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.

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Stan Lee: A Tribute

A 70 year writing career, an estimated net worth of over $50 million, 35 Marvel movie cameos, 121 total acting credits, 69 years of marriage to his wife Joan, and a #1 sense of humor are just some of the statistics that show how impressive Stan Lee was.  While remarkable, though, I knew about other achievements long before I ever discovered those numbers, and Lee’s comics and cameos are why his death has me looking up details about his life.

Stan Lee Civil War cameo

Stan Lee delivering some more of his characteristic humor in Captain America: Civil War

Although I have seen most of the Marvel movies from recent years, I cannot claim to be a truly dedicated Stan Lee fan, having (to my knowledge) only read one comic book he coauthored.  Nor can I rival the lengthy, well-researched bios that dot the Internet in the wake of his death, but I did want to give him a brief tribute.  And that is this: his cameos always made me smile, and the narrative voice I did encounter in the one comic I read had a tongue-in-cheek humor that was charming and timeless.

Entertaining audiences is a special gift, and Lee’s ability to do so makes me think of Donald O’Connor performing “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which claims that everyone wants to laugh and that a comedian who makes an audience laugh is greater than a critically-acclaimed Shakespeare.  Not to disparage Shakespeare, of course, but I do understand the sentiment and enjoy a good laugh like the next person.  In his work, Lee seems to understand that his audiences wanted to have fun and also to be inspired to become superheroes, whether in great or small ways or simply in their imaginations.  I expect Stan Lee will always hold a special place in the hearts of comic book enthusiasts and superhero-smitten audiences, just as he holds a place in every Marvel movie with his quirky personality and signature sunglasses.

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Resources

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0498278/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

http://time.com/money/5452625/stan-lee-net-worth-marvel-universe/

Abridged Classics

Abridged ClassicsIn concept, I like the idea of Abridged Classics, John Atkinson’s short, satirical summary of famous literature.  I am very fond of his web comic Wrong Hands, which I reviewed here, but Abridged Classics is missing many of the characteristics I enjoy on Wrong Hands.  What I like about Atkinson’s web comics are his puns, literary limericks, and creative ways of representing concepts from various disciplines, ranging from mathematics to philosophy.  These jokes are relatable and have a more light-hearted satirical style than Atkinson uses in Abridged Classics.

Because of the subject matter and approach Atkinson has chosen, his comic collection faces a lot of challenges.  Those who are fond of certain books may take offense at his offhand comments.  I have to admit, many of the jokes about books I love fall flat because I disagree with Atkinson’s perspective, and the few details he chooses to highlight marginalize the best aspects or the main point of the stories.  While this may be how satire is supposed to work, I did not find it all that enjoyable.  On the other hand, with the stories one hasn’t read or even heard of, the satire loses a lot of its effect because the jokes are only funny for those who have actually experienced the story or at least know the general plot.  I did laugh at a few of these (such as his summaries of Hemingway novels), but the majority left me confused and unamused.  One of the few situations in which Atkinson’s summaries are funny, at least for me, is when they make jokes about books I have read and disliked, which I am guessing is what other readers would find to be true as well.  After all, most of the jokes we laugh at are ones with which we agree, and because Atkinson’s humor often criticizes the texts, it will only be funny for audience members who don’t like the book or see the same flaws in it which Atkinson points out in his jokes.  I also think that these satirical comics might be more enjoyable in a less concentrated dose because the jokes become a bit tired after you’ve read 10 or 15 in a row.  Mixing in other types of comics might be a good solution to this, mimicking the variety Atkinson provides on his website.

If you are intrigued by the premise of this illustrated satire, you may want to give it a try and decide for yourself if Abridged Classics pulls off the task Atkinson set out to accomplish.  In the meantime, though, I think I will stick with his web comics and wait for him to write—and perhaps publish—additional word puns, literary limericks, and jokes about literature, math, philosophy, and more.

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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.

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

Korean War Comics

BeachheadThis past spring, I took an American history class in which my professor focused on war and popular culture in America.  Instead of using traditional history textbooks, my professor had our class study the different wars in which America has been involved through popular media, and so my class read short stories and novels, played a video game, watched movies, and even read comics about war.  The comics we read were interesting and enjoyable, so I thought I would share a link to them.  The comics are about the Korean War and are available for free on the website History on the Net through this link.  As you read, I invite you to think about some of the questions my history professor told us to keep in mind.  When were the comics written, and what is their historical context?  Who was the original audience?  How do the comics reflect Americans’ views on war?  How might the comics have shaped Americans’ attitudes toward war?  Do the comics present the war and American soldiers in a positive or negative way?  Why?

Happy reading!

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The Peanuts Movie

KiteFrom classic kite scenes to new and creative elements, The Peanuts Movie is a fun film.  The animated children’s movie is well-rounded in character development, story, and humor, for the scriptwriters skillfully craft familiar elements of the Peanuts comic strip into an over-arching storyline that unites the fragmentary comics into a seamless whole.

Football, snow days, Red Baron duels, the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Snoopy’s typewriter all make appearances in the film.  Yet, while The Peanuts Movie alludes to the previous short films with Christmas carolers and pumpkin references, there are many new elements.  For example, there are moments when some little event spirals into a distinctive part of the comics, and when viewers think to themselves, “So that’s how the Red Baron storyline started.”  (Note: As I am not an expert on Peanuts, I don’t actually know how each storyline began, but The Peanuts Movie presents plausible scenarios.)

The Peanuts Movie is more than nostalgia and references to the past, however, for it has its own unique elements.  Charlie Brown becomes a developed and sympathetic character.  In spite of failures, he keeps going, and without realizing it, he’s always achieving and succeeding at what matters most.  While the roles and characters of Lucy and Linus are more downplayed than in past stories, Snoopy and the Little Red-Haired Girl join Charlie on center stage.  Snoopy and typewriterMy impression of Snoopy has always been negative; he seems to be 95% mean and annoying, at least in his roles in the two Christmas short films and in many Peanuts comics I have read.  Although vestiges of these characteristics remain, Snoopy turns out to be a good friend to Charlie Brown and a very imaginative daydreamer.  Finally, the Little Red-Haired Girl has an interesting character.  She has no name, and the audience knows almost nothing about her, yet the scriptwriters gradually reveal that she is sweet and nice—if only Charlie Brown could summon the courage to introduce himself!  But such things are easier written than accomplished, as the movie demonstrates.

In addition to a fun storyline and excellent character development, The Peanuts Movie also has good messages.  Charlie Brown discovers popularity isn’t as important as it seems and doesn’t change who a person is underneath.  As Charlie Brown struggles with what he calls “a serious case of inadequacy,” I appreciate his honesty with himself (“Quotes”).  Too often people promote “self-esteem” and self-confidence over humility, and the movie reminds us that we aren’t always going to be successful or feel “adequate.”  Everyone has Charlie Brown moments, but few people can swallow their pride and face their problems as he does.

Lucy and Charlie“If you really want to impress people, you need to show them you’re a winner,” Lucy advises Charlie at one point in the film (“Quotes”).  In an unexpected twist, Lucy is right, though not in the way she intended.  While Charlie Brown never really loses his chronic inadequacy and tendency to failure, he does show people that he’s a winner: someone who doesn’t give up and who is humble, honest, sympathetic, and kind even when it means sacrifice on his part.  In the end, Charlie Brown does impress people, but not with the kind of success he, or Lucy, would have imagined.

Works Cited

The Peanuts Movie (2015) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  14 Jun. 2016 <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452042/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu&gt;.

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PHD Humor

Created by a PHD student, PHD Humor gives a humorous look into the academic life. Discussing writing papers, Murphy’s law, eating Ramen, and many other topics that most college students on upward will find amusing, Jorge Cham weaves humor into the daily events taking place on a university campus. Great for a quick humorous jolt for your day.

Cheers!

Flint