Comic strips were what made me want to be an artist. There’s no straight line to be drawn between them and my graphic design career, but few people have influenced me creatively as much as Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) did in my formative years. So I had hoped that Stripped, a documentary about comic strips and the people who make them, would give me a new angle from which to revisit that specific joy the comics page used to bring me every morning. But it doesn’t really have any fresh insights to offer anyone who already has a pronounced interest in the subject. Not even an extremely rare interview with the aforementioned and universally admired Watterson – a major coup – is able to dislodge any remotely surprising bits of wisdom. The film is competently structured to touch on the history, business, and creative challenges of the art form, with extra attention given to its struggle to adapt to the digital age. But it just doesn’t seem to ask any questions that don’t have a straightforward answer, and the filmmakers themselves often respond to their interviewees with a conversational “yeah,” as if to confirm that, yes, they heard what they expected to hear.
A 101 course like Stripped, designed to be easily digestible by a broad audience, can’t be expected to blow anyone’s mind. But it still ought to delve far enough below the surface to find something of substance to offer the sizable portion of its audience that already knows the core material. Stripped undertakes no such excavation.