The end of 'Calvin & Hobbes' caught a lot of regular readers by surprise and sadness; however there was a reason behind this departure at the height of the comic strips success.
Watterson had been under various pressure to license his creation. Ever wondered why we never had the opportunity to own our own Hobbes plush animal or tasted 'Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs' cereal?
Well, this is why - Bill Watterson refused to allow
his creations to be 'licensed.' That is, to be given permission to allow the likeness of Calvin and Hobbes be used in mediums outside of the comic strip. Hence, no Hobbes stuffed animal, no 'Stupendous Man' underwear, and Spaceman Spiff action figure and toy space ship.
Watterson had this to say about the subject of licensing give on October 27, 1989 at the Festival of Cartoon Art held at Ohio State University.
Some very good strips have been cheapened by licensing. Licensed products, of course, are incapable of capturing the subtleties of the original strip, and the merchandise can alter the public perception of the strip, especially when the merchandise is aimed at a younger audience than the strip is. The deeper concerns of some strips are ignored or condensed to fit the simple gag requirements of mugs and T-shirts. In addition, no one cartoonist has the time to write and draw a daily strip and do all the work of a licensing program. Inevitably, extra assistants and business people are required, and having so many cooks in the kitchen usually encourages a blandness to suit all tastes. Strips that once had integrity and heart become simply cute as the business moguls cash in.Simply put, he wanted Calvin and Hobbes to retain their innocence, and - more importantly - their integrity; their ability to tell stories, provide commentary, humor and wit - all without having their authenticity questioned if they suddenly became a spokesperson for some product.
Once a lot of money and jobs are riding on the status quo, it gets harder to push the experiments and new directions that keep a strip vital. Characters lose their believability as they start endorsing major companies and lend their faces to bedsheets and boxer shorts. The appealing innocence and sincerity of cartoon characters is corrupted when they use those qualities to peddle products. One starts to question whether characters say things because they mean it or because their sentiments sell T-shirts and greeting cards. Licensing has made some cartoonists extremely wealthy, but at a considerable loss to the precious little world they created. I don't buy the argument that licensing can go at full throttle without affecting the strip. Licensing has become a monster. Cartoonists have not been very good at recognizing it, and the syndicates don't care.
Calvin and Hobbes commented on crass commercialism a lot.
Would we have taken this commentary to heart as we did if Calvin was acting as the spokesperson for 'Fruit-of-the-Loom,' or Hobbes for 'Friskies' cat food?
On the musical side of things, how often have we decried our favorite musician, artist, or band that has "sold-out", gone "commercial" or any other number of euphemisms to describe the portrayal we feel when the music we love so much has lost its unique flavor in order to appeal to a wider audience?
Bill Watterson chose to retain his artistic integrity instead of going a strict commercial route. I, for one, respect this, and even if some people their heads at this from a business perspective, I think there is a lesson we can all learn from him when it comes to how we approach our own art or craft - whether it be music, painting, writing, or some other endeavor.