A Cartoon Hero

Let me tell you about a hero of mine. He doesn't wear a cape - as far as I know; I've never seen a picture of him. He hasn't leaped over tall buildings or stopped a speeding bullet. But he has profoundly impacted my creativity. His name is Bill Watterson. It's fitting that as we approach National Cartoonists Day, he's the creator of one of the greatest of comic strips, Calvin and Hobbes.

Kids need creative heroes. We hold up role models in so many other areas - sports, education, community service - and yet we seldom set apart examples of innovative people. But if we want our children to value their ideas, we should celebrate champions of the imagination.

To outline qualities to look for in such heroes, here's what I admire in Watterson's work:

Quality. Line drawings are becoming a lost art. Comics keep that art form alive. But even there, few cartoonists can match the expressiveness of Watterson's brushwork. It flows so naturally, it seems to have just spilled out of his brush. But I know from experience, it's hard to get it to look so easy. That's why so few artists can do it.

Originality. Calvin and Hobbes constantly broke new ground. Think how daring it was to have one of the two main characters imaginary. (Or was he?) Watterson also redesigned the half-page space he used for Sunday newspapers, fighting the rigid standard imposed by publishers. Many strips now attempt to imitate his ideas, but they pale in comparison.

Consistency. Having a long-running comic strip isn't all that unique. Being funny over all that time is. Year in and year out, Watterson's strip lived up to its own high standard.

Integrity. Watterson was offered millions to license his characters. He turned the money down. Why? Because he felt that losing control of his work would cheapen it. In this money-driven age, his lack of greed is astonishing - and refreshing.

When my art grows up, I want it to look like his. At least in spirit. That's what heroes do: they not only amaze us by the height of their accomplishments, they inspire us to reach a little higher ourselves.

And if your child likes to create comics, I've created some four-panel cartoons for them to add words to. It's my way of passing on a little inspiration.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter