Above is a promo for a Cotton Factory T-shirt. I found it this morning and I immediately recognized the image from a Calvin and Hobbes strip. I rummaged through my collection of books and found the strip in one of of Bill Watterson‘s later collections, “There’s Treasure Everywhere”.
In most cases, syndicate companies like Universal Press (Calvin and Hobbes), King Features, or United Media, represent cartoonists like agents and plug them into various newspapers and other media around the world.
On the Universal Press website, they discuss the difference between Licensing In and Licensing Out. Licensing In is the job of the company’s art direction department that rifles through applications and promotions. Each year, only a few comic strips are chosen for syndication. King Features prints only three new comics a year out of around 5000 applications.
Licensing Out is when the syndicate licenses a comic or character to another company for use on a product or promotion. It’s kind of like celebrity endorsement, only it’s an image of Garfield, which was probably created before the licensing out, slapped on a box of cereal.
I can’t seem to find any information on the input of cartoonists when dealing with the licensing of comics to other outputs. Licensing Out would have been the exchange The Cotton Factory would have made with Universal Press, but the image of the dead bird appeared only once and isn’t iconic to Calvin and Hobbes. That said, it makes me suspicious that the image was stolen and turned into a lame graphic on a t-shirt.
I’m debating whether or not to send my findings to Universal Press, which Calvin and Hobbes were printed under. It seems that in most cases, artists retain ownership of their own work, but the ambiguous rhetoric of the syndicate websites suggest that the companies own the comics and have the freedom to grant specific licensing to advertisers, for packaging, or other outputs. I would much rather contact Bill Watterson directly, but I can’t find his contact info anywhere and all I know is that he lives in Kansas. Maybe I’ll just throw a letter into a passing tornado. I’m just concerned if I notify Universal Press, the company will take the case into their own hands and leave Watterson won’t get any input or see a dime come his way.