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Universal Press Syndicate, an Andrews McMeel Universal company, is the newspaper syndicate that published Calvin and Hobbes during its 10-year run. As Universal is a subsidiary of Andrews Mcmeel, the latter published all of the Calvin and Hobbes printed collections.
History with Bill Watterson
In 1983, Bill Watterson pitched In the Doghouse to Universal Press Syndicate. However, the strip was deemed hard to sell and rejected. Watterson then went to United Feature Syndicate with the same strip, and received a better reception. Although Watterson complied with the syndicate's suggestions to focus the strip on Calvin (originally a side character), the comic was ultimately rejected by United Feature. However, it was eventually picked up by Universal Press Syndicate, which warmed up to the strip after its design revisions.
Universal published the first Calvin and Hobbes strip on November 18, 1985. Initially, 35 syndicated newspapers carried the comic. The comic drew nearly instant public acclaim, and climbed up to 250 newspapers carrying it within a year. As the strip continued its meteoric rise, however, quarrels began to brew between Watterson and Universal.
The syndicate pressed Watterson for merchandise licenses and book tours to promote the printed collections. Watterson, however, declined, as he believed commercialization would degrade his work. As Universal could not replace Watterson without losing the popularity of the strip (which was at one point carried in 2400 newspapers), the syndicate reluctantly agreed to lose the millions to be made in merchandise. As such, very few instances of merchandise were produced outside of the books.
Moreover, Bill Watterson struggled with the syndicate over the reduced size of newspaper comics and the creative limitations that resulted from it. After managing to convince Universal to revise the Sunday format, Bill Watterson met with outrage from editors of the syndicated newspapers, and even from fellow comic strip artists for not working within the industry standards. However, as the editors were afraid to lose the popular strip, the deal went well and there were few cancellations.
Burned out over the licensing and strip size issues, which impeded on the time he had to write the strip, Watterson took a sabbatical from May 6, 1991 to February 1st, 1992. Universal later granted him another sabbatical, for all of 1994 following April 4. Despite this second extended break, Watterson saw less possibilities for the strip and, fearing decline in quality, began to consider ending the strip. Thus, in 1995, he sent Universal Press Syndicate a letter announcing his decision to end the strip on the last day of the year. Bill Watterson continued to work with Universal to allow the publishing of new book collections, such as Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.