In my more giddy moments I think that a simple comic strip featuring Calvin, a preternaturally bright six year-old, and Hobbes, his imaginary tiger friend, features some of the most lucid sentences committed to print. And when I sober up, I usually think exactly the same.
Edd McCracken has rendered me an invaluable service (matched only by Jason Morehead’s invaluable service in bringing McCracken’s service to my attention) by reminding me of something I already know, but which I appreciate more and more every time I dwell on it:
Bill Watterson is a genius.
I realize this admission places me at the end of a very long line, and one populated by far more insightful people than myself. But such (gratifyingly) wide-spread recognition of the reality in no way diminishes its truth: Watterson is a genius.
To say that he is (or, sadly, was) a master of his craft captures only part of his greatness, highlighting why attempts to pin him down must always carry with them a certain amount of frustration. It’s not that I can’t figure out why he’s brilliant; it’s that I can’t decide which aspect of his brilliance most deserves my attention.
The “technical” ability required to so perfectly capture the motion (and rest) of his subjects was extraordinary, as was his ability to tap back into the emotions and “light-bulb moments” of youth. Yet for me, the most insightful parts of Watterson’s strips are not the ones that show me that he “gets” kids, or that he “gets” the oft-misunderstood, barely definable essence of childhood. It’s that he gets adults — gets us so unerringly that I find myself squirming at the all-too-real reprimands in his work.
But the thing I love the most about Watterson?
He was kind-hearted.
That uncanny ability to identify humanity’s flaws could easily have led to Waughishly cutting satire (or unbecoming, ultimately unproductive vitriol). But instead, he chose to make his observations through the adventures of a charmingly-scrawled boy and his beloved tiger. His honey carries vinegar, and we all feel its bite. But he leaves behind a gentle prick of conscience rather than scorched Earth.
I miss him.