The Elusive Creator of Calvin and Hobbes Made a Surprise Return to Comics This Week

Slate's Culture Blog
June 7 2014 1:41 PM

The Elusive Creator of Calvin and Hobbes Made a Surprise Return to Comics This Week

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If that middle panel looks familiar, it's because it was drawn by one of the most famous comic artists of all time.

courtesy of STEPHAN PASTIS / distributed by Universal Uclick

Bill Watterson is often called the J.D. Salinger of comics. The man was reclusive when drawing his legendary Calvin and Hobbes strip, but since retiring in 1995 he's basically disappeared: He's made few public appearances, given even fewer interviews, and produced only one or two drawings. So it's something of a revelation that Watterson, in three strips from the past week, served as a guest artist on Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine.

The work represents Watterson's first published strips in almost 20 years. Pastis, who said the collaboration was "like getting a call from Bigfoot,” instantly agreed when Watterson suggested guest-drawing Pearls and donating the originals to raise money for Parkinson's research. The idea is rooted in Pastis' signature self-deprecation—he often pokes fun at his own drawing ability in Pearls—and Watterson's guest art is set up with an amusing conceit: Libby, a precocious second-grader introduced in two recent strips, boasts that she can easily best Pastis' stick-figure style. In the three subsequent strips, she draws imaginative scenes replete with Martian robots and rich detail—features that, in retrospect, are clear indicators of Watterson's work.

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Pastis ceded Pearls' middle panel to Watterson in these three strips from the past week. (From top to bottom: June 4, 5, and 6.)

Courtesy of Stephan Pastis / distr. by Universal Uclick

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The writing on the strips also employs a smart meta-humor, and today's Pearls strip, done entirely by Pastis, is a fitting conclusion to the project: it's a homage to Calvin and Hobbes' famed last strip, which has the boy and his tiger sledding into the white expanse of their own imaginations.

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Today's Pearls strip is a touching nod to Calvin and Hobbes' conclusion.

Courtesy of Stephan Pastis / distr. by Universal Uclick

For more details, check out Pastis' account of the collaboration on his website.

Sharan Shetty is a writer for Brow Beat. You can follow him on Twitter