Earlier this week, we reported on a mysterious rumored guest artist on the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, which was running a meta-plotline in which a second grader named Libby takes over art duties from strip writer/artist Stephan Pastis. As many keen-eyed readers speculated, the guest artist turned out to be Bill Watterson, the creator of the much-beloved Calvin and Hobbes, who ended his public career on December 31, 1995 after announcing its ending just two months earlier with the following letter sent to newspaper editors for publication:
I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
The final Calvin and Hobbes strip. [src]
After publishing that final strip, Watterson kept out of the public eye, reportedly taking up painting and only very occasionally producing anything for public consumption, such as a review of the a Charles Schulz biography for the New York Times in 2007, a foreward for a collection of Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac in 2008, and an oil on board painting for a Parkinson's charity project run by Team Cul de Sac in 2011. And now, we have these glorious few panels of Watterson returning to a medium of which he is indisputably one of the greatest masters of all time.
Watterson's painting of Cul de Sac character Petey Otterloop was his first public art in fifteen years. [src]
The collaboration between Pastis and Watterson began when Pastis visited Cleveland Ohio and attempted to meet up with Watterson, to no avail. However, Pastis later emailed Watterson, including a Pearls Before Swine strip referencing Calvin and Hobbes that had recently been published in newspapers. Pastis reveals the whole story on his blog.
If it's wrong, why does it feel so right? [src]
Surprisingly, Watterson wrote back. Pastis describes what that was like:
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.
And so, the plans were set in motion for Watterson's return to comics. Pastis gives more details on the collaboration in his blog post, including an amusing story about talking Watterson through using a scanner. The end result speaks for itself:
As you would expect, the buzz around the strips built all week before Plastis revealed Watterson's involvement after the last one was published Friday, resulting in a flurry of media attention which probably alerted tons of people to the fact that newspaper comic strips actually still exist. What's that, you ask? What's a newspaper? Don't worry, kids, we've got you covered. You can follow your favorite strips on the interwebs at GoComics.com (and follow Pearls Before Swine here). It's a cool site that I've visited in the past, but after this story, the first thing I did was create an account and start adding comics to my follow page. Try it out!
While Watterson's four panels marked his first return to newspaper strips since ending Calvin and Hobbes, it wasn't his first return to the comics medium in general. Earlier this year, Watterson revealed his first public cartoon in nineteen years in the form of a movie poster for the documentary Stripped.
And for you purists that are worried that Watterson's guest stint might be one of the last gasps of the dying newspaper strip, don't be sad. The medium isn't changing - it's evolving, as Watterson himself pointed out in a 2013 interview with Mental Floss:
Personally, I like paper and ink better than glowing pixels, but to each his own. Obviously the role of comics is changing very fast. On the one hand, I don’t think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now. On the other hand, the mass media is disintegrating, and audiences are atomizing. I suspect comics will have less widespread cultural impact and make a lot less money. I’m old enough to find all this unsettling, but the world moves on. All the new media will inevitably change the look, function, and maybe even the purpose of comics, but comics are vibrant and versatile, so I think they’ll continue to find relevance one way or another. But they definitely won’t be the same as what I grew up with.
No one knows if we'll have to wait another twenty years for Watterson to grace us with his cartoons again. As Watterson told the Cleveland Plains Dealer in an interview in 2010:
This isn't as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of ten years, I'd said pretty much everything I had come there to say. It's always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip's popularity and repeated myself for another five, ten, or twenty years, the people now "grieving" for Calvin and Hobbes would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I'd be agreeing with them. I think some of the reason Calvin and Hobbes still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it. I've never regretted stopping when I did.
Hmm... sounds a lot like the output of Marvel and DC.
Luckily, Calvin and Hobbes will always stand the test of time, and new readers will continue to enjoy its visual wit and timeless charm it for generations to come. And as fellow Ohio comics creator and occasional Outhouse contributor James Moore points out:
We now return you to your regularly scheduled bitching about superhero comics.