Monthly Archives: February 2010

Bill Watterson, Comic Strip Giant

Note: Steve Bissette and I are teaching a course in contemporary comics history (Survey of the Drawn Story II, as it’s properly known).  Our students are required to submit an essay, in blog form, on an aspect of contemporary comics history.  They are restricted to the period of 1969 – present.

Today’s essay is by Jacob “Monty” Montgomery.  Enjoy!

-Robyn Chapman

Contemporary Comics Spotlight: Bill Watterson, Comic Strip Giant

by Jacob Montgomery

Bill Watterson is a king of comic strips and a personal hero of mine. His comic Calvin and Hobbes instills in the reader a warmth which is magnified greatly by his masterful use of a brush. Calvin and Hobbes is nothing short of masterpiece and despite having stopped the comic in 1995 he managed to create 3,160 comic strips that are still adored by readers today. Watterson won a myriad of awards for the strip including 2 Eisner awards for his collections and 8 Harvey awards. His comic is still read world-wide and is currently being reprinted in over 50 countries around the world. 

Bill started cartooning from a very early age having comic strips printed in his school newspapers for the better part of his schooling career. Later he would attend Kenyon College and receive a B.A. in political science. He has stated that he named the characters from his comics after famous philosophers (John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes) as a “a tip of the hat to the political science department at Kenyon College”. After graduating he was offered a job as a political cartoonist for the Cincinnati post. His time at the paper was short lived and he was soon fired. He would then work in grocery advertisement. After four frustrating years he quit and started to develop a comic strip for news papers. His first several attempts where shot down until he was finally able to sell Calvin and Hobbes to the Universal Press Syndicate.

Calvin and Hobbes would go on to run for ten years at its height was published in over 2,400 newspapers world-wide. The comics have been collected in 18 different books and have sold over 4.5 million collectively. He ended the comic in 1995. Man fans of the comic wanted more and when asked about this in a rare interview he stated “This isn’t as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of 10 years, I’d said pretty much everything I had come there to say.”  Watterson fought attempts to merchandise the comic strip. When questioned about this by one of his fans he answered “For starters, I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo. . . . Actually, I wasn’t against all merchandising when I started the strip, but each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.”

Watterson’s artwork is incredible. His sense of layout and use of the brush are something to behold. He was a pioneer in the Sunday strips on account of his elaborate layouts. His comics where simply done in with a sable brush on bristol board.  The use of these materials, when in Bill’s hands, resulted in beautiful backgrounds which sometimes fell into the surreal when Calvin was deep into one of his outlandish imaginings. These bizarre landscapes and situation where often interrupted by an adult hurling Calvin back into the real world, which was always rendered with a sense of whimsy that only benefited from simple yet well-defined Watterson display with his brush.

Bill Watterson now lives in Cleveland and has taken up painting. He is incredibly media shy and interviews with him are very rare. He has said that he is very proud of the comic strip but he never plans of writing or drawing any more of the comic. True to his convictions he has still fought all licensing of the comic (aside from the postage stamps) and refuses to sign autographs.

– Jacob Montgomery

The Trial Of Mike Diana

Note: Steve Bissette and I are teaching a course in contemporary comics history (Survey of the Drawn Story II, as it’s properly known).  Our students are required to submit an essay, in blog form, on an aspect of contemporary comics history.  They are restricted to the period of 1969 – present.

Our first essay is by Ben Horak.  Enjoy!

-Robyn Chapman

Contemporary Comics Spotlight: The Trial Of Mike Diana

By Ben Horak

Under the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press are constitutional rights that every American is entitled to. These rights allow us the freedom to not be censored in our speech and writings. However there are some exceptions. The First Amendment does not protect anything deemed to be obscene (harmful to society). While this exception may protect any racist hatred or child pornography, it does also limit our freedom. Such is the story of underground comic artist Mike Diana.

In 1988 nineteen-year-old Mike Diana was working as a school janitor in Largo, Florida. Diana would use the school copy machine to make his own zine that he would later distribute to friends and family. This began his now infamous zine Boiled Angel.

The zine featured short comics by Diana that parodied the topics of child abuse, incest, rape, religious corruption and murder. The term “bad taste” just begins to scratch the surface of Diana’s art. In the comic short Zero Tolerance Diana writes “My parents had warned me that I would get into trouble if I drew such gross things. I thought I had the freedom to draw and print whatever I wanted to, but no way.”

After two years and eight issues of Boiled Angel Diana received mail from an artist who was very interested in purchasing every issue. Not seeing any harm in this request, Diana obliged. What he didn’t know was that the unknown artist was actually a police officer who wanted to show Diana’s work to the courts. Shortly after sending the “artist” copies, Diana received another piece of mail. This time it was a court order for Diana charging him with three counts of obscenity (publishing, distributing and advertising obscene material).

For the trial, Diana contacted and was aided by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This is a non-profit First Amendment organization for comic book artists. The CBLDF helped Diana with several defense attorneys and expert witness, all free of cost. However, after a week-long trial Diana was found guilty of producing and selling obscene work. This makes Diana the first artist ever to have a criminal conviction for obscenity.

Diana’s sentence included four days in jail, a three-year probation, fines amounting to three thousand dollars, forbidden contact with minors (which cause him to be fired from his janitorial job), thirteen thousand hours of community service, journalism ethics courses and psychiatric help. But the worst sentence of all was that Diana was not allowed to draw for personal use for the entire length of his probation. Police would have surprise warrants wherein they would enter Diana’s house and search the premises for any sketches Diana may have been drawing.

Diana and the CBLDF attempted to appeal his sentence twice to the State Appellate Court. Both of the appeals were denied. Yet on the second appeal the third obscenity charge (advertising obscene material) was appealed due to the fact that Diana advertised issue before they were actually created. The Court agreed “(it’s) improper to convict someone for advertising material that had not yet been created, since Diana could not, at the time, know the nature or character of the work.”

The Supreme Court finally denied Diana’s appeal, giving him no other option but to fulfill his sentence. Diana did however manage to move his sentencing from Florida to New York where he could serve out his community service hours by working for the CBLDF.

When reading Diana’s comics, it’s easy to see why people would see it as obscene. Yet putting his artwork in the ranks of child pornography is absurd. With child pornography, there is clearly a victim who is a minor being abused. In Diana’s artwork, no actual person is being abused or murdered. It does not matter if Diana’s comics are offensive, grotesque and offers no moral to the topics he writes about. What matters is the fact that Diana’s work needs to exist as an example that the First Amendment is in effect. If someone is prohibited from creating his or her own personal art, then no one is truly free.

 – Ben Horak

Beano for the Heart and Soul

Beano began its weekly comic printing in 1938 and has featured Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids, Biffo the Bear, Dennis the Menace and many others. Recently, Jon Gilbert Fox donated a copy of the Beano Book Annual to the Schulz Library. The Beano Book a square-bound book released every year by D.C. Thompson and Co, Ltd. before the holiday season.

In the States, Dennis the Menace typically conjures an image of a towheaded rascal pestering a Walter Matthau-esque Mr. Wilson. However, what many readers do know is that the UK has their own Dennis the Menace; a mop of unruly black hair adorns this trouble-maker’s head to match the coat of what I could only describe lovingly as the ugliest dog in comics, Gnasher. Debuting a mere three days after Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace in 1951, David Law’s Dennis is a bit dirtier and honest. David Henderson took over the drawing reins in 1970, as we see below.

Many of the characters in Beano realize they are in a comic book and play Tex-Avery-style with artist or reader via jokes or hiding from the story.

The strips can run several pages or as one panel gags.

One more peek!

So the next time you visit our library be sure to check out The Beano Book from 1976 in the European Comics section!

Jen Vaughn

Hot Off The Presses

What has now become a CCS signature project, The Golden Age assignment, freshman split into four groups (5-6 per group) and produce a full-color comic in two weeks. The comics must conform to specific genres and tone to those that could be found at newsstands in 1952. This project combines comics’ history, production skills, and a punishing deadline. Many all-nighters during these weeks.

This year’s genres were superhero, western, romance, and true crime. Paul Karasik/Alec Longstreth, Jason Lutes, Robyn Chapman, and Steve Bissette served as each title’s respective editor.

CCS faculty is beaming with pride this week as the freshman class delivered the goods this past Tuesday. The level of quality was incredible given the tight turn around. Congrads CCS freshman!

Steve Bissette has a great post about the project here.

— James Sturm

The More Things Change…

White River Junction, circa 1909

— James Sturm

2009 Year-End Report

The Schulz Library at The Center for Cartoon Studies is now in its fifth year of operation, and our collection has grown to 8000 books.  These include 1,358 graphic novels, 713 books of comic strips, 618 books of manga, 457 books from the super hero genre, and 289 European bande disinee.

The Schulz Library is also a great source for scholars, with over 200 books about comic lining our shelves.  This summer celebrated cartoonist Jules Feiffer used the Schulz Library for his research during his Montgomery Fellowship at Dartmouth College.

As our collection has grown, so has library patronage.   For our students, alumni, staff and faculty, the Schulz Library is a valuable tool for research and creative development.

Recently the library purchased a Sony eReader and an Amazon Kindle, and loaded them with choice books and graphic novels (including our own Lucy Knisely’s French Milk).  We encourage our students to explore these new devices, which are available for check-out.

This summer we launched the Schulz Library Blog.  Throughout the week our library staff and faculty post essays, reviews and news.

We at CCS are proud of the Schulz Library’s progress, progress that would be impossible without the support of our many donors, advisors and supporters.  We’d like to offer you our heartfelt thanks, and hope you will continue participate in our library’s growth.  We are always seeking book donations.  If you would like to donate books, please send them to:

The Center for Cartoon Studies
ATTN: Schulz Library
94 South Main Street
White River Junction, VT 05001

Please browse our Amazon Wish List for donation suggestions.

Here’s to another year of great books and good reading!


Robyn Chapman
CCS Program Coordinator