This, to me, is a dream invitation. You see, I've known I've wanted to be a cartoonist ever since I was a little, little boy. And more than that, I've always known I wanted to study the flip side of cartooning, as well: The history and the theory and the philosophy and the potential of cartooning. And one of the things that got all that started for me -- that really got my dreams fired up for that holistic take on comic strips -- was this incredible, insightful talk given by Bill Watterson in 1989 at, of all places, this very same event.
At the 1989 Festival, Watterson spoke of the incredible potency in comic strip cartooning: This rarest of arts that let one artist, one voice, speak to millions. This artform that lets the personal outlook shine through, where so many other mass media arts do so by committee.
So to be invited, some twenty one years later, to speak at the very same gathering of professionals and academics, is magical to me. (It's humbling beyond words, too, in a stomach-churning way…but let's focus on the magical aspect of it.)
Because, the funny thing? The thing I want to talk about? Is actually that very same Watterson speech from 1989. Or rather, to offer a loving and respectful rebuttal to it, from 21 years on. I want to speak to his concerns about the space allotted comic strips in newspapers; about zombie comic strips still being drawn long after their original creator had died; about why so many features have stale, interchangeable voices; or why so many are merely advertisements for dolls and greeting cards; or why comic strips in general have been on this slow, downward trend of diminishment in American life for the past 20-30 years
Because basically, I'm going to talk about this incredible change of fortune for the comic strip. I'm going to talk about Webcomics.
I'm going to talk about how this process of removing the middle men -- the disintermediation from syndicates, editors, newspapers, distributors, publishers and their ilk…and the resulting freedom it allows -- has given comic strips this amazing new lease on life. A renaissance that will produce some of the most personal, powerful work that comics have ever seen. It's already happening: And with features and cartoonists who do not have to homogenize their unique voices; who do not have to give up their copyrights, trademarks, or any semblance of decision-making in torturous syndicate contracts; who speak with pure, unfiltered voices, writing comics that never would've been possible under previous methods of distributing art. And who, most importantly, are producing amazing, amazing work.
The short of it is: The medium of newspapers may be dying, but the artform of comic strips is not dying with it. In fact, the future for comic strips has never been brighter.
I know Watterson lives a very private, quiet life, now, and I respect that choice to the nth-degree. But I know he lives in the neighborhood of the Festival, and I'm kinda hoping he comes: Both because I'd like to shake his hand and thank him for that speech in 1989…and because I want him to know that the generation that came after him was listening.