Bill Watterson and Creative Play

My wife Katie loves Lego. She doesn’t go for the licensed sets, though. She likes minifigs and City sets because the characters can be whoever she wants them to be.

I grew up with stuffed animals that weren’t merchandised characters. I’m of an age where my GI Joe dolls were 12” tall that weren’t specific characters. I grew up with Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, and blocks and building sets that weren’t branded. They were what I wanted them to be. I gave them names and we lived out stories together.

Bill Watterson has never allowed merchandising for Calvin and Hobbes. Everyone would have a Hobbes doll. As Katie and I watched the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson recently, we were both struck by the number of people interviewed who had stuffed tigers. They weren’t Hobbes, though; they were their stuffed tigers. They had their adventures together. That might be one of the points Watterson was trying to make. Calvin and Hobbes are his creations, Hobbes is Calvin’s pal, enjoy reading their tales and then go live your own life. Be you; create your own play. Don’t try to mirror what other people have already done.

The thing I like most about tabletop roleplaying games, and the reason I’m not overly fond of video games, is that aspect of creativity and imagination. I create my own character. My friends and I embark on adventures that we make up together. It’s why I don’t like published adventure modules, and as a gamemaster prefer to make up stories tailored to the players’ characters. It’s a very personal thing.

My business model has been heavily shaped by Roger Corman. Figure out how to use resources constraints, particularly time and money, as creative challenges. Keep costs low in order to maximize profits, because I’ve chosen a profession that doesn’t pay particularly well. Do whatever it takes to get the bills paid and keep myself in that profession. It seems like the antithesis of art, but it doesn’t have to be. Corman found a lot of joy in his work. Corman a number of films that are actually quite good, and he launched careers and built relationships.

There’s no wrong way to be a professional creative. You need to understand the problem you’re solving for, and be true to that.