I Got a Rock

If you have any interest in comic strips at all, do yourself a favor, take a few minutes and read Bill Watterson's review of the new Charles Schulz biography from the Wall Street Journal. First of all, it may pique your curiosity like it did mine and make you want to read the book.

More than that, it's interesting to me because of what it is. I am generally fascinated to hear or read artists discussing other artists. Publicity interviews with guys like Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese where they're just plugging their latest movie are usually dull, rote affairs. But in-depth discussions with them, the times the interviewer is able to get them waxing rhapsodic about Billy Wilder or John Ford, that's pure gold. Such a discussion allows you to see the films of both Spielberg and Ford in a new light.

And so it is here. Watterson is, of course, the creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," widely considered the best comic strip of its era. In the WSJ piece, Watterson makes it quite clear that he is one of the legion of cartoonists who learned any number of important lessons about the art simply by absorbing "Peanuts" as a kid. That "Peanuts" was influential goes without saying, but the direct influence of Schulz on Watterson becomes clear when Watterson explains it and gives you the opportunity to think about it. Look at that "Peanuts" strip above - could it not just as easily be Calvin (in a more sour mood, perhaps, than Charlie Brown) delivering the line in panel 2, and Hobbes, in some ways the comics page's philosophical heir to Linus van Pelt, delivering the line in panel 4?

The piece is also interesting for what it does not say. Obviously, this is a book review, so Watterson has to limit his editorializing. He is, however, able to slip in a few things between the lines. There is a certain wistful sadness lurking in there, but Watterson, who famously battled with his syndicate over licensing rights to "Calvin and Hobbes," is not able to say explicitly how he feels about the role of "Peanuts" as the progenitor of every "Dilbert" doll, every "Far Side" calendar and coffee mug and every single awful, soul-sucking "Garfield" poster with which awful middle school teachers wallpaper their classrooms.

Still, the admiration Watterson continues to feel for Schulz's work shines through. I'd love to read more from popular cartoonists of the present discussing, in greater depth, the work of popular cartoonists of the past.