Open for misinterpretation

One of my biggest influences Bill Watterson, the man who quit the advertising job he hated to make the Calvin and Hobbes comic book strip. For those who do not know, Calvin is the precocious young troublemaker with messy blonde hair and the red striped shirt, and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger who seems to come alive when nobody but Calvin is looking. Calvin is also sometimes seen on the back windows of people’s cars peeing on things. Whats interesting about the series is that, despite its popularity, people often don’t seem to understand the dynamic between the boy and tiger that he was trying to portray. Some people think that Hobbes is an imaginary friend while others think that Hes a magical stuffed animal that becomes real when no one else besides Calvin is looking. When Watterson was asked about his side of the two characters, he says that the relationship between child and stuffed animal goes to a much deeper level. Throughout the story, Hobbes always remained an inanimate stuffed object and his personality (or lack there of) was a result of the dichotomy between imagination and reality. The whole point of the story was about how a child sees a stuffed animal vs. how an adult sees a stuffed animal while sprinkling in themes of environmentalism, public education, and public opinion polls.

Now what I think is so influential about Bill Watterson was that he had a huge opportunity to turn Calvin and Hobbes into a major merchandising brand and he turned it down. Just think about the possibilities of selling a stuffed adaptation of a story about a stuffed animal. Look at how much money Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, got from this thing. But Bill Watterson not only stayed true to his art, but he ended the series before it could grow faster than his creativity could keep up. He could have turned Calvin and Hobbes into Garfield and the Simpsons, but he chose the dignity of his work even though it was often misinterpreted.

The whole purpose of branding to to fix misinterpretations like these in a story or company, but Watterson believed that the different ideas of the two characters made the story what it is. The true essence of his comic book strip was how little time he spent telling people about it compared to other authors. As I read the story throughout my life, it took me a while to understand what a tiger was doing in a suburban child’s bedroom. I grew up and re-read the stories and uncovered the new levels of the what the author was trying to say. He exposed two different constructs of reality and showed how they failed to interact. In an age where the amount of information  causes us to make approximations about the world, we can’t lend ourselves to interpret everything objectively. Yes, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger to everyone around, but to one child, hes real.

If Bill Watterson pursued a branding venture of Calvin and Hobbes, I think he would have lost the special relationship between stories and how they are interpreted. As the Simpsons became entrenched with being a pop culture icon so much that the show traded in its substance to scratch and claw at relevancy. The comic book strip wouldn’t have lost its unique insight on politics, but a child’s imagination would be lost.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s