Bill Watterson (1958-): Unconditionally Passionate about Work

Bill Watterson: Unconditionally Passionate about Work
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND, OCT. 20-23--FILE **Bill Watterson, creator of the syndicated cartoon strip "Calvin & Hobbes" is shown in this Feb. 24, 1986 file photo at his home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, C.H. Pete Copeland)

Bill Watterson: Unconditionally Passionate about Work; In today’s world, ‘work’ is, probably, the most hated word- in general. Nobody feels like going to work, Monday blues are the most commonly shared feelings and finding something to do that not only fills the pocket but also the soul is the next to the impossible task assigned to every human being. Passion and profession- these two poles-apart terms define our life and if anyone succeeds in making these two work together, it is considered- successful in life.

Well, it’s not as rare to find someone with this kind of success, as it may sound and cartoonist Bill Watterson is just one of them. With some of the strongest perseverance and consistency over a period of five years, he has become what he is today with his comic strips ‘Calvin & Hobbes’- created about a boy and his imaginary toy tiger friend- despite some really bad failures in the beginning.

William Boyd Watterson II

Born: July 5, 1958, Washington, D.C., U.S.

Education: Kenyon College (B.A. in Political Science, 1980)

Occupation: Cartoonist

Notable Work: Calvin and Hobbes

Cartooning Career: Syndicated from 1985 to 1995

Views on Merchandising: Strong opposition to merchandising, fought against pressure from publishers

End of Calvin and Hobbes: Announced on November 9, 1995; last strip published on December 31, 1995

Post-Calvin and Hobbes: Engaged in painting, resisted merchandising, limited public appearances

Published Work (2023): “The Mysteries”

Awards: Reuben Award (1986, 1988), Angoulême Grand Prix (2014), Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame (2020)

Bibliography: Numerous Calvin and Hobbes collections and treasury editions

Bill Watterson Early Life

William Boyd Watterson was born on July 5, 1958, in Washington D.C. and he is currently living in Cleveland with his wife. He maintains a very low profile life and declines all the interviews. His father James Watterson was a patent attorney. He moved to Chagrin Falls, Ohio at the age of 6, along with his parents. There, his mother Kathryn started working at the City Council by winning a seat. James also joined the City Council of Chagrin Falls after about 30 years. - Bill Watterson (1958-): Unconditionally Passionate about Work

Bill Watterson was a very talented student all along. He attended Ohio’s Kenyon College in 1976. There he worked for the Collegian Campus Newspaper, for 4 years, drawing political cartoons. Also, during his sophomore year, he took a few weeks to draw a copy of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” on his dorm room’s ceiling. Just like other successful cartoonists, Bill too showed his talent for drawing at a young age. Although, unlike his character Calvin he never had an imaginary friend in his childhood, he was heavily inspired by Charles M Schulz (creator of Peanuts) and Walt Kelly (illustrator of Pogo).

Academic Pursuits and Inspirations

Watterson’s pursuit of cartooning led him to Kenyon College, where he studied political science to venture into editorial cartooning. His artistic influences ranged from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts to Walt Kelly’s Pogo. The collegiate environment at Kenyon, marked by his painting of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in his dorm room, contributed to his artistic growth.

The Struggling Period

To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work.

 Bill Watterson, commencement speech at the graduation of Kenyon College in 1990

Bill graduated from college in 1980 and joined Cincinnati Post as an editorial cartoonist. But he was never really interested in Politics and that reflected clearly in his works. He used to observe his older colleagues there and think of what will happen to his life if he keeps on working to just pay the bills. Eventually, being not at all impressed with his work, the authority fired him within a year and he was back to living with his parents. After leaving the newspaper, he realized that politics was never his thing and returned to his core interest i.e. comic strips. - Bill Watterson (1958-): Unconditionally Passionate about Work

This was the starting of his test in terms of perseverance and consistency and it lasted for 5 years. During this period, he kept on sending his comic strips to syndicates and ended up opening only rejection mails. While he knew that this was not the practical way to live, he didn’t give up on his dreams either and found a temporary balance until things work out as desired. He started designing advertisements for a car dealership and a grocery store to pay the bills and continued sending his comic strips.

Six such comic strips were developed and sent to the United Features Syndicate and all the six were rejected. But things finally started to turn right in 1985 with the creation of ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ and getting published.

Calvin and Hobbes: Birth of a Masterpiece

The inception of “Calvin and Hobbes” marked a transformative phase in Watterson’s career. The characters, Calvin and Hobbes, were named after historical figures John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, showcasing Watterson’s intellectual depth. The strip, first published on November 18, 1985, resonated with readers due to its philosophical undertones, whimsical humor, and the endearing relationship between a six-year-old and his anthropomorphic tiger companion.

A Decade with Calvin & Hobbes

If I had rolled along with the strip’s popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now ‘grieving’ for ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I’d be agreeing with them.

 Bill Watterson

Bill kept experimenting with many characters and developed 7 different comic strips in 5 years. The 7th one, though rejected by United Features Syndicate for they had a doubt about its business potential, Universal Press Syndicate bought it in 1985 and published it. Bill Watterson was only 27 years old at that time. This was the start of one of America’s all-time most popular comic strips ever.

Calvin & Hobbes got to entertain the audience for a period of only 10 years! Sounds unbelievable, right? But that’s a fact and it was intentional. The above-mentioned quote by Bill himself justifies his decision enough; however, naturally, the audience was not really happy about it. But nothing made Bill change his decision regarding this series. Neither did it ever receive any official merchandising.

Bill Watterson: Unconditionally Passionate about Work

Calving & Hobbes- is a story of a boisterous 6 years old boy who has a confusing philosophy; at one point he behaves his age and on other times, he is way too older & wiser & learned with his remarks. Hobbes was his imaginary stuffed toy tiger who sprang to life only when alone with Calvin and was like a wise mentor.

The comic strips, through its childish characters, presented some really deep philosophy that made the audience- think. It’s not very known to everyone that Bill is very much fond of reading and he is a big fan of philosophy. In fact, the two leads of his comic strips are named after his two favorite philosophers and thinkers: theologian John Calvin and philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it’s going to come in handy all the time.

Bill Watterson

Calvin & Hobbes brought Watterson the highest honor in the industry, National Cartoonist Society’s the ‘Rueben Award for Best Cartoonist’ in 1986. He was the youngest cartoonist to receive this honor. Seeing the huge popularity of the comic strip, the Universal Press Syndicate wanted to produce merchandise with Calvin & Hobbes, but Bill didn’t want his characters to be used for such commercial purposes and wanted to keep them to express his personal thoughts only.Bill Watterson: Unconditionally Passionate about Work comics

That is the reason for which there is no official merchandise with the series; yes, there are plenty of unauthorized ones available in the market. Not only that, Bill announced to end the strip in 1995 breaking hearts of millions of fans, after starting it only 10 years back. The final strip of Calvin & Hobbes was run on December 31, 1995. These two incidents are amazing proofs of how passionate Bill was with his works and how much he loved it. There was no financial inspiration behind it at all.

Artistic Integrity and Battles Against Commercialization

Watterson’s career was marked by a principled stand against merchandising his characters. In an era dominated by the commodification of creative works, he vehemently resisted pressure to commercialize “Calvin and Hobbes.” Watterson believed that such merchandising would dilute the essence of his creation, valuing artistic integrity over financial gains.

Changing the Comics Landscape

Throughout his career, Watterson aimed to elevate the status of newspaper comics as an art form. He decried the diminishing space afforded to comics in newspapers and sought to defy conventional formats. Watterson’s battles with syndicates over the format of the Sunday strip exemplify his commitment to the artistic vision, even at the cost of editorial displeasure.

Later Life

Bill did come back to writing though, in 2014. He needed to raise some money to fight Parkinson’s disease and so, he collaborated with cartoonist Stephan Pastis on ‘Pearls Before Swine’. He also contributed to the poster art of the documentary named ‘Stripped’.

At present, he is spending a very simple life with his wife in Cleveland. He has no regrets at all for ending his popular series of Calvin & Hobbes while it was so young and people wanted to have so much more out of it. As he puts it himself:

It’s always better to leave the party early.

The Enigmatic End

On November 9, 1995, Bill Watterson bid farewell to Calvin and Hobbes with a poignant letter to newspaper editors. His decision to conclude the strip was rooted in a desire for personal fulfillment and a belief that he had conveyed all he wished within the constraints of daily deadlines. The last strip was published on December 31, 1995, marking the end of an era.

Life After Calvin and Hobbes

Post-“Calvin and Hobbes,” Watterson retreated from the public eye. While he engaged in various artistic pursuits, including painting, he resisted attempts to resurrect or commercialize his iconic creations. His reclusive nature added a mystique to his persona, with rare interviews providing glimpses into his post-strip life.

The Mysteries: A Return to Art

In a surprising turn in 2023, Watterson unveiled “The Mysteries,” his first published work in 28 years. Collaborating with illustrator John Kascht, this illustrated fable offered a glimpse into what lies beyond human understanding. Watterson’s return to the creative arena sparked intrigue and admiration.

Legacy and Recognition

Bill Watterson’s contributions to the world of cartooning earned him accolades, including the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award. His principled stance against merchandising and his enduring commitment to artistic excellence set him apart. In 2014, Watterson was awarded the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, a testament to the lasting impact of his body of work.


Bill Watterson’s artistic journey, punctuated by the brilliance of “Calvin and Hobbes,” is a testament to the enduring power of creativity and principled artistic expression. His legacy extends beyond the confines of comic strips, inspiring a generation of cartoonists and readers alike. As the enigmatic artist continues to navigate the mysteries of life, his indelible mark on the world of comics remains timeless.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Bill Watterson

Who is William Boyd Watterson II?

William Boyd Watterson II is an American cartoonist best known for authoring the iconic comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” syndicated from 1985 to 1995.

When and where was Bill Watterson born?

Bill Watterson was born on July 5, 1958, in Washington, D.C., U.S.

What is Bill Watterson’s educational background?

Bill Watterson attended Kenyon College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1980.

What inspired Bill Watterson to become a cartoonist?

At age eight, Watterson drew his first cartoon and was inspired by comic strips such as Pogo, Krazy Kat, and Peanuts. These early exposures influenced his desire to become a professional cartoonist.

How did Calvin and Hobbes get its name?

Calvin and Hobbes were named after the Protestant reformer John Calvin and the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes, respectively. The names were a nod to Watterson’s time at Kenyon College.

Why did Bill Watterson choose to end Calvin and Hobbes?

Bill Watterson concluded Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, stating that he had achieved all he could in the medium. His decision was influenced by a desire for personal fulfillment and a wish to work more thoughtfully.

What were Watterson’s views on merchandising Calvin and Hobbes?

Watterson vehemently opposed merchandising his characters, believing it would compromise the integrity of his work. He fought against pressure from publishers and ultimately renegotiated his contract to retain all rights to his creations.

How did Bill Watterson change the format of the Sunday strip?

Watterson was critical of the traditional Sunday comic strip format and advocated for a more efficient use of space. He faced challenges with newspaper publishers but eventually compromised, offering papers a choice between a full half-page or a reduced-sized version.

What has Bill Watterson been doing since the end of Calvin and Hobbes?

Since the end of Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, Bill Watterson has avoided the public eye. He has engaged in painting, resisted merchandising efforts, and refrained from licensing his characters. He has also participated in select interviews and art projects.

What is “The Mysteries,” and when was it released?

“The Mysteries” is Bill Watterson’s illustrated fable for grown-ups, released on October 10, 2023. It marks his first published work in 28 years.

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