyment in reading comics is destroyed.

What the editors quoted don't discuss, of course, is why artists like Watterson and Trudeau can get away with their demands. It's simply because their strips are damn good (although Doonesbury has slipped). Calvin and Hobbes, in terms of art and imagination, is the finest strip being published today. It's actually good enough to compare with the best strips of comics' golden age, such as Smitty, Napoleon, Peanuts and the strip to which it's often compared, Barnaby. The reader responds to quality, and anyone who buys Watterson's bound collections and gets the added treat of an original, bonus strip inside knows just how good his artwork is in a larger format. The editors simply underestimate the popularity of the comics page in their lust to fill the public's need for the latest sex/political/other scandal. And if "bowing" to Watterson's demands means having to drop one of the less-popular strips, so be it; survival of the fittest is, remember, not confined to evolution--especially when some of the current strips contain the most puerile shit on newsprint. Ziggy, Crock, Sylvia, Marvin, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Buckets, Arlo and Janis, Geech, Hagar the Horrible (which has gone to hell since Dik Browne died and his untalented son took over) and the way-overrated Garfield could disappear overnight without anyone losing any sleep.

The comics editor of the Tribune, which I formerly enjoyed, actually gloats that, with their presentation, Watterson's art will be shrunk even further. This is the height of arrogance. Editors acting in this manner not only patronize their readers while insulting them at the same time, but also bring on the kind of readership they are desperate to avoid.

So three cheers for Bill Watterson. Here's hoping you join Foster, Caniff, McCay, Raymond, Segar, Schultz and the others in the ranks of the immortals.

David E. Artman

Hammond, Indiana

Michael Miner replies:

Let's be fair to John Lux. He wasn't gloating. He was just saying how it is.

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