I watched the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson the other day, in which Stephan Pastis said something interesting:
This leads to my theory of what it is that Watterson might be doing, and I suspect that some of it is about control. Comic strips are all about control. It’s the one art form where you have full control. It’s not collaborative like a film. It’s not collaborative even like a book, where your editor changes things. I really don’t even have an editor. It’s just me. It’s not collaborative like a tv show. It’s not collaborative like a record album. It’s you — it’s just you.
When you wander into licensing, it becomes a collaboration. Somebody at your syndicate has to approve it. Somebody at your syndicate gives suggestions. Somebody at your syndicate says,”You know, that’s nice, but it’d be better if he smiled on the package, right? Smiling sells more.” Then it gets in the hand of the designer. The designer has their own ideas how the character should look. The designer knows what material sells. The designer knows what materials are safe. Then there’s the designer’s boss, who may have different ideas, ’cause they gave it to the salesman, and it didn’t sell well.
So I’ve just introduced seven people into my life that weren’t in my life before. I don’t particularly like any of them. They’re not my kind of people. They’re commercial people, and they make your stomach hurt when you’re with them. So I’ve introduced an element into my life of a whole bunch of people I don’t like. I’ve got to overcome them all, even if it’s so much as just saying, “I don’t think we should do this,” and they say yes, I still have to do that to seven people. And that’s all a loss of control, a loss of control that I never had before, right?
And imagine if he started licensing. The first lunchbox would have sold nine billion, right? The minute that happens, everybody is gonna be on him for all the more, like this, that, and the other — all represents a loss of control. Then they all sit in your head. Rather than go, as he probably did, and walk through the forest that day, he took six phone calls that he didn’t want to take. They interrupted his day. They’re floating around in his head. That’s all bad. You know what I’m saying?
And that’s control. That’s not about artistic purity. No, no. That’s about control.
This is my attitude toward blogging, toward ambition. I don’t pretend to be doing anything artistically, let alone culturally, significant here, but this is still an important space for me, where I can write for the pure enjoyment it gives me. A few people have suggested that I could or should make a living by doing some sort of writing, but my response is always the same — making this into a paying job would destroy everything that makes it enjoyable. It would be death by a thousand cuts. Keeping it “pure” isn’t about snobbery and status, it’s about having something in your life that isn’t subject to mercenary considerations.
Fortunately, I’ll never be offered a spot writing at Buzzfeed or the like, where I would have to make those sorts of compromises, so I have to admit it’s easy for me to say that. I am truly in awe of the fact that Watterson was looking at potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandising and still held to his principles. Would I absolutely refuse to write clickbaity headlines about trivia and gossip if doing so meant I never had to work a real job again? I’d like to think so, but…