When his brother sent him a link to a Kickstarter campaign back in 2009, Mike Boggs knew he wanted to be involved. Like many of us, Boggs is a huge fan of Bill Watterson’s timeless comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. The Kickstarter project was an attempt to raise funds to film a documentary about the impact Watterson had on the comic industry and geek culture.
Following two successful campaigns which raised over $120,000 from 2,083 backers, Dear Mr. Watterson was released to film festivals this spring, earning the Golden Badger award in Wisconsin. One of the charms of the film stems from director Joel Schroeder’s early decision not to pursue an interview with the strip’s creator.
“When we went to Chagrin Falls,” Schroeder recently explained, “we did not pursue interviews with his parents, we did not drive past his parent’s house. It was a hands-off approach. And the reason was to try to be clear and communicate that [Dear Mr. Watterson] is not about the sensational idea of trying to track him down. It is really about the impact he had through his comic strip.”
As if 89 minutes of interviews with comic artists, critics and fans weren’t enough, Schroeder made sure to elicit the appropriate emotional responses with an original soundtrack provided by Boggs and his Washington, D.C. band, We Were Pirates. The original film score, now available online, can’t help but conjure images of boy Calvin romping through the woods with his tiger, or fighting evil space aliens as his alter ego Spaceman Spiff.
“Years ago, Mike contacted me,” recalls Schroeder, “and expressed interest in providing or making music for the film. I had always wanted Calvin & Hobbes fans to put their talents to work to make the movie.”
By the time Schroeder was able to follow up with him last June, Boggs had forgotten about the offer: “I was checking my email one day and I saw that Joel had written me saying something like, ‘Okay, we’ve wrapped filming and are ready to start working on music.’ He told me he had used some of my songs as placeholders in the rough cuts of the film and asked if I wanted to try to write some original music. I dropped everything I was doing and started working up demos.”
This is the first film Boggs has scored, but he hopes it won’t be the last. The process was a fun challenge, he says. Schroeder would send cuts of the film as the editing progressed, and Boggs would write something specific for that segment of the documentary. Stimulating his creative juices was the musician’s own connection with Calvin.
“I was a little trouble-making, blonde kid getting sent to the principal’s office all the time,” says Boggs. “I remember having such a different perspective on life than a lot of the adults around. But I would read Calvin & Hobbes, and they’d be having these conversations that would somehow capture the dark, absurdity of life in a way that made me laugh. I used to pack a lunch and a few of the books and just go exploring in the woods all day.”
The result of Boggs’ work is a 17-track album with song tiles like “Transmorgified” and “A Boy & His Tiger.” The songs range from upbeat pop to darker pieces that reflect some of the conflict in the film. Boggs’ indie-rock background is evident in the soundtrack, but much of the character of the album comes from the strings of Kate Rears Burgman, who plays cello for the score. “She’s classically trained and has perfect pitch,” says Boggs. “so it’s nice to be able to bring her in at my home studio and play a new song for her and then just hit record.”
Last month, Boggs attended the first screening of the documentary in Los Angeles with his wife and was pleased with the results. His favorite use of his work is a song called “A Strange Experience” written for a scene where Schroeder is viewing some of Watterson’s original strips at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. “He’s in this white viewing room delicately handling these priceless originals with gloves on while being supervised,” says Boggs. “It’s interesting watching this irreverent comic handled so reverently.”
The music is available to download now, but access the documentary will have to wait. Dear Mr. Watterson is touring through various film festivals and small independent theatres, screening dates for which are available on the official website. Kickstarter backers will get their DVD and Blu-ray copies of the film first, before it becomes available to the general public through iTunes, Amazon and other platforms later this year.