Bill Watterson, reclusive creator of Calvin and Hobbes, sneaked back into the comics pages this week, collaborating with Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis on a special series of strips. Speculation ran rampant on whether or not Watterson was Patsis’s secret partner, with Patsis confirming that he was on a post to his blog.
When Calvin and Hobbes ended on December 31, 1995, Bill Watterson entered into a kind of seclusion. A very private man, he gives no interviews and refuses to license his characters out. This comic strip work with Pastis is monumental, as Watterson has a legion of fans from Calvin and Hobbes that are hungry for more of his work. His output has been mostly nil since the strip ended, with much of his work being print articles, not the cartoons for which he became famous.
Notoriously hard to get a hold of, Watterson sent Pearls Before Swine writer and artist Stephan Pastis an email after Pastis ran a cartoon in which he claimed to have created Calvin and Hobbes so he could sleep with a woman. Watterson’s email said he enjoyed the strip and had an idea for a collaboration. In his blog, Pastis said he was floored by the overture, considering that Watterson had been all but removed from public life.
The idea for sneaking Watterson into the strip and back onto the comics pages was actually Watterson’s. It concerned Pastis, who will often make fun of his artistic abilities, getting hit in the head and becoming suddenly able to draw well. Watterson would then draw those strips. The idea morphed into a setup that had Pearls Before Swine being drawn by a second grader named Lib, which Pastis says is almost Bill backwards. The art is noticeably better than Pastis’ own, which led many to speculate that Bill Watterson was drawing the strip.
Watterson is legendary for his Calvin and Hobbes work. A new documentary, Dear M. Watterson, was just released. The new documentary, directed by Joel Allen Schroeder, is not about finding Bill Watterson, who is infamously private. Rather the film examines Calvin and Hobbes and the impact it had on its audience. By examining different Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, Schroeder looks at the way that Watterson influenced and inspired the people who read the strip. Issues of morality and existentialism were a part of Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes output.
Bill Watterson’s and Calvin and Hobbes’ legacy is massive. While Watterson has never licensed his character’s, bootleg bumper stickers of Calvin urinating an one logo or another are widespread. Another comic strip, Jef Mallett’s Frazz, is theorized to be the tale of an older Calvin, working as a janitor in his old school. While Mallett has denied this theory, he makes no secret of the influence that Bill Watterson’s work had on his own.
Bill Watterson sneaking back into the comics is a huge event for comics lovers. Stephan Pastis was able to give people what they wanted, new art from one of their favorite artists. Pastis considers himself the luckiest of the bunch, being able to work with one of his heroes.
By Bryan Levy