Bill Watterson, the famously reclusive creator of beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, returned to your newspaper's comics page this week, and you probably didn't even notice. The sub rosa comic strips – three of them, to be exact – are the first Watterson has illustrated and published in almost 20 years.
So why didn't you notice Watterson's return – and how come you didn't hear about it sooner? Two reasons.
- The comics were a collaboration between Watterson and cartoonist Stephan Pastis, creator of Pearls Before Swine, but ran under Pastis' name.
- Pastis promised that he would keep the collaboration a secret until all three of Watterson's strips had run.
Pastis kept his word. Watterson's strips ran on June 4th, 5th and 6th. This morning, Pastis went public on his blog. There, he tells the story of how the collaboration came to be. The story begins with the following comic strip, which Pastis sent to Watterson in thanks "for all his great work and the influence he'd had on me." He never expected a reply.
Not only did Watterson reply, he told Pastis he had an idea for a strip:
He said he knew that in my strip, I frequently make fun of my own art skills. And that he thought it would be funny to have me get hit on the head or something and suddenly be able to draw. Then he'd step in and draw my comic strip for a few days.
The cartoonist who last drew Calvin and Hobbes riding their sled into history would return to the comics page.
To draw Pearls Before Swine.
...The idea I proposed was that instead of having me get hit on the head, I would pretend that Pearls was being drawn by a precocious second grader who thought my art was crap.
The collaboration was born.
Pictured above, in the middle panel, is the first of illustration of Watterson's to appear in a newspaper's funny pages since the final strip of Calvin and Hobbes was published on December 31, 1995. (A near exception: Watterson recently provided the poster art for the cartoon documentary Stripped.) Watterson's second strip in almost 20 years appears at the top of this post.
Watterson's final strip, and the two strips in which Pastis introduces Libby, Watterson's 7-year-old alter ego, can be accessed via Pastis' blog, where he relates the story from start to finish with characteristic humor and humility.