Dear Mr. Watterson, a new documentary by Joel Schroeder, attempts to capture the enduring appeal of Calvin and Hobbes. For a comic that began in 1985 and ended a decade later at the peak of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes’ mixture of wry observation and mischievous childhood imagination continues to draw new fans and entertain the old, even 18 years later. Dear Mr. Watterson will probably not enjoy that kind of longevity—fans of Calvin and Hobbes won’t find anything new here, but it is a safe place to geek-out and reminisce.
What began as Schroeder’s personal passion project, funded (twice) by Kickstarter, Dear Mr. Watterson is the kind of fan-fueled endeavor that feels commonplace now, but couldn’t have existed during Calvin and Hobbes’ ten-year run. At just under 90 minutes, the film doesn’t delve too deeply into either the series or its creator, Bill Watterson, and it gets off to a bit of a wobbly start. Lacking direct access to Watterson, there are obviously limits to how much new information Schroeder could present, but initial “reveals” are reduced to a few awkward shots of Schroeder’s old childhood bedroom, corkboard walls stripped bare, which were once covered in Calvin and Hobbes strips cut from the paper. Thankfully, Dear Mr. Watterson soon finds more solid footing.
In addition to sharing his own fond memories of Calvin and Hobbes, Schroeder interviews everyday readers and fans, an assortment of Watterson’s contemporaries, and the next generation of artists and creators who were inspired by him. Nevin Martell, Berkeley Breathed, Stephan Pastis, Bill Amend, Seth Green, Hilary Price, Brian Anderson and others share personal anecdotes of when they first discovered Calvin and Hobbes, what the comic meant to them, and how it influenced their own work.
For most fans, Dear Mr. Watterson won’t contain many shocking revelations. Watterson’s reclusive nature (the Los Angeles Times once referred to him as “the J.D. Salinger of the cartoon world”) and refusal to license Calvin and Hobbes merchandise are well documented. But the film handles both subjects with respect—not spending too much time on the former, and offering a number of interesting viewpoints on the latter, including those of peers who did go down the licensing road (and perhaps lived to regret it).
Upbeat and earnest, Dear Mr. Watterson touches the sometimes sweet, sometimes sly tone of Calvin and Hobbes, but lacks the level of deeper discovery found in so many of the comics themselves. The title is fitting—Schroeder’s Dear Mr. Watterson is at heart a fan letter, light on substance, but loaded with personal meaning.
Dear Mr. Watterson will be simultaneously released in select theaters and available On Demand on November 15, 2013.
When Nancy Lambert doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, she’s busy writing, cutting down restless draugrs in Skyrim, or putzing around online. Calvin and Hobbes’ macabre snowmen were always her favorites.