Monday, October 26, 2009

289 Days UP - "I can disappear any time I want to, time I feel you..."

(2/1/10 UPDATE: He totally a roundabout kinda way. I agree with him that C&H ended in a good place, but I'd still love to see something new from him at some point. Ah, well)

The follow is an open letter to Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson:

October 26th, 2009

Dear Mr. Watterson:

Good evening sir. My name is Matthew Shafeek. I'm 30 years old, and a longtime fan of yours. I own every single Calvin and Hobbes comic (though I haven't bought every single collection obviously, because - let's be honest - there's a lot of redundancy in there), and was truly sad when you retired it back in December of 1995. With just a few panels a day you managed to really inspire me and create a world that more than other fictional place I really want to be a part of. I am writing this letter tonight to inform you that sadly, after nearly fourteen years of waiting for your next work, you have officially let me down as a fan and as a fellow artist, and I think you have become, in my eyes, one of the biggest wastes of talent that I have ever known.

Let me take a step back for a second before I delve into the heart of the matter. Back when you were writing C&H, you made a lot of, shall we say, curious decisions that threw a lot of people off. You refused to license your property and denied any and all merchandising of your characters. A very bold move that few artists with the kind of sweet, sweet cash sitting in front of them have ever made. You also, for less obvious reasons, decided to prevent C&H from ever being animated. In the face of so much logic and money, you denied the evil corporate machine any claim over your beloved characters and comic strip. You kept them pure, and you kept them your own. And to that Mr. Watterson, I say kudos. You obviously have a very sense of integrity and you take your work very seriously.

Then after 10 years of wonderfully imaginative, funny, and brilliant content you decided to call it quits, and you sent the following letter to your fans:

Dear Reader:

I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Bill Watterson
Ok, so you quit the daily grind. Awesome, good for you. No more deadlines, no more artistic constraints, woot! So what did you do over the next 14 years?

"Since retiring, Bill Watterson has taken up painting, often drawing landscapes of the woods with his father. He has published several anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes strips"

Wow. Ok. Now, I don't want to devalue your wood drawings or anything, but seriously? That is what a man, with the ability to literally DO ANYTHING he wanted creatively and have throngs of loyal fans who were ready, willing and able to support him, chooses to do with himself, artistically?

Bill (can I call you Bill? If not, please indicate as much in your response), I want be clear here: yes, I feel burned as a longtime fan of yours. But I can learn to live without any new C&H comics, or any new work at all if you've really decided to just call it quits on any sort of public artistic offering. Hell, I'm reading plenty of new, great comics online right now that certainly fill the void you left me all those years ago. What I simply cannot understand is how you, as an artist, have no desire to create anything new for the world to see.

I don't see the PAIN in your eyes. DO YOU???

I have to imagine that Calvin and Hobbes wasn't a tortuous endeavor for you - that you really did enjoy making a boy and his imaginary-but-not-really-imaginary tiger friend come to life in newspapers every week, and that the joy it brought to the people who read them somehow made you happy. Have you no desire to create something to put out to the world ever again?

Let me give you a little personal history, since I realize you may not be as aware of my whole life as much as the average reader of this blog is (though honestly, clearly you're not too busy right now, so do me the courtesy of at least reading a few entries). On top of writing this blog I also perform at a local improv theater here in NYC. And while the dream is to one day get discovered and get my own sitcom - where I get to play a slightly more hilarious version of myself, I have a super hot girlfriend, and there's also a randy, incredibly overweight female next door neighbor who is obviously just me in drag - a long time ago I realized I'd be happy to get up on that stage and just perform in front of an audience forever. Because I love getting up on that stage and making people laugh.

At the end of every improv show the host always thanks the audience for coming, and says that "without you none of this would be possible, nor would it make any sense." It's kind of silly and obvious, but it perfectly encapsulates my feelings about art in general. If you're not creating something for people to see and enjoy, you're not really an artist anymore, you're just a guy standing up on an empty stage in an empty theater being ridiculous. And I simply can not wrap my head around the fact that you've made this decision voluntarily. People dream of being in your position, to have the clout and the freedom you have, and by all accounts you've decided you'd rather paint trees.

Sure, you have people like George Lucas who know all too well how to trade every last ounce of artistic integrity for another dip in the obviously infinite well of content that belong to their franchises, but goddammit Bill, he's still doing something for his fans and for the world (for better or for worse), which is more than can be said for you.

Can I tell you a secret? It's something I've told very few people. About once a year, every year since you stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes, I have a dream that involves me going to a bookstore (somewhere I don't spend a time normally in my waking hours) and discovering a brand new Calvin and Hobbes book. Yes, a new book written by you, and this is during a time my mind could easily be fantasizing about anything else - sex, space adventures, heck, even new Far Side comics. Of course, being a dream, and coming from my brain the new comics aren't very good, and usually leave me more confused than anything else. The point is - there remained in me, for a very long time, a very deep personal WANT for something more from you.

I guess I'm just disappointed more than anything else. Apparently you've become something of a recluse in general, so who knows what's going on in your life right now. And look, far be it from me to say you OWE me or anyone else anything after what you've already contributed. But consider this one man's last glimmer of hope that someday you'll reach your full potential as an artist and inspire him again like you did once before.

Matthew Shafeek
(You can call me Matt, or just "Shafeek", lots of people do that too)

PS: Congratulations on being the recipient of my very first open letter!

PPS: Have you seen any of those kinda gross comics of Calvin all grown up? They're even worse than all the ones of Calvin peeing on things! Oh, and did you know someone made a pretty strong connection to C&H and Fight Club? Crazy!

No comments: