Calvin and Hobbes Creator: Comics Are Relevant, Audiences Are Atomizing

Calvin and Hobbes Creator: Comics Are Relevant, Audiences Are Atomizing

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Bill Watterson knows the world is changing, and finds it a little unsettling, but time moves on.

It's a rare month for Calvin and Hobbes fans; first comes news of a documentary, and now Bill Watterson - notoriously publicity-shy - speaks up at Mental Floss. But this doesn't mean Calvin's coming back, before you get your hopes up; Watterson's moved on. "Repetition is the death of magic," says he, and that means no movies either. The strip works as intended, and Watterson sees no benefit in adapting it to another medium.

But what about the future of comics? Here's a man who made pen and ink come alive; what does he think about the digital medium? Watterson's sanguine, but not for the reasons you might think. Comics have never been more respected, as a medium, but the mass media is disintegrating, and that means audience fragmentation. "I'm old enough to find all this unsettling," says he, "but the world moves on."

He knows that technology can achieve great things; form follows function, and you can do almost anything with words and pictures. The issue, he feels, is less with the medium than with the people who read them. Comics remain relevant but, so long as each strip talks only to a smaller and smaller segment of the audience, the end result won't have the same impact as before. "They definitely won't be the same as what I grew up with," says Watterson.

Though Watterson's spent a lot of time painting since the end of Calvin and Hobbes, don't expect to see a Watterson exhibit any time soon. "Calvin and Hobbes created a level of attention and expectation that I don't know how to process," says Watterson. But if you have a bootleg Calvin sticker on your car, you needn't worry that Watterson disapproves. Long after the strip's forgotten, those decals might be his ticket to immortality, he thinks; but, to my mind, you'd be waiting a very long time for Calvin and Hobbes to fade from cultural memory.

Source: Mental Floss

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Did he imply that the digital medium (digital comics) actually diminishes the amount of people reading comics (digital or not)? I don't have numbers, and I know better than to use only myself as a comparison, but since Comixology came around I've been reading copious amounts of comics, trying stuff I would never buy otherwise even, the same goes to my closer friends, one of which didn't read comics at all.

I believe that comic books are actually well on the right way of digitalization, more and more I see comics making use of the fact that the reader is most likely connected to the internet or something. I'd love to read Calvin & Hobbes in digital form, imagine being able to expand those wonderful and rich panels, maybe have some digital links to sketches, interviews, input on the subject of a given strip... :) Though I'll give you that Calvin & Hobbes stands as one of the very few comics/books that I'd also like to own in an ultra-deluxe physical edition, just for the sake of it lol

I had the Calvin and Hobbes 10th anniversary book, and I remember Bill Watterson going pretty in depth about his strip and his feelings on the comic industry as a whole. I definitely respect this man.

I'm not really sure about the whole digital comic and audience fragmentation thing, because frankly I don't really read comics much anymore. (Unless stuff like Cyanide and Happiness counts) but it's good to see he's still around.

Milanezi:
Did he imply that the digital medium (digital comics) actually diminishes the amount of people reading comics (digital or not)? I don't have numbers, and I know better than to use only myself as a comparison, but since Comixology came around I've been reading copious amounts of comics, trying stuff I would never buy otherwise even, the same goes to my closer friends, one of which didn't read comics at all.

BW: "I don't think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now."

This doesn't seem to be contradicting you at all. If aything, he is saying that the audiences are atomizing due to more and more people reading comic strips online, and them being able to pick their own lineup leads to more niche titles instead of a few specificc strips being read by the whole audience.

I don't think comics are speaking to smaller segments of the population. Sounds more like politics and cable television.

Entitled:

Milanezi:
Did he imply that the digital medium (digital comics) actually diminishes the amount of people reading comics (digital or not)? I don't have numbers, and I know better than to use only myself as a comparison, but since Comixology came around I've been reading copious amounts of comics, trying stuff I would never buy otherwise even, the same goes to my closer friends, one of which didn't read comics at all.

BW: "I don't think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now."

This doesn't seem to be contradicting you at all. If aything, he is saying that the audiences are atomizing due to more and more people reading comic strips online, and them being able to pick their own lineup leads to more niche titles instead of a few specificc strips being read by the whole audience.

Hmmm,indeed, I misread. Still I want Calvin & Hobbes digitalized, I also want Akira! And I want dark Horse to quit their awful app and join comixology lol

while I respect him, it seems like he has missed out on the larger trends of the past years

it seems like the more popular webcomics have been hitting really big audiences, and while it's not as traditional as it used to be, when we're the middle aged population, that's what we'll have as opposed to the printed stuff

DVS BSTrD:
I don't think comics are speaking to smaller segments of the population. Sounds more like politics and cable television.

Look at it this way: Penny Arcade reaches a huge audience, but it takes its audience share from (broadly) one demographic: young, tech-savvy, middle class people, and it probably has its greatest appeal to readers within the US. Peanuts also reached a huge audience in its day - still does - but it spoke to everyone, young or old, of every social class, pretty much all over the globe. You didn't need to be 'into' whatever the comic was about to get the comic. I think that's what Watterson's getting at, when he talks about the fragmentation of the readership. You won't get a Peanuts in the digital world, because a Peanuts can't afford the time it would take to build an audience that would allow it to be a cultural phenomenon. A digital comic needs to appeal to its niche to stay alive; but staying in a niche limits the audience you can reach.

It is interesting that like 3 posts have already misunderstood his meaning. He is saying that the overall population of comic readers are increasing, they aren't centralized around a few distributors or a few popular titles.

I have all the books. I intend to pass them to my children's children's children.

Comics like Calvin and Hobbes, or Garfield, or The Far Side were exposed to a huge swath of the population through newspaper syndication. When I was growing up in the 80s, that's how I first experienced comics. Those big comic strips were syndicated in almost all the big newspapers, and the media choices were far fewer, so you ended up with a huge percent of the population having exposure to them.

Now there are zillions of choices for how to consume media, and zillions of comics available to be discovered. I think that's generally a good thing, but there aren't as many comics that "everyone" is familiar with.

Gotta respect Watterson's space wizard level of artistic integrity.

As he said, it's just the way things tend to evolve. As comics become more main stream and the audience grows said audience will inevitably fragment, people like to put themselves into groups, groups within groups, groups within groups within groups.

I don't really see this as a bad thing as long as these groups don't put up any walls... which is also something people tend to do... I can see why he's worried but it's kind of unavoidable.

Nicolaus99:
Gotta respect Watterson's space wizard level of artistic integrity.

This is good to see, I havn't really read his stuff but given how iconic his work is he could make fat bank.

Nicolaus99:
Gotta respect Watterson's space wizard level of artistic integrity.

It is refreshing isn't it? He never really went into toys or other merchandise that much (or at all) to my knowledge. I wrote a comic and focused on making it the best possible strip possible. Can't ask for more than that.

OT: The documentary is something I would definitely check out. As for his views on audience... I dunno what the future of comics will be to be honest. The desire for good comics shouldn't vanish though.

 

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