There’s something about the mystery of some of our reclusive pop culture titans that we simply can’t leave alone. Even though J.D. Salinger made it clear throughout his life that he wanted to be left alone, he ultimately wasn’t in death with the recent (albeit excellent) documentary “Salinger.” And with a possible biopic in the work, we’ll probably end up learning more about what made Salinger tick than he ever wanted known.
Well, if Salinger is perhaps the most fascinating reclusive writer in history, you can say the same about the creator of “Calvin & Hobbes”, Bill Watterson. The comic strip world has never seen a creator of an iconic strip completely remove himself from the world after quitting his work while he was still ahead. Like Salinger, Watterson almost seems like he exists in the shadows now or as if he’s no longer among the living. And yet Watterson is still very much alive and presumably enjoying life away from doing a daily comic strip or being interviewed about it.
It’s been 18 years since he gave up drawing “Calvin & Hobbes” for daily consumption in newspapers worldwide. With that, his legend only grew and led to a new documentary about to finally get a wide release called “Dear Mr. Watterson.” Directed by Joel Allen Schroeder, it took a Kickstarter campaign to get this documentary off the ground. It also has a basic philosophy behind it: Explore the influence “Calvin & Hobbes” has had on the 1980s and 1990s generation who read it faithfully every day.
While the intention behind the film wasn’t to chase Bill Watterson down, it’s likely going to stoke more interest in the man about where he is now and what he’s doing with his time. Unfortunately, when you hold that much influence, you simply can’t be reclusive forever without someone tracking you down for either an interview or to satiate their personal curiosity.
What makes being reclusive so risky is that some people can’t resist tracking down these people at all costs in the hopes they can get something impressive on film. A recent example to that with a more favorable outcome was the documentary “Paul Williams Still Alive.” A fan by the name of Stephen Kessler managed to track down the legendary songwriter Williams to see what happened to him after being out of the limelight for so long. After some resistance, Williams warmed to the idea of having a documentary done on what he was doing and helped to get him back into the spotlight.
Anything similar done with Watterson would likely be a nightmare and ultimately backfire. That probably isn’t going to stop someone, particularly with the Salinger approach setting a precedent. It’s probably not enough that they’d have to wait until after Watterson passes away to force him to say something on camera or invade his privacy with telephoto pictures.
Is this the way our reclusive icons will eventually be put on film record? If there’s any good news here it’s that Watterson is a more distinctly ordinary looking man (if you’ve ever seen his real picture) and could probably disguise himself easily. Salinger had more of a distinctive appearance that could stand out when he was out in a crowd.
We can still hope Watterson will voluntarily do an on-camera interview someday to give the definitive analysis of his work. Most likely, though, he wants to slowly fade into the background while his work speaks for him.
In life, let’s at least hope he has a nice, tall fence with curtains on his windows.