Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Excuse to Write About Calvin & Hobbes

This is a mighty fine find, a collection of Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson's college newspaper cartoons.

It's fun, if a little circular, to find the seeds of that quintessential comic. The quasi-recurring Mr. Groobman character above, for instance, is an obvious Calvin prototype. The clip below is also kin with many a C&H strip:

One of the features of Watterson's art style that I, obliviously, never really picked up on before is his ink technique. He uses shadow not just to add depth, but to determine the shape of objects and figures, which is still fairly novel for newspaper funnies. Instead of a straight outlining of the different shapes, and then using shadows to fill the detail, the shadows are the shapes. The bike, the dark clothing and hair; the way the solid black guides the eye was, even in those early days, a treat.

Watterson later used these techniques to great effect. The C&H Tracer Bullet strips in particular are like a burlesque of Frank Miller's Sin City, before Sin City even existed:

The play of light and shadow even served as the basis of one of Watterson's most clever Sunday strips.

Watterson is famously reclusive, and so I wonder a little what he makes of the devoted fans who have tried to catalogue his artistic obscurities. I actually imagine he doesn't mind all that much; he did after all end Calvin & Hobbes at the height of his powers in order to keep its reputation untarnished. And I'm sure he much prefers his work being collected than anatomized by way of Lacan.

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