[June 25, 2017]

I came to Calvin and Hobbes later in life; long after Bill Watterson was out of syndication. Once I had discovered the comic, however, I devoured all of the compilation books that were produced. In my opinion, Watterson captured the imagination and innocence of youth so perfectly that I have a hard time believing that Calvin and Hobbes are not actually real. Watterson’s comic strips make me remember being an imaginative child like Calvin and when I read them I am transported back to a time when being alone didn't necessarily mean that I had to be lonely.

Calvin and Hobbes at its core is about the relationship between a child and his stuffed tiger. To Calvin, Hobbes is real—as real as anyone else in his life. But as grown-ups we know the truth: Hobbes is really the representation of the self. Or, to make it clearer: Hobbes is Calvin. Hobbes doesn't necessarily think and feel exactly the same as Calvin does, but Calvin’s disagreements with Hobbes are his way of figuring out what he truly believes, thinks and feels.

When I was creating Justin Case and the Closet Monster, I wanted Justin to have the same type of relationship with a manifestation of his self, and so I created the closet monster. In many ways, Justin is an innocent, much the same way Calvin was in his comic, and the Closet Monster, much like Hobbes, pushes Justin to discover things about his world. Now, the Closet Monster is not perfect and does not know everything. But, like Hobbes, he is fearless and gets Justin to try things that Justin wouldn’t have the courage to try on his own. As a gay man who managed to navigate his way out of the closet, I remember those moments when I had to push myself in order to live the life that I wanted to. In many ways I had to become a different person in order to have the courage to come out to my family and friends, and it is that courageous person who is the main inspiration for the Closet Monster.

Although Justin Case and the Closet Monster is not a syndicated strip, as a nod to that beloved comic I have adopted the opening title banner that Watterson used in his weekend strips. One of the things that I love about Watterson’s weekend Calvin and Hobbes strips was the way that he changed the title banner from week to week to support the arc of the story. When I first created Justin Case and the Closet Monster I originally intended it to appear as a weekly strip in the back of a gay life style magazine. With the encouragement of my husband Stacy, I abandoned that idea and decided to develop the project into an actual full book. Because it was originally intended as a weekly strip, I had designed a title banner for each page. When I changed direction, it seemed like the obvious choice to discard the title banners and layout the book as a linear story. After much consideration, in the end, I decided to keep the title banners and, like Watterson, make them part of the story.

The banners, which are all doors, change depending on the characters that are featured on the page. Each character has a different door, because each character’s experience coming out of the closet is different. The banners also act as a breath or pause in the action and the changing doors signal that the point of view of the narrative is also about to change. Though originally designed to identify each individual strip for a magazine, the doors in the banners have come to represent much more and I believe add to the aesthetic and overall understanding of each character of the book. In other words, the doors in a more abstract way help to illustrate the personalities of each character because each door was designed in essence as an extension of that character. If it wasn’t for Watterson’s thoughtful use of the title banners in Calvin and Hobbes I never would have included mine in my book and I think, as a result, something unique and powerful would have been lost.

Thank you Mr. Watterson for sharing Calvin and Hobbes with the world. Your work changed my life and inspired me. If I hadn’t read about Calvin’s journey to grow-up in your amazing strip, I would have never been inspired to write about Justin’s journey out of the closet. It is my sincerest hope that my audience will see the truth in my story as much as your audience has felt it in yours.

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