What happens when beloved fictional characters go away?
I’ve been thinking about how much I miss fictional characters when they’re gone – and it all started because some of those lost characters are kind of coming back.
It began with the documentary on Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, Dear Mr. Watterson, which will come out in November. It features several prominent cartoonists (and a few academics and celebrities for good measure) talking about the cultural impact and influence of Calvin and Hobbes. To be honest, the trailer doesn’t make the documentary seem that great, but I’m sure I’ll still go see it (because – duh! – Calvin and Hobbes).
It was sad when Calvin and Hobbes ended in 1995. Even though Watterson had prepared readers by posting an announcement several months before, I still felt like I’d lost dear friends. Not lost as in their lives had been tragically cut short – since it was clear that Watterson was pretty happy about stepping out of the limelight and into the woods to learn watercolor techniques at his home in Ohio – but lost in the sense of friends who’d moved away and then fell out of contact. Since the characters didn’t live on in licensing, they really fell of the radar, even while the books continued to sell.
But thinking of the end of Calvin and Hobbes got me thinking about the end of Frank and His Friend, and how much harder that was for me.
Frank and His Friend ended on a tragic note, when creator Clarence ‘Otis’ Dooley was killed in a car accident, and there was naturally very real grieving for his friends and family. It was sudden and unexpected, and there was no final send off for the characters. As readers, we were unprepared and didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to these friends.
I was still a kid when Frank and His Friend ended in 1984, and this made it more of a blow for me. Even after the last strip had run in the paper, I kept checking to see if my friends were back. What’s more, there were reminders of my missing friends everywhere – the Frank and His Friend bed sheets, my Frank and His Friend lunch box, and of course, my Frank doll. The Dooley family chose not to have anyone continue the comic strip, and so eventually the characters slowly faded away.
With their short, but popular, runs, it’s hard not to make comparisons between the two comic strips. They both featured precocious children playing with a beloved toy, and the stories featured fanciful adventures into their imagination. However, while you could easily say that Frank and His Friend influenced Calvin and Hobbes, the differences in tone are clear to see. Where Frank and His Friend was innocent and carefree, Calvin and Hobbes was streetwise and cynical, and Calvin and Hobbes inhabited a much larger world that brushed up against our own reality fairly often, but Frank and His Friend was a small, cozy world for two where they were safe from the dangers and troubles of the real world.
So while the documentary is terrific news about an artist who’s been pretty elusive, I’m also excited that there’s a new collector’s edition of Frank and His Friend coming out in December. Maybe this is just what we need to inspire filmmakers to do a documentary on Frank and His Friend or maybe even get the family to think about continuing the strip. I know I’m ready for these characters to come back.