Monday, June 21, 2010

A Comic Strip With Specific Expressions

Zoran, a frequent commenter posted some great Calvin and Hobbes strips awhile ago and I've been meaning to link to them.

I stopped reading comics strips in the 1970s when amateur artists began dominating the papers, but now and then I would notice a small handful of strips that stood out as the last lights flickering in the dim twilight of post-hippie decline of western culture.
One was "Shoe" by Jeff MacNellyand later I noticed Calvin and Hobbes.
I don't know a lot about the strip or its creator, Bill Watterson, except that Calvin is obviously drawn really well. Zoran did this great post showing that he even uses lots of custom-tailored poses and expressions, rather than the simple cookie-cutter repeated frames that so many comic strip artists rely on. This is rare for comics strips in its whole history - let alone in the 80s or 90s.

http://unmitigatedaudacity2.blogspot.com/2009/01/great-calvin-expressions.html

Too bad Watterson left the field when he seemed to have been its last hope.

Sorry these images aren't larger...

54 comments:

Roberto Severino said...

I think you must have read my mind or something, John. When Cartoon Brew posted those boring Sunday Funnies, I commented saying that we need more Bill Watersons and Walt Kellys to kick the newspaper comics in the rear again, and then you come around and post something from one of his comics!

I'm just messing with you, but I really did say that over at Cartoon Brew, and yes, I love Calvin and Hobbes a lot myself. Garfield, Crappy, Dilbert (worst comic strip I've ever seen ever. I don't get why anyone would even read it) and its awful ilk couldn't hold a candle to that strip. Have you heard of Jeff Smith and his Bone comics? I don't really know too much about him, but I've seen some of his stuff. A very nice Walt Kelly feel, and really nicely inked.

Jorge said...

Bill is not only the best modern comic strip artist, but also its best writer. He's really a poet with words. And he does great pen & ink stuff, obliviously influenced by Krazy Kat. He's my hero.

guybrush said...

Lest us not forgot THE FAR SIDE. Newspapers died the day GARY LARSON left them...

Rikco the Robot said...

Unlike animation, there are actually quite a few good artists left in the comic medium. You just gotta know where to look - I'm a big fan of Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge, some of the folks at the Beano/Dandy, Jamie Hewlett and, of course, Bill Watterson.

Cali-4nia said...

Bill Watterson was a major influence on me in my youth. I used to copy his drawings and style all the time! I just loved it, and I still get references to this comic, since the main character and I share the same name... goes to show how influential this comic strip really was.

The Bouncing Bird said...

My first comic book was 'Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat' and it's had the biggest influence on my life. Watterson was a master. The Sunday strips will never be the same.

JohnK said...

Yeah, Gary Larsen was really good. He seems to have a million imitators now who are less subtle.

Jeffrey said...

I was twelve years old when "Calvin and Hobbes" first appeared in the funny pages in my town. It had an amazing effect on all the children. We would gather in the library before class every day just to read Calvin. It was so stimulating, from both an artistic and humor standpoint, in contrast to "Cathy", "Garfield", "Mary Worth", etc.

Of course, the other 80's-90's strip that I'd be curious to hear your opinion of is Gary Larson's "The Far Side". While not nearly as complex as Calvin and Hobbes when it comes to character expression, I think his simplicity is deceptive when it considering overall design and layout (and love how his characters get more complex the further he goes down the evolutionary chain).

I also loved that it was a single panel strip made, pretty much, for science nerds.

Jeffrey said...

(follow-up) Ah...just see that you posted about Larson while I was typing my comment ;-)

AnArchyAl said...

Watterson left the field for many reasons. most of which are not unlike the reasons animation is almost a desolate playground these days. editors constantly fighting with him over jokes. the fact that the size of the comics were constantly shrinking, and the ever present corperate pressure to sell the whole damn thing out into coffee mugs, t shirts,calenders, pourly animated series. ect ect ect. which of course led to countless bootlegged car stickers of little calvin wizzing on anything that society needed wizzed on. Watterson fought fiercly for his own space every sunday for his huge beautifull strips that was twice the size of the other strips, yet half the size of some of the original sunday funnies. so he retired calvin and hobbes while it was still great. before the monsterous execs could ruin it. his art is SEVERLY missed.

RooniMan said...

I love Calvin and Hobbes. They're one of my favorite comic strips pf all time.

Oisin O'Sullivan said...

oh man ive got about 5 Calvin and Hobbes treasuries in my room, my Dad got them all when i was a kid. I acted just like Calvin too when i was younger.

Mr. Kricfalusi, did you know he was a "rulebreaker" too? He decided that the sunday comic format was too restricting and fought with the papers and demanded that he decide on the panel sizes himself to further improve his storytelling. And even though many newspapers said that they'd drop Calvin and Hobbes if he started drawing the panels in a new format, he didnt mind, he wanted the artistic integrity. He never sold out for big money, either.
Its all in the 10th anniversary book where he talks about everything to d with the strip.

He says his main influences were Pogo, Krazy Kat and Charles Schulz's Peanuts.

Steve Hogan said...

SHOE had nice art, but I always felt like the entertainment value of depressed middle aged birds was oversold.

Fun trick! If you look at Bloom County strips from that era and cross your eyes you can see where they reused art.

JohnK said...

"He says his main influences were Pogo, Krazy Kat and Charles Schulz's Peanuts. "

I was gonna guess that and add animated cartoons and editorial cartoonists like Oliphant and MacNelly.

Trey Brown said...

im so glad you finally addressed bill watterson. i think hes a genius and when comic characters were so unlikable he finally brought us something heartfelt.

do you happen to like frank cho or his liberty meadows series?

Brandon Waltman said...

Calvin and Hobbes is one of my favorite strips ever. The drawings in them are ridiculously amazing for a newspaper comic strip.
The entire set is available in one awesome, gigantic package.

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Calvin-Hobbes-v/dp/0740748475/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277143430&sr=8-1

Definitely worth it

JohnK said...

"do you happen to like frank cho or his liberty meadows series? "

Yeah, he's great.

Manoeuver said...

Waterson is/was a giant. you can see in his strips his developing disgust and cynicism over what was happening to comic strips in the 90s.

I wish he'd been able to continue the strip on his own terms. I respect his decision to stop. I wish we could get him to do something, ANYTHING again.

John Atkinson said...

God, I love Calvin & Hobbes; I've beaten all my books to hell from reading them so many times!

James N. said...

Hey John,

Cool that you mentioned Calvin and Hobbes... one of my favorites!

Zits also has a very loose, appealing drawing style. Also really, really, funny. You should check that out :-)

Zits

More Zits

Even More Zits!

Elana Pritchard said...

I brought a Calvin and Hobbes book into the preschool I work at to teach kids about different emotions. They made me sit down and go through the entire book with them! You know something is drawn well when people who can't read yet love it...

Ryan G. said...

Bill gave a rare recent interview in February.

http://www.cleveland.com/living/index.ssf/2010/02/bill_watterson_creator_of_belo.html

I read somewhere that he would go into bookstores and sign some Calvin and Hobbes collections in the book stacks. He stopped after finding them on Ebay.

Thunderrobot said...

I've always thought that Calvin and Hobbes was one of the best drawn strips.

I Posted an original pose of the boxing rabbit character from the Preston Blair book. It's not perfect but I just want to know if I have most of the basics down.

Title

Cameron said...

Thanks for the memories. For the last several post-Watterson years my approach to newspaper comics has been this:

1. About once every couple of months I'll remember to open up to the comics page

2.I see two columns of rectangles in which very, very tiny images have been placed.

3. It takes a few seconds for me to focus on the page enough to discern differences between the contents of the tiny rectangles.

4. I see [A] old strips that should have died years ago; [B] new strips that should never have been born; [C] strips that exist solely to exploit the corpses of vastly superior, now-retired strips; [D] occasionally amusing punchlines written above boring art; [E] occasionally good art supporting tedious writing.

5. I wonder if it's always been like this. Did I simply uncritically like crap when I was younger? Oh, most definitely. Have I just gotten old and cranky? Yes. Is there a good strip somewhere on the page? Maybe. But it's going to be so small that it must necessarily suffer by comparison to what I got used to with The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes.

6. I bemoan the fact that I have now last several minutes of my life in a pointless search for second-best entertainment.

I close the paper, embarrassed for having opened it up to the comics page and hope nobody saw me doing it.

C said...

Calvin and Hobbes also had great action.

You rarely get anything particularly fun these days. Strips often go with stiff characters, copypasted expressions, and jokes that your ancestors found boring. There are some happy exceptions, such as Cul de Sac.

Fun Cul de Sac

Trevor Thompson said...

Bill has a lot of integrity with his art. He fought the panel restrictions that his syndicate put on him and made very elaborate Sunday pages like his heroes.

Comic artists fought for more money, less work, not no extra money and three times the work.

Alex said...

Yes, thank you for finally talking about 'Calvin and Hobbes'. And in a positive light as well.

Bill Watterson stands as a fine example of a purist cartoonist, which is why his art is so specific to the situation and why he stood up against 'the man'.

Speaking of Garfield, Roberto S, Bill has been quoted for hating on that strip, and Jim Davis apparently majored in marketing while in college. Coincidence that he started up Paws, Inc? I think not.

Roberto González said...

Watterson is a great influence in me too. But he probably took the right decision by leaving the strip. It's certainly better to leave it while it's still good than continuing it doing a half-ass job. Maybe he had enough talent to keep at it a few more years, but if he was tired that could have been noticed in his work.

I think Garfield was a good strip once, but now it's very mechanical and reiterative. It still has decent drawings, but it shows very little effort in the stories and set ups.

I would like to see Watterson doing another comic, maybe with other characters, once in a while, but it seems he decided to retire completely.

Martin Juneau said...

I hearing this for the first time in 2001 and even if the drawing style don't inspire me so much, it being a very funny comic with at least more sincere characters than what i seen in a overatted comic as Garfield. It's a shame that Bill Watterson left the medium in his time of glory but i guess he learning the hard way.

He surely influenced by many old comics because we seen the source of his influences.

martinus said...

I love how Calvin could be talking about the Cathy cartoon when holding that letter.

Watterson was also incredibly creative regarding panels, and he fought the sunday papers like crazy to get more freedom, and when he finally did get them, they were masterpieces.


Here are also two really good ones, poking fun at serious soap opera strips:(I tried posting them as links, but it keeps messing up-sorry.)


http://www.freewebs.com/calvin-hobbes-org/Docter.jpg

http://www.freewebs.com/calvin_hobbes_home/baby.gif

-jjmm- said...

I've always loved Calvin & Hobbes strips.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ge6IcveAQCI/TB_ZKEuy5xI/AAAAAAAAARU/UiEixBvQnxU/s1600/P1000176.JPG

Raff said...

Yes!! Calvin and Hobbes!
Zits is brilliant - at least from time to time. The guy who draws them used to do political cartoons.

yawn said...

I liked how Watterson, was able to change the structure of his sunday strips, during his last few years. He broke out of the bland rectangle shape. Each sunday strip was like a big drawing,instead of just a readable comic strip.

Zartok-35 said...

Great stuff! I have ALL the books.

Trevor Thompson said...

He didn't do much pencil work, either. 90% of the finished art was done in the inking stage. The "Tracer Bullet" stories are the best example of Watterson's amazing inking skills!

aalong64 said...

Anybody know if Watterson ever did any more of those great soap opera parodies? I must've not read all the later books, because I've never seen the 'baby' one before.

John Paul Cassidy said...

CALVIN AND HOBBES is my favorite comic-strip after PEANUTS!

After it ended, the best strips today are on the Internet. The absolute best, IMHO, are PENNY ARCADE, Katie Rice's SKADI, and John Allison's strips (SCARY GO ROUND and BAD MACHINERY).

J C Roberts said...

Thankfully, Bill Watterson was able to maintain control over his creations as well, so after retiring from it the syndicate couldn't slot in a poor imitaion. He also wouldn't allow any merchandising (He could have cleaned up, though. Gotta admire the integrity to just say no to big money). To this day, if you ever see a t-shirt or bumper sticker using Calvin & Hobbes, you'll know it's an unofficial knock-off.

There's plenty of hope for comics stuck waiting in the wings, but the sydicates don't want them. Just another business that isn't concerned with talented artists.

My brother had to resort to self-publishing his "Patty Cake" comic, which was partly inspired by things like Calvin, Walt Kelly, and Ren & Stimpy. It was picked up by a small comics publisher, but eventually dropped poor sales (in reality it was poor marketing.

For every inept waste of space strip and comic that's actualy running in the papers or shops, there's several well done, entertaining ones that can't catch a break.

Struggling against the way these businesses are run is enough to make you so bitter a lemon would be like a ball of sugar by comparison.

Amyiss said...

Watterson was an excellent artist in about every aspect, and the newspapers he published in hated him for it. His work technically fit size limitations but couldn't be cut and cropped to fit a newspaper page however editors wanted. He fought very hard to be allowed to draw *compositions* for sunday strips, not just 8 same size panels (2 of those 8 having to be 'throw away' panels that many papers wouldn't even publish).

Newspapers can blame the internet all they like, but when you fight that hard against having something *fun* in your publication, maybe there's a reason no one likes subscribing to them anymore.

It's a shame because you're right, I don't think I have seen anything that masterful done since.

Martin Juneau said...

J.C., it's a coincidence because i seen a Calvin look cap this afternoon. I'm glad that you mentionned this because i will never do, mostly because i having rarely the occasion to read Watterson's comic.

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes, same after that Bill left producing this comic strip in late 1995, remains irresistible with its reprints on the newspapers from the whole world.

AdamLore said...

John K wrote
"I was gonna guess that and add ... editorial cartoonists like Oliphant and MacNelly."

For sure! Bill Watterson actually started out doing political cartoons. I think the influence is a lot more notable in his earlier art.

http://ignatz.brinkster.net/cimages/cevolution.jpg

Other influences he has sited are Winsor McCay, Lyonel Feininger, and Egon Schiele. (Oh, and Jim Borgman.)

Zoran Taylor said...

WOW! Thanks for the post and recognition, John! I dig your choices - the chewing bit is some of the funniest drawing I've ever seen in my life.

Watterson was gifted at so many things, but many of them were common enough among recognizably good artists that they needn't be pointed out at every turn....the exceptions, just as with your own work, were:

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

SPECIFIC ACTING

and

UNBELIEVABLY, AWE-INSPIRINGLY SEDITIOUS HUMOUR

C&H lays to waste so much of the modern world it's hard to believe someone got away with it in ANY medium. The pretty facade of Calvin's "whimsical imagination" -as people who think cartoons are for babies like to call it- is a world of delusion, decadence and unchecked egomania that is slowly but surely digesting itself, with morality and humanity and wit the rays of sunshine penetrating it, giving us all hope that Calvin, and ourselves, might be more than just complex assholes on a tiny floating ball of dirt in the infinite blackness.

No single thing has made me more cynical OR hopeful than Calvin and Hobbes. As a natural optimist, I found balance in it - it fixed me. 'Cause goshdamnit, you have to be at least CAPABLE of thinking human being are idiots. (See the "man cartoonist" post for more on that....)

Zoran Taylor said...

Oh! By the way, in case anyone is wondering.......I'm keeping my head down right now. Not gunna parade my wares around until I'm ACTUALLY Hot Sh*t at drawing. No sketchbook pages, nothing - wait 'til we can laugh at those. Deeply sorry you folks can't see my sophomoric dalliances with real craftsmanship - you don't know what you're missing, really! God bless this blog, obviously....

P.S. - I'm sorry for the small images too. They were the best I could find.

Steve LeCouilliard said...

Bill Watterson is God.

That is all

Carmine said...

Sorry for the late reply.

I love comic strips and still keep up with them, for the most part. Calvin and Hobbs was great, but I think Garfield is the best one. I've been a big Jim Davis fan for a while, and his drawings are very well constructed, very funny, very well composed, and when he wants to, he can get very specific and funny expressions. And he has a very all encompasing and recognizable style. You can tell a Jim Davis drawing without any doubt.

I guess he does like to "repeat" panels in strips (although they are always new drawings), but for my money he's the best comic strip artist in main stream papers. Garfield, imo, was best in the early to mid 90s, but its still a great strip, with very solid drawings. There are never any "sloppy" panels in a Garfield strip.

guybrush said...

I would have to say that GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD is 1000x better than GARFIELD ever was/is.

Dan Jackson said...

Carmine:

You're aware that Jim Davis doesn't actually draw Garfield anymore, right? He has a whole team of artists that do that for him. He does have his name written on them though, kinda like Matt Groening has his name contractually etched onto anything from the Simpsons or Futurama. But from what I understand he hasn't actually drawn the strip for many, many years.

That said, though the humor is bland, recycled and tedious, Garfield can occasionally have funny drawings in it. Though I'd agree with Guybrush that that site Garfield Minus Garfield makes the comic strip 100 times funnier when they Photoshop Garfield out of the strip.

Martin Juneau said...

The Europpean comics industry losed appeals in the mid-1970's, it's well know. French-Canadians cartoonists as Serge Gaboury becomes gold in the 1980's by the cult Croc magazine when it's the most politically incorrect magazine i have luck to read. I having issues of it as a kid but i just recycling only two editions made before they discontinued for good.

And then, you have Bill Watterson who created perhaps the last good valuable comic ever. It's a sign that Europpean never learned from their own mistakes these days.

Because now Europpean comics is made for sealed junk products with characters as Lou and Kid Paddle. Comics made before 1965 was made by real peoples who turns their characters as real. Now they look made by fictious peoples who never understand how world works.

Lou is a very popular comic series in Europe but who don't show appeals because of the amateur art style, fear and conservatism that this and the others modern comics occured today, besides it's not very honnest.

http://yfrog.com/jvlou54j

http://yfrog.com/3gmortebousse3j

And now, one of the most popular comics characters ever is re-branded as a Flat cartoon style who make smile the crew behind Fairly Oddparents and Family Guy:

http://yfrog.com/jyspirou6j

Carmine said...

Dan Jackson:

Well, thats not how I understand it. Where are you getting that info? According to Jim Davis himself, in a very recent video, he explains that yes, he does draw every panel of a Garfield strip. He has "clean-up" artists who finalize the line and ink them, but it all starts from his drawings, every single strip, even to this day.

Commander Höek said...

Hey John, I'm really glad you adressed C&H, it's my favorite comic of all time and I have almost all the books.

A question for you also.
Do you find the struggles described by Watterson with the newspapers similar to the struggles you had over with Nickelodeon? If so, how?

Albert said...

Admittedly, I think Berkeley Breathed had a cookie cutter style in his early days, but he became more ambitious as time went on... What do you think, John?

(Y' know, Bloom County? Opus?)

Elana Pritchard said...

Why won't you unblock me? Blocking me is super hurtful.

Elana Pritchard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.