Dear Mr. Watterson

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us,” Bill Watterson once quipped.  How appropriate that quote seems, coming from the creator of Calvin and his alter ego Spaceman Spiff.  After years of enjoying random Calvin and Hobbes collections that my brothers owned, I was surprised and delighted to learn how much more there is to both the comics and their creator.

Dear Mr. Watterson portraitI encountered Dear Mr. Watterson while scrolling through movie suggestions online.  Intrigued to see that this was a documentary, I read the film’s description and decided to give it a chance  Now those of you who are true Watterson fans probably know that he is a recluse and values his privacy.  So you may be wondering how this documentary handles Watterson’s personal story and whether it invades his life in any way.  I know when I saw the documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson on my computer screen, my first thought was that it would be about Bill Watterson and might cross a line by prying into his personal life.  Despite initial misgivings on this point, though, I decided to find out what it was really about.  I’m glad that I did because the film is not what I had expected and is surprisingly good.  Rather than divulging Watterson’s “secrets” in some sort of scandalous fashion, the film tactfully avoids Watterson’s life for the most part and focuses more on his work, his influences, his legacy, and why Calvin and Hobbes is so popular worldwide.

Dear Mr. Watterson is charming and fun.  The music is cheerful and accompanies the comic exploration perfectly.  Most of the documentary consists of interviews, and I enjoyed hearing other comic artists share their thoughts on Watterson and his work.  Putting faces and voices with the names of all these famous comic artists was especially neat.  I never thought I would listen to an interview with Bill Amend or other artists whose work I have perused in the Sunday funnies.  Watterson has left an impressive legacy behind him, having inspired and influenced many modern comic artists in their work.  Additional interviewees include cartoon museum curators, syndicate administrators, and other people involved or interested in the comic world.

Calvin and Hobbes first strip

Calvin and Hobbes debut in their first comic strip.

In addition to appreciating the new perspectives the film provides on Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, I especially enjoyed the beautiful colors and the animated renditions of Watterson’s watercolors, which would begin as sketches and then fill with pools of color in a very artistic fashion.  One of the challenges in documentaries is supplementing interviews with footage that shows the story instead of telling it, and I think the animations of Watterson’s art are a tasteful solution that keeps the documentary visually interesting.  Often, these colorful displays of Calvin and Hobbes art accompany Watterson’s witty quotes, which gave me new insight into his personality and perspectives and often left me with a smile or a laugh.

That ability to bring joy to his audience is key to Watterson’s success, I think.  Through Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson found a way to touch people in a surprising way as they shared in the characters’ emotions, humor, and adventuresome spirit.  Calvin and his tiger friend remind their audience of many things, from the preciousness of friendship to the fun of imagination, and I think that touchstone with readers is what has made these characters so timeless.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Comics for Any Time of Year

Assorted FoxTrotAs a new year approaches in just a few hours, I wanted to share a collection of comics that is perfect for any season, from summer to winter and Christmas to Halloween.  Assorted FoxTrot by author and artist Bill Amend features the five-member Fox family.  While the scenario of three siblings, two often exasperated parents, and the travails of school, pranks, and modern life may sound like a rehash of so many family comic setups, FoxTrot brings a fun new perspective to this comic genre.  From cover to cover*, Assorted FoxTrot disperses fresh humor and is a perfect sampling of Amend’s comic strip.  To read the latest, check out the comic at its website, and be on the lookout for a more comprehensive review of the comic in the coming year.

*Literally.  At least in the edition I read, the front and back covers were designed like the packaging on a cereal box, with the characters as ingredients and details like serving size listed on the nutrition label.  Once I noticed the cover design, I thought it was rather clever.

Happy New Year!

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Family Insights from “Baby Blues: Gross!”

From prankster brothers and tattling sisters to hijacked fortune cookies and dad jokes, Baby Blues: Gross! by Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman brings together the best of the MacPherson family once again.  As it highlights the fun and foibles of family members, this comic collection reminds me why I enjoy Baby Blues so much.  Perhaps the most hilarious moments come not from the kids, as you might expect, but from the parents.  In particular, I think these comics reveal a lot of Darryl’s personality and sense of humor.

Join me on a brief exploration of the comics to understand family dynamics a little better through Baby Blues‘ well of insight.  (Also, for those who are interested in the writer and illustrator’s perspectives, commentary from Scott and Kirkman accompanies most of the comics.)

1. Have you ever wondered why fathers acquire such high-power yard tools?Leaf Blower Manliness

2. Kids’ question of the century and a bit of male psychology.

Brushing Teeth

3. If only pointed word puns could win little girls ponies…but kudos for creativity.

Zoe and ponies

4. Sometimes your own arguments come back to haunt you.Wanda Loses

For more fun, find a copy of Baby Blues: Gross! and keep on reading for yourself.  Additionally, if you are looking for another good collection of Baby Blues, try No Yelling!, which I reviewed here.  I think there is some overlap between the two volumes, but there are plenty of unique comics in each to make them both worthwhile.

Happy reading!

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Only Love Can Break a Heart, But…

Considering Cathy Guisewite’s obsession with hearts and love, I thought a collection of Cathy comics would make an appropriate Valentine’s Day book review.  Only Love Can Break a Heart, But a Shoe Sale Can Come Close is a collection of Cathy comics from the 1990s.  Love, food, friends, work, and clothes all take center stage in Cathy’s humdrum but humorous life.

Cathy's dilemmaCathy’s best friend Andrea from the earlier comics has moved on and only shows up briefly at the end of the book.  In Andrea’s place is Cathy’s coworker and friend Charlene, with whom Cathy shares relationship and shopping woes and advice.  Irving is still at the center of Cathy’s slow-moving love life, and Cathy jealously competes with golf and Irving’s ex-girlfriend Julia for Irving’s attention.

Cathy and golf.JPGTo the annoyance of all the single women where Cathy and Charlene work, Charlene flaunts her happy relationship with her boyfriend Simon.  However, the envious coworkers enjoy their moments of triumph when Charlene’s happy expectations are occasionally disappointed.  Author Cathy Guisewite reveals in her Cathy comics the funny side of a modern woman’s world of shopping, relationships, and work.

Cathy's work.JPGThis collection of Cathy comics continues to display Guisewite’s witty humor.  Additionally, the artwork in Only Love Can Break a Heart, while still in Guisewite’s quirky and childlike style, shows how Guisewite improved as an artist in the two decades since she first began her comics.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Note: If you want to read more about the Cathy comics, click here to view my other article on Cathy.

Cathy: The Comic for Women

cathy-collageMost comics are targeted toward boys.  Some are written for children.  Others are intended for teenagers and adults.  The only comic I have ever found for women, though, is
Cathy
by Cathy Guisewite.

Cathy is a single, working woman plagued by fashion crises, food cravings, trendy diets, and shopping addiction.  These are not the only plagues of Cathy’s life, though.  At times her circle of family and friends are even more bothersome.  Her parents are kind and sympathetic, but Cathy’s mother has a tendency to worry and stick her nose into Cathy’s love life—and life in general.  cathyCathy’s perpetual boyfriend Irving is an inert character who unwittingly spurs Cathy on in her quest for beauty and a slender figure, for Cathy is always trying to win Irving’s attention away from sports on television.  In the early comics, Cathy has a best friend named Andrea.  Andrea is an outspoken supporter of women’s rights and is fond of criticizing the other sex and encouraging Cathy to stand up for herself and attend feminist conventions.  In later comics, Cathy becomes friend with a coworker named Charlene.  They share many experiences together, from shopping trips to love life experiences, such as video dating.cathy-and-video-datingThe last and littlest character is Cathy’s spoiled dog Electra, to whom Cathy often talks, and who sometimes talks back.  Electra often has attitude problems as a result of her pampering, especially after Cathy’s parents take care of her and spoil her even more than Cathy does.

I have read two collections of Cathy comics.  The first was The Cathy Chronicles, a collection of the early Cathy comics that Cathy Guisewite published in the 1970s.  More recently, I read a 1992 collection called Only Love Can Break a Heart, But a Shoe Sale Can Come Close.  The art in both books is idiosyncratic.  Guisewite’s style has an amateur air to it which continues even as she standardizes her way of caricaturing the world and characters of Cathy.  I doubt the comic could have survived on its artwork alone, but the clever dialogue and the quirky pictures create a winning combination.

Author Cathy Guisewite ingeniously uses everyday life to provide her audience with relatable humor that connects well to shared experiences.  The portrayal of women is particularly perceptive.  While I doubt any woman would match all the characteristics Guisewite presents (and I certainly hope no one does), I can spot many similarities to myself and people I know when I read the Cathy comics.  More than the characters, artwork, and storylines, I think this aspect is what makes Cathy amusing and fun to read.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Note: I have not read any recent Cathy comic strips, so I don’t know whether the comic has continued to be as good as it was in the ’70s and ’90s.  However, if you’re interested in reading more recent installments, here’s a link to a website that has individual Cathy comic strips.

Two Fun Family Comics

I recently discovered something about two of my favorite newspaper comics:  they are both written by Jerry Scott.  Although I have been reading Zits and Baby Blues for many years, I never paid much attention to the author’s name and somehow missed the connection.  My discovery that the comics shared their author piqued my curiosity, so I decided to round out my knowledge of both comics a little more and review a collection of each.

Random Zits

Exaggeration plays a big role in Zits, a newspaper comic strip about a teenager named Jeremy Duncan, his crazy friends Pierce and Hector, girlfriend Sara, and frustrated parents Connie and Walt.  From Jeremy’s trademark oversized shoes to some of the craziest contortions comics have ever seen, artist Jim Borgman uses visual exaggeration liberally.  zits-cavemanThese over-the-top illustrations fit well with the only slightly less far-fetched storylines in which Jeremy struggles with his old van, hangs out with his friends, torments his parents, eats inordinate amounts of food, and sleeps all the time.  As one common saying goes, “There’s a grain of truth in every joke,” and this seems quite true in Jerry Scott’s comic strip Zits.

Unlike some comics, Zits is almost entirely episodic, and its few linear stories last for only a few installments.  Perhaps this is why I like reading Zits.  It provides instant laughs, with little or no need to check what happened the day before—although I usually do go back to previous comics because I want more laughs.

Random Zits is a humorous collection of Zits comics that makes for some light entertainment.  This book is especially good when one doesn’t have long stretches of time to read.

No Yelling!

As much as I enjoy the comic strip Zits, I prefer Baby Blues because it is less sarcastic, has a more family-centered story, and is more relatable.  The characters are both funny and endearing, and like Peanuts, Baby Blues occasionally has sweet episodes where characters display kindness instead of constantly pulling pranks, speaking unkindly, or complaining.

baby-blues-hugDarryl, Wanda, Zoe, Hammie, and Wren MacPherson may appear to be the stereotypical family at first glance.  After all, Darryl is the working father who doesn’t always understand his wife or children.  Wanda is the overworked mother who struggles to keep her children out of trouble.  Zoe is the fashion-conscious little girl who tattletales on her brother.  Hammie is the younger brother who constantly picks on his sister and gives her reasons to tattletale.  Wren is the baby who fascinates her family and follows Zoe’s (and sometimes Hammie’s) lead, whether she should or not.  These characters may sound predictable.  Look again, though, and one will discover that beneath the expected character traits are unique personalities and moments when the characters almost seem real.

No Yelling! is a collection of Baby Blues comics.  An interesting aspect of this collection is that it contains commentary by the writer Jerry Scott and artist Rick Kirkman.  Other aspects of this collection that I enjoyed were the colorful, creative title panels that the newspapers I read omit.

no-yellingAs I learned from the authors’ comments in No Yelling!, Scott and Kirkman draw a lot of their ideas from their own families and everyday life.  For example, Kirkman bases the appearances of random characters in the comics on strangers he has met in real life.  The discovery that Baby Blues draws on real anecdotes and encounters makes a lot of sense and explains why the comic is so good.  Personal experience is one of the best foundations for stories, and the strength personal experience gives to comics in particular is that the audience is more likely to understand the humor of a comic strip when they can relate to what is happening.

In Conclusion

Jerry Scott has created two distinctive comic strips that ring true to his audiences and leave them laughing.  Zits and Baby Blues may share the same author and the same focus on family relationships; nevertheless, they are independently excellent comics that each contain their own unique characters, wit, and artistic and narrative style.  For those seeking a fun comic strip, the yelling, randomness, relationships, ironic humor, and endearing characters of the MacPherson and Duncan families will not disappoint.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Three Newspaper Comics and Avengers: Age of Ultron

Flint has been busy penning articles about comic books and movies at our other writing blog this year.  Here are two reviews he has written, one of something old and one of something new.

Prince Valiant

Prince Valiant

3 Titles from the Golden Age” – Flint discusses Terry and the PiratesSecret Agent X-9, and Prince Valiant, three newspaper comic series which began in the 1930s and later became standalone comic books.  Several years ago, Flint and Bone briefly reviewed Prince Valiant in their “Ten Great Newspaper Comics” article.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – Flint analyzes the story and entertainment value of the Avengers film which came out in May of this year.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-