Bill Watterson & Your Kids

Bill Watterson is an artist.  He is one of my favorite artists.  He is the creator of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.  We can be thankful to have enjoyed his art while we were growing up.  I can remember waking up each morning, going through my morning ablutions, getting dressed, grabbing a bowl of cereal, and heading straight for the Calvin & Hobbes strip while sitting across the breakfast table from my mom while she worked on her crossword puzzle.  These are the kind of memories that are some of the fondest.

When you’re a child, this comic strip isn’t ‘art’ or political or sage, it is just fun.  You don’t really know as much as you think you do at that age, but you generally know what’s the good stuff and what sucks.  And, Calvin & Hobbes was the good stuff.  I can honestly say that reading the those three blocks of this comic was the best thing about my morning routine.    This activity that took less than thirty seconds was something to be looked forward to more than anything else each waking day as a child.  It would be a bummer on those off chance days that the paper didn’t come or was soaked with rain or what-have-you.   Saturday’s where extra special because the comics were in color and it was generally a six-block strip.  Although Watterson was one of the first artists to turn his six-block real estate into one drawing or two normal size blocks and one taking up four spaces or any combination he felt like, he would sometimes do the customary six block strip.

I say art because Bill Watterson made art.  His art was (is) uncomprimising.  He never sold out.  He never appeased ‘the man’.  His works are timeless.  He retired before his time and is still relatively young.  Bill doesn’t really do interviews and seems more than content to stay out of any sort of lime light.   Bill is a recluse.  My guess is that while in retirement and out of the public eye, his works are more academic in the sense that he is pushing the boundaries of art right now and we won’t know about his works for years to come.  You can see a depth in his art that puts him in the echelon of the Da Vincis and Rembrandts (this is really no joke).  I can only imagine that somewhere in Ohio he has a studio full of paintings and drawings that are absolutely gorgeous that are not going to be seen by the general public for god knows when.  There is a story about Bill Watterson painting Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel on his dorm room ceiling that he told told to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 1990.  Below is a quote from that speech that’s also on Wikipedia:

By standing on a chair, I could reach the ceiling, and I taped off a section, made a grid, and started to copy the picture from my art history book. Working with your arm over your head is hard work, so a few of my more ingenious friends rigged up a scaffold for me by stacking two chairs on my bed, and laying the table from the hall lounge across the chairs and over to the top of my closet. By climbing up onto my bed and up the chairs, I could hoist myself onto the table, and lie in relative comfort two feet under my painting. My roommate would then hand up my paints, and I could work for several hours at a stretch.

The picture took me months to do, and in fact, I didn’t finish the work until very near the end of the school year. I wasn’t much of a painter then, but what the work lacked in color sense and technical flourish, it gained in the incongruity of having a High Renaissance masterpiece in a college dorm that had the unmistakable odor of old beer cans and older laundry.

So getting back to reading to the  kids… I have a story about how I came across a big stack of Calvin & Hobbes comic books…  I have to start about 10 years ago which is nearly five years before my son was born.  My wife’s friend, Angela, had overheard me talking about how Calvin & Hobbes was my favorite comic strip.  I wouldn’t even have guessed that she would remember such a thing, but she’s a real sweet heart.   On my birthday she brought me a collection of Calvin & Hobbes books she had bought from the bookstore.   It was so cool and thoughtful of her.   These were comics I hadn’t seen in a long time.   I added them to my book collection after reading them again and stowed them away.

Now that my boy is almost five, I look forward to reading all these books to him again so he can enjoy these comics that were such an enriching part of my childhood.  It’s so important to read to your kids no matter what you read to them, but what could be better than reading such classics?  I read all my Calvin & Hobbes books to my boy when he was three and he enjoyed them, but now that he’s almost five it’s different.  At nearly five he’s so much more capable of understanding and ‘getting it’.  I look forward to reading them again to him now.  It’s amazing how quickly his vocubulary is exapanding and how he knows the entire alphabet upper and lower case.  I suppose this is true of any child – the amazing speed at which they learn at this young age.  They’re advancing so far so quickly that it really does seem like leaps and bounds.

It’s almost as much fun as seeing the wonderment and fascination in his eyes when we read than anything else.  I thought I enjoyed reading these comics as much for my appreciation, but seeing your son get the same sort of appreciation and enjoyment is just unbelievably rewarding.  It’s like you get to live your childhood twice as a parent: once as child and once as an adult through your child.   Another thing that is really neat to take note of is the appreciation of this art as a middle aged man as opposed to when you were younger.   The things in these strips have been there for a long time, yet it’s as if you’re seeing them for the first time after 20 years or more have passed.  The things in the Calvin & Hobbes strips are just as relevant today as they were twenty years ago:  imagination, respect for the environment, education, and family.

In summary, reading to your kids is a good thing.  Reading material like Calvin & Hobbes to your kids is a great thing.  And, Bill Watterson’s art is timeless and classic.

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