Last weekend I visited the Ohio State campus in Columbus Ohio because of a comic strip. Not just any comic strip, mind you – the comic strip that redefined comic strips; Calvin and Hobbes, created by Bill Watterson.
Watterson’s genius was in combining the self-absorption and fun-loving mischief of Calvin with the snarky wit and self-awareness of Hobbes. Within a year after its launch it was in 250 newspapers, and at the height of its popularity it ran in 2500 papers in more than 50 countries.
Not only did six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger/best friend Hobbes rule the world of comics for 10 years, they and Watterson also provided us with some valuable lessons about creativity:
Creativity is often building on what works.
Watterson had multiple ideas for a strip rejected by the syndicates, and Calvin wasn’t even the star in the strip where he first appeared. But one of the syndicates liked the little brother with a stuffed tiger so Watterson started over. When told that it would be better to see his eyes, Calvin finally became the spiky haired kid we all know.
Creativity sometimes means breaking the rules.
When newspapers started to squeeze comics into smaller and smaller sizes and dictate that the top row format of Sunday comics needed to be a separate joke because it might not be used, Watterson fought back. After coming back from a sabbatical, he negotiated that Calvin and Hobbes would only appear in a non-breakable half-page format, which allowed him to push the limits of what a comic strip looked like.
Creativity is worth a higher price.
Watterson took two sabbaticals in the 10 years he drew Calvin and Hobbes, during which he got full payment for reruns of his strips. The newspapers did not care much for that arrangement, but they knew that Watterson’s creativity and ability to connect to consumers was worth paying more than for the average strip.
Creativity means looking at things in a different way.
Who says that there is only one way to approach a problem? Who says you can’t put a blank panel in a comic strip? There may be someone else telling you no, but often the only limit is ourselves.