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TIGER HUNTING 

Author tracks elusive Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, and more in this week's Scene and Heard

Northeast Ohioan Bill Watterson is an enigma to even his most ardent fans. But author Nevin Martell claims to have pinned down the elusive writer-illustrator in his upcoming book Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip.

"It's a traditional biographical narrative, with an emerging detective story and [context material about] myself," says Martell, a Washington, D.C.-area resident and contributing editor of music magazine Filter. His previous books are about Dave Matthews and Beck.

Calvin and Hobbes debuted in 1985, and over a 10-year run, it rivaled Peanuts for most beloved and influential American comic strip. But unlike Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, Watterson flatly rejected all offers to cash in through merchandising — no T-shirts, no dolls, no (authorized) stickers, no TV series, no movie. He abruptly ended the strip in 1995, leaving a void in the funny pages. Since signing his last strip, Watterson has been a recluse, refusing to interpret or explain his distinct legacy and turning down most interviews.

"Over the course of the project, I came into contact with [Watterson] a few times," says Martell, who remains vague on the details. "We had some exchanges through some intermediaries ... I can't give away the ending, but I think people will be happy with the ending."

Martell says the book is partly "a love letter" to Watterson's work, but notes that the adulation isn't just from him. He conducted 100 interviews for the book, many of them testimony from Watterson's peers and the generation of artists he influenced, including Pixar writer-director Brad Bird, novelist Jonathan Lethem and Cleveland illustrated-novel author Harvey Pekar. Not surprisingly, all of them are glowing.

"There's a passage in the book where I wonder aloud whether anyone would say anything bad about him as a cartoonist," says Martell. The only borderline-negative input he received was some half-hearted grumbling about Watterson's absence from the professional circles where he's worshipped. Fourteen years after the strip folded, it's still a presence: This year, Nickelodeon Magazine readers voted Calvin winner of the Best Hair in Comics award. Calvin and Hobbes collections still sell more than a million copies a year worldwide. A recent episode of Family Guy featured a Calvin & Hobbes gag.

Martell says that the book should dispel some of the legends that have sprung up in the void of hard information about Watterson, who still lives in the area. For example, he says that the long-running rumor that Watterson has scripted and financed a Calvin and Hobbes movie are false.

The book is slated for October publication by Continuum Books. A free chapter is available now; e-mail a request to lookingforcalvinandhobbes@gmail.com. — D.X. Ferris

WHO DARES CHALLENGE TICKETMASTER?

Starting October 1, Cleveland-based ticketing service Veritix will become the exclusive ticket provider for all events at Quicken Loans Arena — from the Lake Erie Monsters to Metallica.

"We're excited about the technology and conveniences and security and new options this provides our fans and vendors," says Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper. "We think Veritix offers the most fan-friendly solutions on the market."

Not that the new contract was the result of much bidding. Veritix's majority owner is Dan Gilbert, also chairmain/founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cavs. Veritix's clients include Denver's Pepsi Center and Houston's Toyota Center. Veritix will exclusively sell Q-events tickets on both the primary and secondary market, so don't look for mile-high prices to disappear any time soon.

For a Houston Green Day concert, online Veritix orders for a $49.50 ticket incur an additional $4 "arena handling fee," plus an $8.50 "convenience fee." For the upcoming Cleveland Jonas Brothers concert, livenation.com diverts orders to Ticketmaster's website, where tickets are slapped with convenience fees between $7.45 and $7.90, and a $4.10 order-processing fee.

Multiply that by the Q's 20,000 capacity, and a sold-out show can net close to $200,000 in excess fees alone.

Ticketmaster's contract with the Q was set to expire in 2010, but Veritix, Ticketmaster and the Cavaliers settled a lawsuit in May, allowing the new arrangement.

Ticketmaster is the country's largest live entertainment ticketing and marketing company, operating worldwide. Last year, it purchased a controlling interest in Front Line Management Group, a company that represents giants such as the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Van Halen and Guns N' Roses. Ticketmaster is in talks to merge with entertainment behemoth Live Nation.

Live Nation, which promotes most concerts at the arena, had no comment about the switch to Veritix. The change could see more big-ticket shows — an increasingly rare breed — held at the nearby Wolstein Center at CSU, which has a capacity shy of 14,000.

Tickets sold via Ticketmaster before October will still be honored, with no kind of conversion or exchange necessary — and no extra fee. — Ferris

LOBBYISTS IN THE WHITE HOUSE?

SAY IT AIN'T SO, O!

Walking up the long and luxuriously paved hill to Shaker Heights High School on Thursday afternoon with my two-year-old daughter Isabel in a stroller, a peanut-butter cookie smeared all over her face and dress, I'd never felt angrier at the president I helped to vote into office.

You don't want to see me, Obama? After all you've been through?

I'd called to reserve a spot in the press section for your big local unveiling of a Health-Care Plan to Save All Health-Care Investors, the one you crafted with all those dozens of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists who came to the White House in recent months to be thanked for your victory against Hillary. But one of your spokeswomen told me basically that the mainstream media had this one covered, thanks all the same. Seriously? Candidate Obama let me in.

So I took Isabel, thinking maybe she could woo someone in authority to wave us in. No luck. And so we talked to people outside — liberals and conservatives alike, and you know what, B? They all fucking love you. Except for that little cluster of tax-whining poster-boarders, huddled around their champion, the guy holding the one with your picture as Jesus, warning passersby to "BEWARE FALSE IDOLS." They hate you. "Was he wearing a halo in there today?" he asked the throngs leaving the forum. One girl was telling someone on her phone how she touched your hand.

Steve Stipkovich, an 18-year-old freshman at Ohio State, came back to the old alma mater to root you on. "I'm very conservative, generally," he said. "But I think he's a good guy, that he really has his heart and his mind in the right place. He's got that smile, the looks, the words. But I'm not too sure we don't need to take more time and consider the impact this [health care] bill is going to have. It's huge."

Isabel gave the new man a look because he didn't even try to say hi to her. I gave him a look after he walked off because he seemed like a Republican plant.

See? I'm looking out for you, B. Maybe it doesn't matter to you that I had Isabel all geared up, saying "O-BOM-BA, O-BOM-BA" all the way from the house. Or that I voted for you. Or that I put an Obama poster in my window leading up to the election and shot the stink-eye to the guy in the fanny pack across the street, just because he gave your poster the stink-eye. I've gushed unapologetically in stories about your proposals, like I knew you and baptized your girls. I slammed W. like he tripped my kid for fun.

The cold shoulder is one thing; the lobbyist caucuses another. And then this: a health-care plan that keeps the insurance lobby in monocles and Marriotts?

Isabel knows what I'm talking about. So does John Ross, a Toledo physician who was wearing his lab coat and buttons on Thursday in support of true universal care, HR676, the one that will be on the other end of the looming Congressional debate.

"They call [Obama's] plan socialism anyway, just for trying to tackle it," said Ross. "But think about it: The insurance industry makes $10-$15 billion in profit annually. Why not just pay to make them go away?"

But didn't they pay to make Hillary go away? "He's trying," conceded Ross. "He's looking for some way to walk this tight rope."

But Ross noted how you, Mr. President, drew the biggest applause on Thursday when you did a little industry-bashing. Just a little. Woulda been nice to witness that.

Listen to how Lana Moresky of Shaker Heights summed up the courage you exhibited: "They were listing off the presidents who've said that health care is a worry and they went back to, like, Truman. It's been forever we've been talking about this, so for people to say we're rushing into it ... "

She's right: You're brave to try. America is a motherfucker, divided almost perfectly in half. Cleveland's like that too. You'd have seen that better on Thursday if you would have taken Kinsman to the town hall instead of the conveniently less-nasty detour, like we used to do when we were young.

Respectfully, we don't think the bubble behooves you, sir.

"He makes people feel like maybe America is starting to be what it's always said it was," said Marsha Brooks, a lifelong Clevelander who was one of the last to leave the school on Thursday. "We've still got a long way to go, but this gives folks, especially young folks, hope."

But in what? Confidence in a system of superpowerdom?

I miss you, B. Call me. — Dan Harkins

BOXED IN

Members of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland were already hot and getting stinky at noon Monday, the start of their vigil outside the county's social-services building on Payne Avenue. CEO Earl Pike said right there on the sidewalk — alongside a long line of cardboard boxes with faux eviction notices taped on for symbolic flair — that they would stay until the county finally coughs up the $120,000 in federal rent-assistance money that the task force doles out each quarter to poor HIV patients. The money is always late in coming, said Pike, but they've been waiting almost five months so far this cycle.

Of the approximately 150 people in the program (Ryan White Part A), about 20 have already been told by their landlords to clear out. "These people are ashamed," said Pike. "Some feel like they're doing something wrong in asking, rather than this being a situation where the county, who is supposed to provide these funds, is not coming through."

The county didn't even open up the application process until March, just a month before the coverage period began. Pike says he knows the county is suffering financially, but so is his agency.

His director of public policy, Jessica Gupta, said the agency is $300,000 in hock already for other vital services. The state and city are late in payments too. They suspect a little "co-mingling" of funds taking place at a variety of levels.

"This year, we said enough is enough," said Pike.

A few hours after the sun went down, Pike answered his cell phone sounding less than optimistic. Pike, Gupta and two others planned to sleep in the boxes out under the stars. "We're still here," he said. "We saw [the county workers] get in their cars and leave, but we'll be here staying the night. We could take the easy road out now. They went home; we could too. But we're not going to do that."

In the morning, amid the bustle of the clients visiting caseworkers and probation officers, they were still waiting.

"Somebody told us the check was in the mail," said Judith Pindell, another task force member. "But they've been saying that for 10 years."

Gupta looked tired. And angry. And resolute. "I'm here," she said. "I don't know how many other people will be, but I'm doing it."

But her wait was pretty much over. By noon on Tuesday, county administrator Jim McCafferty told Scene that the check indeed was in the mail.

"They knew they were getting their check today," he said, "So I don't even know why they had the protest."

McCafferty says he understands that the process is turtle-paced, but this year it was exacerbated by a "performance issue that was dealt with" — he declined to elaborate. "Our intent is that we won't be late next year. We're looking at what we can do [to streamline], but it's a complicated process." — Harkins

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