Journey Of Self Exploration 1 – Bill Watterson

Like many of us, I have also been a fan of Calvin & Hobbes comic strip fora long time, but I did not know much about Bill Watterson beyond that until August 2013. In August 2013, I came across an Amazing illustration at Zen Pencils based on Bill Watterson advice at Kenyon College Commencement. I looked for the text of that complete speech and I was surprised how well he had articulated what was going on inside me at that time. The time demands of my work were making me quite exhausted and I was wondering when would I be able to do other things that I am really interested in! I read up a lot about him from different sources and I was quite impressed to know that he indeed lived by what he mentioned in this speech.

It is interesting to read this small announcement by Bill Watterson when he decided to stop Calvin & Hobbes comic strip in Decmeber 1995 despite its increasing popularity.

Dear Reader:

I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I’ve done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.

That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I’ll long be proud of, and I’ve greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Bill Watterson
(From Wikipedia article)

I have underlined the parts which appealed to me the most.

After working on the strip for a decade, when Calvin and Hobbes was at the height of its popularity and was being published in over 2,000 newspapers, Watterson stopped. He had given his heart and soul to one project for 10 years, had said all he wanted to say and wanted to go out on top. “I did not want Calvin and Hobbes to coast into half-hearted repetition, as so many long-running strips do. I was ready to pursue different artistic challenges, work at a less frantic pace with fewer business conflicts, and … start restoring some balance to my life.” Since retiring the strip, Watterson has pursued his interest in painting and music. (from

He refused to merchandise his work, though it could have earned him millions of dollars and he really meant what he said in his Kenyon speech. Here is a small excerpt from that speech –

You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.

But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Zen Pencils is really a great idea/website by Gavin Aung Than, he picks up some famous quotes/speeches/songs from various inspiring people and creates some really cool illustrations with their words. As he mentions in this particular Bill Watterson illustration, this is very close to his heart and you can see how well he has come up with an excellent illustration based on a small part of Watterson’s original speech.

So here are the links, I suggest you read them in the sequence I have listed them here.

  • The original text of Bill Watterson’s complete speech – This is a bit long, but I request you to read through all of it! The entire speech is really wonderful.
  • Zen Pencil Illustration – Again, I request you to read Gavin’s comments below the illustration, and if you have time read through some of 700+ readers’ comments. 🙂
  • BrainPickings article on Bill Watterson – BrainPickings is yet another beautiful website by Maria Popova. It has lot of really in-depth and insightful articles/write-ups. With lots of links, references, cross-references, these articles are not quick-and-easy reads – but I often keep/save these articles to read when I have enough time to go through them carefully and explore the references as well.

And lastly, here is the video of ZenPencil’s illustration –