"G.G.: I simply feel that the artist should be granted, both for his sake and for that of his public – and let me get on record right now the fact that I'm not at all happy with words like "public" and "artist"; I'm not happy with the hierarchical implications of that kind of terminology – that he should be granted anonymity. He should be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with – or, better still, unaware of – the presumed demands of the marketplace – which demands, given sufficient indifference on the part of a sufficient number of artists, will simply disappear. And given their disappearance, the artist will then abandon his false sense of "public" responsibility, and his "public" will relinquish its role of servile dependency.
g.g.: And never the twain shall meet, I daresay!
G.G.: No, they'll make contact, but on an altogether more meaningful level than that which relates any stage to its apron."
Reminds my of my favorite saying of Thoreau: "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone."
And Watterson was right in that precise sense. Had he sold out, there would have been no end to the things he didn't want to, but would have had to do.
Someone please put this in the fortune file for all eternity. It describes my life as a scholar, and the life of every professor I've ever known.
So, by day, it looked normal. However, by blacklight, you could see it in all its glory. I still don't know how she got the shading right.
I used to wonder why he never moved to doing comic "books" where he had more room to breathe. I've since come to believe that creative work benefits from some kind of constraint - a boundary to push against.
He ended up winning that battle. But to hear him tell the tale (IIRC in the 10th anniversary collection), while it opened up creative possibilities, the toll it took on his psyche probably helped ensure the relative brevity of his career.
But even if I had of heard it, I probably would've shrugged it off and made the same mistakes that I made anyway :-)
In the foreword to the Complete Calvin & Hobbes, Watterson noted his excitement at receiving the first copy, a box containing his life's work nicely arranged and packaged. Then horror hit him: that was it, his life's work, in just one small box.
Don't be that guy....
(I'm actually expecting a disappearance of _why-like proportions from Randall Munroe in the not-to-distant future as well.)
So there's very much less reason for Munroe to get frustrated with the process and stop. Watterson got tired of the bullshit and decided he'd had enough. If Munroe gets bored of doing the strip I suspect he'll just move on to some other project, which will be equally public (like what-if).
I haven't checked it in a few years since it was getting so bad, so based on this I went and looked through the most recent dozen or so comics. Can you point to some of these home runs? Because all I saw was the same inane observations without adding any insight or thought or a joke or anything. I'm honestly not just trying to be contrarian, I just can't see how his recent work is in any way different from the last 3 years.
He's talking about Externalities and Time here. Not sure if these are the same ones he calls home runs.
Drawing comic strips for five years without pay drove home the point that the fun of cartooning wasn't in the money; it was in the work. This turned out to be an important realization when my break finally came.
Like many people, I found that what I was chasing wasn't what I caught. I've wanted to be a cartoonist since I was old enough to read cartoons, and I never really thought about cartoons as being a business. It never occurred to me that a comic strip I created would be at the mercy of a bloodsucking corporate parasite called a syndicate, and that I'd be faced with countless ethical decisions masquerading as simple business decisions.
To make a business decision, you don't need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.
As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I though about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons.
Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you're really buying into someone else's system of values, rules and rewards.
The so-called "opportunity" I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I'd need.
What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.
On those terms, I found the offer easy to refuse. Unfortunately, the syndicate also found my refusal easy to refuse, and we've been fighting for over three years now. Such is American business, I guess, where the desire for obscene profit mutes any discussion of conscience.
It's strange to hear an argument for not selling out in an age where plenty of artists, even some of the most talented ones, have shrugged and accepted that being a sell-out is the quickest way to go about making money for doing what you love. I wonder if Watterson was simply old-fashioned, or if he noticed something that nowadays we're less capable of noticing.
I think it's the latter. What we are often missing is time. Having time in general as well as taking time. The older I get, the more I inch towards what Watterson was talking about. A while ago, I decided that I should extrapolate from this inching towards the ideals he expressed and simply act as though I had arrived there.
It has definitely made me happier, but he is right, too, that it is harder (at least harder than just shrugging and taking the money). You certainly make less money, although it's often simply a case of money arriving more slowly, building up, sustaining you - instead of making it big quick and then seeing things taper off, always trying to hold on to that big success.
In the end all the things mean so infinitely more. I enjoy living a life where the main focus is meaning.
Although articles about him are very tough to find, I read one interview where supposedly he does paintings and when they are done, he burns them.
I guess my comment would better be rephrased as "It's a shame that by working in a system that is solely focused on profit, it caused him much more stress and discomfort than he was prepared to take on and, as a result, felt the only sensible path for him was to disappear."
IIRC when asked about how he felt about C&H he said "That was the work of a younger man."
I suspect his take on using the self publish route would be.. interesting.
where he said "I've never regretted stopping when I did."
However, I seem to remember from his 10th anniversary book, that the main reason for stopping was all the conflict and grief from dealing with the syndicate, not the content of the work. He had even taken a sabbatical at one point near the end of the strip because the stress had been too much.
I guess I just like thinking about alternate realities. Even in a world where he self-published and had full control, it's still possible he may have discontinued the comic after 10 years. Maybe the time was just right no matter what.
However, because nobody pays for webcomics, by necessity the artists can't have Watterson's high minded attitude about merchandising. A web cartoonist that doesn't merchandise is one who doesn't eat. But on the other hand, the merch is entirely theirs to design - they have first and last say over what is sold with their brand on it.
What other artists work with such passion, independence, and integrity?
I'm sure there are others, but they come to mind.