One of my favorite images of editorial cartooning comes from a quote by Bill Watterson, the creator of the much-beloved comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes.' Before he developed 'Calvin', Watterson worked as an editorial cartoonist for the Sun newspapers, a group of smaller Ohio papers. He later said one reason he stopped editorial cartooning and tried his hand at comic strips was that "an editorial cartoonist has to wake up every morning foaming at the mouth" and he felt he just couldn't sustain that.
I'm not sure an editorial cartoonist has to foam at the mouth (though some days, it does help), but the world is grateful that Watterson made the switch. Many folks still list 'Calvin and Hobbes' as their favorite all-time favorite strip, and it was a shock to many when Watterson abruptly retired from the comic pages 15 years ago.
Even while at the peak of his popularity, Watterson was notorious for protecting his privacy, and folks have heard even less from him since then. Now, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has published an e-mail interview with him, perhaps the first since that retirement. True to form, Watterson doesn't actually say much. The gist is pretty much, "Thanks, but I've moved on." That will probably keep the fascination going.
During the strip's lifetime, Watterson would occasionally talk about his vision of the comics pages. He expressed his irritation with newspapers shrinking comic strip space, artists who would license their characters to corporations, and newspaper syndicates who would keep running strips long after their creators had anything to say (or even had a heartbeat). His retirement was a logical extension of his strong beliefs about cartooning, and the Plain Dealer interview does reveal that he hasn't changed his mind in that regard. He says:
"It's always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip's popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now 'grieving' for 'Calvin and Hobbes' would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I'd be agreeing with them. I think some of the reason 'Calvin and Hobbes' still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it"
It was a salutatory gesture, but it will be a long time before newspapers find a "fresher, livelier talent."