Dear Mr. Watterson is a 90-minute documentary film by Joel Allen Schroeder about the lasting influence of Calvin and Hobbes. It opened Friday in four cities, with more coming. (Or you can watch it via Amazon or other services.)
Schroeder says early on that he’s not as interested in finding the creator (known for being reclusive) as he is in how many people were affected by the strip, although he visits Watterson’s home town and presents a history of the comic as the film progresses. He also covers Watterson’s refusal to license his characters (with comparison to Charles Schulz, whose widow comments) and his notorious love of privacy, as well as talking to representatives of his syndicate.
The film starts with hearing from people about how much they loved it and their experiences reading it. Jenny Robb, Curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, notes that all comic strips have someone who says they don’t like it or don’t get it, except this one. Everyone likes Calvin and Hobbes.
Participants in the movie include Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Bill Amend (FoxTrot), Seth Green, Nevin Martell (Looking for Calvin and Hobbes), and a whole bunch more. It’s fascinating to hear the artists talk about his influence and the comic historians point out how significant the strip was.
I also loved the section showing how many different ways fans have expressed their love for the characters — homemade dolls, art using them, animation, and so on. The discussions of Watterson’s use of imagination and how new generations are finding his work are inspiring.
Sometimes Dear Mr. Watterson can be overly valedictory, but mostly, it made me want to drag out the collections and read the strip again. This Salon review of the film makes some good points — the movie is “slight but agreeable”, issues raised aren’t explored in depth (particularly the death of the newspaper comic strip), that no one’s ever explained the names — but I don’t think you’re meant to think that hard about this movie. It’s a fan’s love letter to something he has adored for a long time, and that appreciation comes through. (The studio provided a digital review copy.)