Thursday, November 20, 2014

Watterson in France: ‘Get comics!…’

‘The only part I understand is the part that happened at my own desk — the writing and drawing…’ — Bill Watterson, 2014

JUST RELEASED — the poster for the Angoulême Festival international de la bande dessinée, edition 42, near Bordeaux in France, January next.

Designed in the shape of a mammoth-sized silent comic strip by this year’s laureate Bill Watterson (b.1958), the American cartoonist who in late 1985 became a world player with his Calvin and Hobbes, a hugely successful newspaper comic strip he stopped after ten years.

Watterson’s poster
Mupi sizi 175 x 118,5 cm — wil grace every street corner during the festival. The major exhibitions in Angoulême this time will be on Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, on Tove and Lars Jansson’s Moomin, and on the work of Jack Kirby and Jirô Taniguchi — see HERE.

And read the
background information in an official FIBD press release of 6 November 2014:

EXACTLY TWENTY YEARS — after ceasing Calvin and Hobbes, the cult series that made him world-famous, and a few months after being awarded the Grand Prize by the Angoulême festival, the American artist Bill Watterson agreed, against all odds, to take up his pencils and brushes again in order to create the official poster of the festival’s 42nd edition. An artistic gesture of
exceptional value, unexpected and generous, and a declaration of love and faithfulness to the comic strip of which Watterson remains one of the most notable practitioners.

In 1995, after only ten years, Bill Watterson decided to end the publication of Calvin and Hobbes, retiring from comics and public life. Exhausted by the pace of daily publication and the struggle against the commodification of his strip, the author felt no more desire to draw. Since then, legend has it he spends most of his time painting, away from the crowd, perhaps even under a pseudonym.

[2] Watterson poster for Dave Kellett & Fred Schroeder’s 2014 documentary Stripped.

A secret personality of sorts, rare public statements and virtually no photographic documentation available… Bill Watterson, whose reputation now seems inversely proportional to his media exposure, is to comics what J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon are to literature: a world-famous, unknown personality whom many believed that nothing could get him to draw again. However, in early 2014, one or two discrete initiatives augured a possible change. In the spring he signed a poster for a documentary about comics, Stripped, an occasion on which he gave an audio interview for the first time. A few weeks later, he made three drawings for the American author Stephan Pastis, which were later sold at an auction in benefit for research against Parkinson’s disease.

The latest news
Watterson wrote a foreword to a 328-page book on Puck, released in October and titled The Story of Puck; America’s first and most influential magazine of color political cartoons; What Fools These Mortals Be!, by Michael Alexander Kahn & Richard Samuel West.

And Watterson contributed a conversation with his fellow-cartoonist Richard Thompson (b.1958) to a 224-page book — titled The Art of Richard Thompson — to be published on the 25th of November 2014.

The poster for Angoulême 42
But still no comics on the horizon since twenty years. This makes his poster for next year’s Angoulême Festival even more unique. After months of reflection and sustained dialogue with the Festival’s programming committee, this comic strip creation is a perfect synthesis of what embodies Bill Watterson today: the last major upholder of the typically American comic strip, comics that are organically linked to daily newspapers. A vision of entertainment and reading as catharsis in a hostile world.

The strip for Angoulême 42
Bill Watterson has honoured the festival by designing, for the first time since 1995, a 15-box strip cartoon, silent and therefore universal, expressing his undying love to comic strips.

[3] A brand-new strip by Bill Watterson, signed ‘W’.

Neither Calvin nor Hobbes are present in it; Watterson says he abandoned them too long ago to draw them again. But their moral and philosophical legacy continues to radiate through each image he creates.

Watterson, by stubbornly refusing to yield to publishers’ dictates, became one of the few to decisively change the culture of comic strips. An author who reminds us how reading comics can remain an inexhaustible source of happiness for each and everyone of us.

[4] The full poster.

Questions and answers

Q. Where does the idea of the poster come from and what did you want to express with it?

BILL WATTERSON: I wanted to have the poster loosely relate to my own work and still be somewhat relevant to all the different kinds of cartoons that the festival celebrates. I went through a lot of ideas and approaches that didn’t work, but finally came up with the idea of making the poster a comic strip about reading the comics. I chose to depict the non-digital world of the morning newspaper as a sort of a joke on myself and how long ago my work was published. The poster circles around this again by presenting my cartoon as if it were in a newspaper Sunday comics section. But mostly, I just wanted the cartoon to be fun to look at. This is always what I tried to do in my own work.
[5] Watterson 1987 self-portrait in Honk magazine.

Q. As an artist you’re interested in a variety of disciplines, such as painting. And in many interviews you’ve expressed your thoughts about the creative process, about comics as a medium of expression. From your point of view, what makes comics unique?
BILL WATTERSON: By combining words and images, comics are incredibly versatile — they can say anything. I love the comics’ unpretentious simplicity and directness — their ability to cut through the clutter and get to the essence of things. But most of all, I admire the beauty of comics. I think their expressive drawings hold their own against any other art.
[6] Calvin and Hobbes.

Q. We feel you never thought Calvin and Hobbes would become such a phenomenon, still, it became a one-of-a-kind success. What made the difference and triggered all this passion? Twenty years on now, has your look upon it changed or shifted? How do you look back on this era, and on this achievement as an artist?
BILL WATTERSON: The only part I understand is the part that happened at my own desk — the writing and drawing. My goal was simply to make this the kind of comic strip I would like to read. I tried to write honestly, and I think my love of comics comes through the drawings, but obviously the strip’s fate was out of my control as soon as the brush left the paper. I’m delighted readers have responded to the work, but I’m as surprised by its long success as anyone.

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