HEROES

 

Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes)

Born in 1959, Bill worked in advertising (which he hated) when he decided to spend more time doing his first love, drawing cartoons.  In 1985, he started "Calvin & Hobbes" which ran for the next 10 years, or 3,150 strips.

 

Watterson is a hero because of his passionate and artistic stance against the normal procedures of the comic strip industry.  Despite Calvin & Hobbes being wildly successful, he felt strongly that the characters should not be merchandised even though he stood to make millions.  In addition he was instrumental in influencing the syndicates to devote more space to the comic art form so that the detail and nuance of the strip could better be appreciated.  Fans fell in love with Calvin and his pet Tiger primarily because of the beauty of the artwork coupled with the wit of the narrative.

 

Anyone who has read the strip, knows that Calvin's imagination and complete self-absorption leads to the exploration of humanity's motivations, altruism, and morality.  We all learn from Calvin and his conversations with with the alive-only-in-Calvin's-mind Hobbes.

 

Even though Watterson is still alive, he is extremely reclusive and he is mourned by many as if he is gone. Alas, the existential questions that Calvin made us explore in ourselves has stopped.

very individual needs his or her heroes.  These are the people that move, touch, or inspire us to be better people and a more productive member of humanity.  They can be a schoolteacher, a pastor, a parent, a child, or an iconic figure whose works and countenance transcend mediocrity.  The people on this page represent the heroes of innovation, uniqueness, genius, rule-breaking, risk-taking, and bet-the-farm mentality.  They are the ones whose passion serves as their compass.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Much has been written about Steve Jobs, both good and bad. Never one to tolerate mediocrity, Jobs could be a tyrant and a genius depending on your perspective.  His story is mythical Americana...start a company, become a multi-millionaire, get fired from company, languish in exile, return to company and lead it to be the most successful corporation of all time.   Of course, that company is Apple Computer.

 

Jobs isn't a hero for his monetary success with Apple.  He is a hero because his vision drove an entire culture of artistic integrity as it intersected with technology.  He led Apple to be the perfect blend of beauty and innovation.  He famously quoted Wayne Gretzky as saying "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it's been."

 

Apple didn't invent much of the raw technology that they sell, but they invented the means to integrate technologies to make them items that we couldn't live without.  Apple, with Jobs' leadership and influence, is responsible for the following:

  • Using a color TV screen for the monitor of the original Apple II in 1979
  • Mass producing the graphical user interface that we all use today with the original Macintosh in 1984
  • Making computers "cool" with the jelly bean translucency of the original iMacs in 2000
  • The click wheel navigation and 1000 songs in your pocket of the original iPod in 2001
  • Touch navigation and the phone-as-a-computer realization of the iPhone in 2007
  • Creating a device that is "magical" with the iPad in 2009
  • Taking a clumsy "wearables" market and gilding it with design and function with Apple Watch in 2015

 

Jobs' influence on the contributions of any of these innovations would be significant, but to have overseen all of them is astounding.  In a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University a few years before his death he instructed the students to "Stay hungry, stay foolish."

 

For that attitude, he is our hero.

Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Considered the premiere artist and architect of the High Renaissance, Michelangelo was responsible for radical and innovative expression beyond anything seen before him.  As an artist, he realized that music was a series of geometries.  For instance, a plucked string would play an octave higher if made half of the length.  As an architect, he used these mathematical proportions to experience a symphony as they walked through a building.

 

He innovated "forced perspective," manipulating the visual senses of the user to achieve greater or lesser importance just based on illusion of spaces and tricking the eye to perceive his emotional objective.

 

His sculpture of David was like nothing seen before.  No artist had ever so radically broken from "known information" (The Bible's story of David's youth, timidity, and meekness) and created a work that embodied an artist's interpretation and expression rather than the consensus of the public.  It was almost blasphemous at the time, but his David was a towering, muscular, young man who had the full confidence of being able to slay Goliath.  It was, of course, Michelangelo's interpretation rather than the public's general belief of what David was supposed to look like.  It opened the door for artists to use the their medium as an expression of soul and communication rather than replication.

 

The hardest thing of all is for people to imagine things never imagined before.  Michelangelo is our hero for helping to chart that path for the rest of us.

Ayn Rand (Howard Roark) (1905-1982)

Her philosophies are controversial and dividing even today, but Rand brought her philosophical metaphor to life through the lives of two architects.

 

Most architects have read Ayn Rand's classic book "The Fountainhead."  The book follows a fictional story of two architects from their educational years through their careers.  They intersect often, and one is revered while the other is despised by the public.

 

Peter Fleming gave the world what they thought they wanted.  He replicated architecture practiced through the ages and designed buildings that nobody objected to.  He was one of the masses, and they weren't threatened by his mediocre talent.  Howard Roark, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, was a maverick.  His architecture was genius.  He refused to use classical motifs repeated thousands of times before, and instead insisted on designing every building to be an honest expression of its context, structure, and purpose.  The designs were foreign and alien to the masses.  Because of this, he was reviled.  The art critic Ellsworth Toohey goes out of his way to insult and criticize Howard's work while at the same time endorsing Fleming's.  Toohey has the power to influence the opinion of the masses, and he uses that power to manipulate his agenda.

 

The story makes you cheer for Roark as the odds are stacked against him.  He is uncompromising, unflinching, and unbroken with his pursuit of the art of architecture.  There is no grey area with him for what any particular building should look like.  The buildings design themselves as they should be as he interprets that design.

 

Rand's books deal with Objectivism--a philosophy that embraces the value of the "productive" individual.  Genius over mediocrity.  Self-reliance over welfare.  For every architect that goes to school wanting to make a difference with the built environment, Rand's Howard Roark is the first person to admire.