Directed by: Joel Allen Schroeder
Starring: Berkeley Breathed, Jef Mallett, Stephan Pastis
I guess it’s time for me to reveal that I’m a huge nerd. No wait, I’m not done yet: I’m a huge nerd who reads a lot of comic strips and who is very interested in the history and world of comic strips. Okay, now you can reel back in shock, clutching your heart, telling ‘Lizbeth that you’re comin’. Was growing up reading Calvin & Hobbes a big part of this? I dunno, maybe. It’s certainly an amazing comic strip, and one of the few that genuinely qualifies as art. So when I saw a documentary about it on Netflix, I just couldn’t resist, even knowing how much damage it might do to my image as a super-cool bad boy on a motorcycle wearing a jean jacket and smoking a corncob pipe or whatever it is you kids think is cool nowadays. I’m cool.
Dear Mr. Watterson is a documentary where the filmmaker explores the affect Calvin & Hobbes had on his childhood and on the newspaper comic industry. He talks to a bunch of contemporary comic authors and artists about Bill Watterson and his work and visits the town that could have conceivably been the inspiration for the strip. However, since Watterson himself has been living in seclusion since the strip ended in 1995 and he also didn’t show up for this documentary, it’s pretty light on information and just kinda wanders around in search of content. It didn’t really have a set goal in mind, but I think the eventual end message of the film is that Watterson was constrained by his publishers and fellow artists, made very few changes which only affected his own work, and after he left things went back to the way they were before, if not worse. Uplifting.
The biggest failing of this documentary is not the lack of information, that was pretty much going to happen no matter what, given the source material. The problem is that it’s so unfocused and spends way too much time about the filmmaker’s own personal experiences than I personally think is appropriate for a documentary. If it was about something that really affected this guy’s life in a major way, I could understand… I guess. Basically he’s just saying, “I liked Calvin & Hobbes when I was a kid, so I made a movie about me liking it.” I appreciate the sentiment, but the movie could’ve really benefited from a more in-depth look into the reclusive artist’s work.