Bill Watterson, the creator of the beloved “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip series, secretly returned to the pages of newspapers across the world this week.
The reason no one noticed is that he wasn’t creating new stories for his signature characters but was instead making an unannounced guest appearance in Stephan Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine” strip for three days (June 4th-6th).
Watterson asked Pastis to keep their collaboration a secret until all three strips had run.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Watterson explained why he was willing to work with Pastis:
“Several years ago, when Stephan did one of his strips that mocked his own drawing ability and mentioned my strip in comparison, I thought it might be funny for me to ghost ‘Pearls’ sometime, just to flip it all on its head,” the goateed Watterson tells me, offering a clear indication that he still follows the funnies. “It was just a silly idea, and I didn’t know Stephan, so I never pursued it, and years went by.”
After the three strips had been published, he was then free to share with the world the story of how he drew one of the world's most famous living artists out of self-imposed retirement.
Pastis posted an entry to his personal blog where he explained how the strange and unexpected collaboration came to be. Like many other artists, he had tried to contact the reclusive Watterson to no avail. But Watterson finally responded after Pastis ran a strip in which his character claims to be the “Calvin and Hobbes” creator in order to pick up a date at a bar.
Watterson then sent Pastis an email saying he wanted to run an idea for a new comic by Pastis:
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.
Pastis said he then nervously suggested a slightly different storyline:
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. At every point in the process, I feared I would say something wrong. And that Bill would disappear back into the ether. And that the whole thing would seem like a wisp of my imagination. But it wasn’t that way. Throughout the process, Bill was funny and flexible and easy to work with.
The blog post contains several other humerous and interesting anecodtes, including how it became increasingly clear that Watterson is technologically-adverse and how Pastis feared this could end up ruining their working relationship before the fun, creative parts ever had a chance to be seen by the rest of the world.
Nonetheless, it all worked out and the ensuing collaboration was Watterson’s first published strip since he ended Calvin and Hobbes back on New Year’s Eve 1995.