Cartoonist Sabbaticals – vacations for syndicated cartoonists

Cartoonist Sabbatical

Cartoonist sabbatical vacation time may sometimes be a necessary evil in the syndication business allowing cartoonist’s extra time to mentally recharge their batteries. cartoonist sabbaticalI say this because this interesting news article about cartoonist Bill Watterson taking a nine month vacation back in 1991 raised a lot of editor’s eyebrows when it was announced by his syndicate.

In what other profession can the worker take that much time away? Think about it. The plumber? Not! The doctor? Not! The accountant? No way, the I.R.S. always get’s their man…er, I meant to say their dollar. But seriously, when you take into consideration the overall phenomenal aspects to which Calvin & Hobbes was thee best comic strip was based on great writing, the artwork was superb…the detail, the perspective and the overall unique premise of the strip, it was probably a good decision for the sake of the strip.

Cartoonist sabbatical not uncommon

As time marched on from when the strip had it’s initial launch in 1985 up to 1991, the rigors of writing quality content, keeping the continuity of the strip at peak level day in and day out (including those lavish Sunday pages) began taking their toll. One can only imagine what was happening in Watterson’s creative process, but it had to be a necessary move.

It’s interesting to note the alternative plans that Universal (the strip’s syndicate) had set in place when Watterson started his vacation.

I would pick up the Sunday Detroit Free Press (or Freep as many of us call it) just for glomming the Sunday Calvin & Hobbes to study all of the intricate details…sometimes I was more interested in seeing that, than reading through all of the word balloons!

As time went on during this “time out”, many editors grew weary of having to pay regular rates for previously illustrated “Calvins”. I plan to recap that from yet a follow up article that touched upon this in later issues of Editor & Publisher later.

In this new era of syndication, I doubt most editors would accept anything like this now, not with the tighter budgets most newspapers now operate with, limited page space on the comics pages, more expensive costs for newsprint  etc. I recall just a couple of years ago where the ‘Features Editor’ at The Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minnesota refused to pay a higher fee for Blondie after the syndicate said they were increasing their fees for ‘legacy strips’. He decided to drop it for a new strip offered by another syndicate. It may be of interest to note a cartoonist sabbatical was also taken by the creator of The Far Side cartoon panel when it was also popular.

As for Watterson’s sabbatical here, it must’ve helped, he continued with fresh material at breakneck speed for another 4 more years until he decided to call it quits in 1995. Here’s an in-depth article on why Bill Watterson quit Calvin & Hobbes.

*at it’s peak, Calvin & Hobbes appeared in more than 2,500 newspapers and 17 Calvin & Hobbes books have sold more that 30 million copies