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Inside the complicated world of Calvin and Hobbes GIFs
Since launching his blog in July, artist Eric Linn has collected more than 5,000 followers on Tumblr, but he’s yet to win the approval of creator Bill Watterson.
Through countless hours spent in Photoshop and After Effects, artist Eric Linn has helped bring this world to life, turning Bill Watterson’s beloved comic into charming animations that capture Calvin’s rambunctious tendencies. His popular blog, Calvin and Hobbes GIFs, offers more than 100 colorful scenes that find Calvin selling lemonade, making funny faces with Hobbes, and running on a oversized hamster wheel.
Linn’s inspiration came from The Complete Calvin and Hobbes box set he received as a gift.
“I got the books and thought it would be good to animate them cause no one has done it,” he recalled. “All the GIFs out there are really shitty. That’s such a tragedy. There was a niche market and I filled it.”
Since launching the blog in July, he’s collected more than 5,000 followers. Each GIF averages around 250 notes on Tumblr. Yet despite the positive feedback Linn has received, it’s been difficult to enjoy the success without wondering if Watterson approves.
The iconic illustrator has never officially licensed his products except for his comic book collections, two calendars from the late 1980s, and a children’s book, Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes. And while he spoke highly of the art form in 1989 interview, Watterson has never allowed for his comics to be animated. In a speech the Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University that same year Watterson famously said that “some very good strips have been cheapened by licensing.”
Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from cashing in on Calvin and Hobbes, through T-shirts, stuffed animals, art, and video games. Redbubble and Amazon vendors are just a few of the hundreds of websites to use the characters’ likeness in their merchandise. Universal Press Syndicate, which distributed Calvin and Hobbes to newspapers over the comic’s 10-year run, has even successfully sued people for using Watterson’s work, including a “$737,000 lawsuit against a California man who made T-shirts with pictures of the duo” in 1993, the Virginian-Pilot reported.
“Actually, I wasn’t against all merchandising when I started the strip,” Watterson told Andrew McMeels Publishing in a rare 2005 interview, “but each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.”
Perhaps that’s what separates Calvin and Hobbes GIFs from every other derivative work out there. It’s a fond and nostalgic tribute, one that embodies the essence and spirit of the original comic strip.
“I’m doing it out of love and respect because I grew up on it,” Linn added. “I’m not profiting from it. It’s his work so if he insists on it not being animated by a third party, that’s fine.
He added: “I think about the characters and how Bill would want them to move.”
GIFs by Eric Linn
Fernando Alfonso III served as an early Reddit and 4chan reporter and the Daily Dot’s first art director until 2016. He’s gone on to report at Lexington’s Herald-Leader and at the Houston Chronicle.