For three days this week, Stephan Pastis’ comic strip Pearls Before Swine looked a lot different from its usual spare appearance. And while a lot of people guessed correctly as to who’d taken over the artwork, it was not until Pastis confirmed the ruse on Saturday morning that it was official: Bill Watterson was, for a brief shining moment, back on the comics pages.
It’s been 19 years since Calvin and Hobbes ended, and since then, Watterson had remained out of the public eye, only recently popping up with new material, one portrait of Petey Otterloop of Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac for the charity project arising from Thompson’s bout with Parkinson’s disease that prematurely ended that similarly esteemed strip, and a poster for the comic strip documentary Stripped earlier this year.
But this one was different. On his blog, Pastis tells how he decided to try and meet Watterson during Pastis’ book tour last April, working through Washington Post cartoonist Nick Galifianakis (cousin of Zach), who’d worked with Watterson on the Cul de Sac project. That didn’t happen, but Pastis sent an email anyway, and Watterson responded with an idea for a Pearls gag based on Pastis’ frequent lampooning of his own limited art skills (Pastis is a character in his own strip, and his characters, especially the acerbic Rat, often criticize him for his “stick figure” artwork). The impetus: Watterson told the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna that the originals will be sold to benefit the Parkinson’s charity (Chris Sparks’ Team Cu de Sac, raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation). Ultimately, they settled on the idea of a second grader who would insult Pastis and then show how she could draw the strip better; “Libby” (sort of a sideways “Billy”) thus became Watterson’s conduit back to the daily newspaper comics pages.
And… yeah, we overuse the word “awesome,” but, well, awesome. (We need to consult a thesaurus.) The joke gets set up here and here, and then the three Watterson-aided strips are here, here, and here. The final strip has a reference to the final Calvin and Hobbes strip so blatant that its obviousness becomes the punch line — that’s here.
The originals will be on display at HeroesCon in Charlotte June 20-22. The auction will be held in the coming months.
It’s a magical world, indeed.
(Picture Credit: Stephan Pastis/Universal UClick)