I was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side as a kid. When those strips were shut down in 1995 I completely abandoned newspaper comics. Clearly, I should have been following Pearls Before Swine because I would have been very curious to know why panels in some of his recent comics looked a hell of a lot like something Bill Watterson would draw.
Well guess what.
Pearls Before Swine‘s Stephan Pastis has revealed that he secretly collaborated with Watterson on a series of strips. The reclusive genius behind Calvin and Hobbes had returned to the comics page.
Pastis tells the story behind the collaboration on his blog. It started when he sent Watterson this strip:
To his surprise, Watterson actually responded. And he proposed a collaboration based on Pastis’ tendency to make fun of his own art skills. Watterson thought it would be funny if he secretly drew panels in Pearls Before Swine for a few days. As you might expect, Pastis thought he was living a dream:
Let me tell you. Just getting an email from Bill Watterson is one of the most mind-blowing, surreal experiences I have ever had. Bill Watterson really exists? And he sends email? And he’s communicating with me?
But he was. And he had a great sense of humor about the strip I had done, and was very funny, and oh yeah….
…He had a comic strip idea he wanted to run by me.
Now if you had asked me the odds of Bill Watterson ever saying that line to me, I’d say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff. And yes, I’m aware Hendrix is dead.
He went on to say:
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.
Like at one point when I wanted to change a line of dialogue he wrote, I prefaced it by saying, “I feel like a street urchin telling Michelangelo that David’s hands are too big.” But he liked the change. And that alone was probably the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.
In the strip at the top, Watterson’s hand is clearly present in the first and second panels with both the drawings and majority of the lettering. In the comic below, the same is true for the second panel.
The entire series can be viewed on GoComics starting here. Watterson worked on three strips in total. There is also an interview with Bill Watterson about his involvement in The Washington Post. He notes:
“I had expected to just mess around with his characters while they did their usual things,” Watterson tells me, “but Stephan kept setting up these situations that required more challenging drawings .?.?. so I had to work a lot harder than I had planned to! It was a lot of fun.”
Keep in mind that Bill Watterson is like the J.D. Salinger of comic strips, so this is a rare and wonderful moment. However, it seems that Watterson has taken steps to get back into the comics game a bit starting with his involvement in the Stripped documentary earlier this year. Could he be getting an itch to make a full blown comeback? I wouldn’t hold my breath for new Calvin and Hobbes, but I’ll be dammed if that wouldn’t be a dream come true.
Thanks to Jenn for the tip!