Friday, March 27, 2009

Bill Watterson & Kieran Meehan

 Watterson and Meehan are the two names that come to my mind when I think of comic strips. Though there are so many successful strips and artists, to me none perform at the highest level as Watterson did and Meehan does. There is no need to wax eloquent about Watterson. I mean, what can you say about Calvin and Hobbes that has not been already stated? Well it's funny, it's witty, it's thought provoking, it's addictive, it's blah-de-blah! So i will talk about Meehan instead.

 Meehan is not Watterson. His claim to fame - A lawyer, a doctor and a cop (now called Pros & Cons) may take some more time before it might draw comparisons with Calvin. But to me Meehan is Watterson!

 (1) While Watterson created a boy who thinks, talks and acts like a grown up, ever dwelling on life and fate, Meehan created a bunch of grown ups who think, talk and act like children.

 Sample this: 

 & (2), Both Calvin and LDC are rather formulaic. 

 Well, the formulaic bit is true for almost all the strips. There is a set of stock characters, who operate in a particular environment and who deal with certain recurring situations.  But more often than not, most of these strips suffer from lack of consistency in humour. So maybe i should have said: (2) Both Calvin and LDC are overly formulaic. 

 While other strips tend to be wary of recreating similar situations, both Calvin and LDC seem over-enthusiatic about it. As a matter of fact both the strips thrive on being highly formulaic. Yet we love it. Look forward eagerly to the next strip. That leaves us with the most obvious question to ponder about: is being formulaic the key to producing the most funniest of strips? 

Perhaps. But i think the success of these two strips stem from three different factors. Three factors that can be considered so unique to these two strips. 1) The Simplicity 2) The Artwork & 3) The Smile!

 1) The Simplicity

While strip artists tend to think clever with the result that it becomes rather contrived,  both Watterson and Meehan think simple (sometimes outrageously so!) in that they look at real life situations and try to appropriate them into their respective worlds and thus create a contrast resulting in a sense of ludicrousity but more often than not, clever!

2) The Artwork

For most of the artists, artwork is to a large extent representaional. The artwork is there cause the medium demands it; to turn a joke into a comic strip. This is where Watterson and Meehan again scores over the rest of the pack. Instead of confining the artwork to communicate emotions, Watterson and Meehan take emotions beyond their generic form resulting in more subtle expressions. 

Spare a glance on the poise of most of the LDC characters. It requires incredible artistic skills to synchronise the emotions and body language so well especially when you portray them as having kiddish personalities.

To understand the brilliant artwork that Watterson is bestowed with, all you need to do is look at this one strip.

But having said that if you strip both the strips off its artwork, then you are left with a few lines that won’t even make any sense. A few of them would, i am sure, those that are cleverly written like the LDC example above. But look at the other examples contained in this article, especially the one involving the cadet. Most of the LDC strips are in that vein.  So if it's not the words that generate humour as is in the case of the first example,  then where does the humour come from?

It stems from the smile that never takes leave of the characters. 

3) The Smile

As far as I am concerned, this is the trump. Both Calvin and the characters of LDC always have a smile on their face - a wide optimistic, self-indulgent smile. In the case of LDC you can add the words, ethereal and kiddish! And without those smiles, the humour in most of the strips would just be lost.

 For most of you Meehan maynot be quite as familiar as Watterson is. So for all those uninitiated, here is the link to Meehan’s website -

(all the strips presented in this article have been used for illustrational purpose only)