Childhood & Early Life
Bill Watterson was born on 5 July 1958 in Washington D.C, USA to G. Watterson and Kathryn. His father was an attorney. Bill Watterson has a brother named Thomas. In 1965, he along with his family moved to Ohio.
During his childhood, he spent most of his time drawing, which he had begun at 8. Throughout school he engaged in artistic activities, and was encouraged by his parents to nurture his interests.
He was deeply influenced by cartoonists Charles Schulz, George Herriman, and Walt Kelly. While at high school, he had drawn cartoons for the school yearbook and newspaper.
Bill Watterson enrolled into the Kenyon College in Gambier in 1976. While in college, he drew political cartoons for the college newspaper named ‘The Kenyon Collegian’. In 1980, he graduated with a degree in political science. However, he had aimed to pursue a career as a cartoonist and studied political science in order to prepare himself for editorial cartooning.
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Upon graduation, Bill Watterson was immediately hired by newspaper Cincinnati Post on a trial basis as an editorial cartoonist. However, the unfamiliarity of the political situation in Cincinnati made him as well as the newspaper feel that he was a misfit for the job, and he was let go before his contract ended.
Bill Watterson then joined a small- scale advertising agency where he had to design advertisements for groceries and design ads. Simultaneously he began allocating time for his own projects of creating cartoons and sending them to syndicates that could be published in newspapers.
As part of the freelance art work that he did during that time, he had drawn for commodities, clothes, calendars, magazines, books, post cards and posters.
He got his big break when United Features Syndicate signed a deal with him for a development contract based on the comic strip idea titled ‘In the Doghouse’ that he had submitted. However, they were doubtful about being able to sell the comic strip to newspapers.
At this point Universal Press Syndicate bought the strip in 1985 and began publishing the comic strip titled ‘Calvin and Hobbes’. The cartoon was a huge success and people were drawn to Calvin’s wide imagination along with the observations of Hobbes, narrated in a thoughtful manner.
He tried to incorporate many of his thoughts, ideas and experiences from his personal life into his comic strip. A few examples are his father’s talks on character building, his hobby i.e. cycling, his idea regarding enterprise and marketing etc.
The title character of the comic strip ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ were inspired from the names of theologian John Calvin and philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Following the success of this comic strip, the Universal Press Syndicate was eager to create and sell merchandise with the theme of ‘Calvin and Hobbes’. However, Bill Watterson strongly rejected this idea.
Bill Watterson had to face a lot of pressure from the syndicate regarding the merchandising of his work. However, he believed it would bring down the value of his comic and eventually won the fight against merchandising after a long time. The long struggle emotionally drained him and he took a sabbatical for nine months in 1991.
Post his sabbatical, Bill Watterson declared that his comic strip would require half a page space on the Sunday issue of papers so that he could include more content without worrying about space issues. This was not taken well by many contemporaries and newspapers and eventually they were given two options to choose. He took a second sabbatical from work in 1994.
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After ten years of successfully running the comic strip, Bill Watterson announced in 1995 that he would be ending the same, as he had created everything that could have been done, with the comic strip. The final piece was published on 31 December 1995.
After the end of the comic strip, Bill Watterson has led a very private life and has declined interviews and media interference. He is known to have taken interest in painting.
In December 1999, he wrote a short note on the event of the forthcoming end of the iconic comic strip ‘Peanuts’.
In 2005, he answered reader’s questions and two years later wrote a review for the biography of cartoonist Charles Schulz titled ‘Schulz and Peanuts’.
He has given only two interviews since his comic strip ended, the first in 2010 for newspaper ‘The Plain Dealer’ and the second in October 2013 for magazine ‘Mental Floss’. In his interviews he stated that he was satisfied with his decision to end the comic strip.
Awards & Achievements
Bill Watterson did not enlist himself in the National cartoonists Society but he received multiple prestigious awards from the NCS including several other accolades.
In 1986. Bill Watterson received the Reuben Award for ‘Cartoonist of the Year’ by the NCS. He once again received the same award in 1988.
The National Cartoonists Society awarded him the ‘Newspaper Comic Strips Award’ in 1988.
In 1989, he received the Harvey Award in the ‘Special Award for Humor’ category for his work ‘Calvin and Hobbes’.
He received the Harvey Award for ‘Best Syndicated Comic Strip’ for seven consecutive years, i.e. 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996.
In 1990, he received the Max & Moritz Prize for the Best Comic Strip, for Calvin & Hobbes.
In 1992, he received the Prize for Best Foreign Comic Book at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.
In 2014, Bill Watterson was awarded the Grand Prix Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.