Monday, August 3, 2009

Bill Watterson - Punk Rocker?

I was thinking of those lists that many people make, y'know the ones designed to piss you off, or commemorate something only the list writer is paying attention to, and I was thinking of what I'd have for the top five (ambitious, ain't I?) punk rockers of all time. And I realized that most of the people I consider inhabiting the spirit of punk are not, technically, punk rockers. Two of them aren't even musicians. One of them, in fact, drew comic strips.

Bill Watterson is the author/creator of Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip that many would argue was the best the medium ever had. Obviously, he wouldn't rate so high in my thoughts if I didn't think the same thing, but it's not for his main character's accidental anarchy so much as for the author's own attitude for how his work is presented that he's on my list.

I guess the Clash were the first to make purity and non-commercialism punk ideals, but even then these were hand-me-down values from the folk music movement of the sixties. And many punks and folkies were shouldering the cross of non-commercialism either out of peer pressure or, worse, because they thought it might make them more commercially popular. Their pretensions rarely kept the music honest and often was used as an excuse for sloppiness in writing/performing. Hence the anti-market antimatter was a self-defeating piece of ammunition in both the folkies' quiver and the punks' ammo clip. So what's all this have to do with stuffed tigers?

Bill Watterson fought tooth and retractable nail with his syndicate about the licensing rights to Calvin and Hobbes; them wanting to get Bill's characters on coffee cups, calendars and t-shirts and he not. They cajoled, threatened and waved the contract he signed with them when he was young and desperate (blatantly giving them the right to "exploit" Calvin and Hobbes in the market) in front of his nose. And Bill still was stubborn enough to stymie their efforts to give him millions of dollars. Good for him.

Mild sarcasm aside, what Bill did made most of the people in his particular industry think he's crazy. No-one cared if Charlie Brown was on a coffee mug, or the Far Side told you the date at the doctor's office. But think about it now. Charlie Brown, once the relatable hero of the downtrodden, is a cliche. Garfield went from being interesting to being intolerable. The Far Side, the most durable comic on this list, found it's brilliant commentary on the absurdity of life appear dumbed-down and mean-spirited when taken out of the context it was meant to exist in. Calvin and Hobbes, on the other hand, still retains every carefully crafted inkdrop of its power and innocence.

Don't believe me? Look at this cartoonists representation of Calvin and Hobbes grown up and try not to tear up. I did. I'll join you below when you're ready......

Bill Watterson incurred the scorn of his entire industry both to keep his strip pure and make it the best it could be (the Sunday format that infuriated editors and got his syndicate's salespeople thrown out of more than one office). He lost millions of dollars and was called crazy in order to bring us his art unfiltered, unfetered, and unlimited. Bill Watterson is #2 on my list of Punk Rockers.

And people said they were only comic strips.

- If the music is dead, give it an autopsy and sell the video on Ebay.

(I realize I didn't tell you what the rest of my list for the top 5 Punk rockers is. Maybe next time.)

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