howtheduck (howtheduck) wrote in binky_betsy,

Dear Mr. Watterson

I recently saw the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson at my local arts theater.   I can recommend it to any fan of Calvin and Hobbes.  As it relates to For Better or For Worse, there was no interview with Lynn Johnston, but strangely enough she was quoted by Lee Salem, her former editor and also the editor of Calvin and Hobbes.

Lee Salem dropped a line about Lynn Johnston said Bill Watterson raised the level of the art form which influenced even the older artists and then they showed a little clip of a For Better or For Worse cartoon which showed characters in a water-coloured landscape, that appeared to be Michael and Rhetta Blum looking at the grave of Farley.  It was too fast for me to be sure.  It seemed odd to me because my recollection was that Lynn Johnston was strongly critical of Watterson's decision to end his comic strip after 10 years.  Lynn was the only artist Lee Salem quoted and it was a compliment.

The documentary has interviews with a number of cartoonists willing to talk about Calvin and Hobbes and how they were influenced by it.  They interviewed Berkely Breathed, Stephan Pastis, Jan Eliot, Bill Amend, Jef Mallett, etc. What struck me was there were no cartoonists interviewed representing comic strips much older than Calvin and Hobbes.  There was no Cathy Guisewite, no Gary Trudeau, no Greg Evans, no Lynn Johnston, no Jim Davis or the like, although they did have a extensive discussion with Jean Schulz, Charles Schulz's widow.  The documentary mentioned that Watterson did a speech at one of the cartoon conventions years ago where he expressed his idea that the art form should not be commercialized and the reaction was it alienated virtually every older artist at the convention.  Between that and the lack of interviews with artists on older comic strips, I got the impression that they resented Bill Watterson and what he represented.

There was an extensive section with Lee Salem in which he talked about how the syndicate was generally approached for merchandising and they would split the profits 50/50 with the artist.  Lee went on to say that Bill Watterson refused millions of dollars of merchandising offers and pointed out the syndicate respected his wish not to merchandise, even though they were not happy about it and actually had the contractual right to accept.

It occurred to me then why it is that Lynn Johnston feels the need to do all her merchandising herself.  If she sells Farley plushes by herself she gets 100% of the profits and does not have to share with the syndicate.  There is no telling how many merchanding offers she has received through her syndicate which she has turned down and there is no telling how much friction there was between her and the syndicate over her decision to do it without them.  As frustrated as Lee Salem would have been with Bill Watterson, at least his purpose was not to take all the profits from merchandising for himself.


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