Bill Watterson could bring his characters to life on the page like few cartoonists before or since. In his most iconic Calvin & Hobbes dancing strips, like this one, you barely have to exercise your imagination to hear the music blaring, the box springs creaking, and the vexation in Calvin’s dad’s sleep-slurred voice. But you still have to exercise it a little bit.
That’s where Adam Brown comes in. Clearly a devoted Calvin & Hobbes aficionado himself, the professional animator has created a YouTube clip of Watterson’s brainchildren boogeying to their heart’s content. “This is a fan interpretation of Calvin and Hobbes’ dance moves, made for fun and no money!”, Brown disclaims in his description of the video, which has racked up more than 150,000 views in its first few days.
That’s relevant because Watterson has always been a stickler for artistic integrity and intellectual property. For what it’s worth, though, Watterson recently granted one of the only interviews he’s done in years, to Mental Floss, and his stance on the matter seems to make room for works like Brown’s. Here’s the relevant question and answer:
Mental Floss: I’m assuming you’ve gotten wind of people animating your strip for YouTube? Did you ever mimic cartoonists you admired before finding your own style?
Watterson: Every artist learns through imitation, but I rather doubt the aim of these things is artistic development. I assume they’re either homages or satiric riffs, and are not intended to be taken too seriously as works in their own right. Otherwise I should be talking to a copyright lawyer.
That’s a rather more fair and reasonable stance than some people had attributed to Watterson in the past. Brown isn’t animating entire strips—just moments, reallly. And his animation hews so closely to Watterson’s original drawings that it could hardly be said to take anything away from the integrity of the original work. The same is true of artist Eric Linn’s lovely animated Calvin & Hobbes gifs. On the spectrum of homage to ripoff, both artists’ efforts are planted firmly on the “homage” side.
On the other hand, the mild criticism that my colleague David Haglund lodged in response to Brown’s first Calvin & Hobbes animation seems to me still relevant. These YouTube clips may not take anything away from the original comics, but do they really add much, either? More than anything, they serve to me as a tribute to the ineffable dynamism of Watterson’s original drawings, which can hardly be improved upon even by the most skilled and loving animators.
“Apologies to Bill Watterson… They had to move!”, Brown writes in a sort of brief apologia at the end of his latest animation. Apologies to Adam Brown: They already did.
More Calvin & Hobbes coverage on Slate (yes, we’re obsessed):