Skip to comments.Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page?
Posted on 06/08/2014 12:08:10 PM PDT by Jack Hydrazine
Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning.
He is legendary. He is reclusive. And like Bigfoot, there is really only one photo of him in existence.
Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him.
In fact, legend has it that when Steven Spielberg called to see if he wanted to make a movie, Bill wouldnt even take the call.
So it was with little hope of success that I set out to try and meet him last April.
I was traveling through Cleveland on a book tour, and I knew that he lived somewhere in the area. I also knew that he was working with Washington Post cartoonist Nick Galifianakis on a book about Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompsons art.
So I took a shot and wrote to Nick. And Nick in turn wrote to Watterson.
And the meeting didnt happen.
Bill apparently had something to do. Or more likely, wanted nothing to do with me.
Which is smart.
But Nick encouraged me to send an email to Bill anyways. I said I didnt want to bother him.
But a week or so later, this Pearls strip ran in the newspaper: (see link for comic strip shown.)
And I figured this was as good of a time to write to him as any.
So I emailed him the strip and thanked him for all his great work and the influence hed had on me. And never expected to get a reply.
And what do you know, he wrote back.
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 hes 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, Id say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff. And yes, Im aware Hendrix is dead.
So I wrote back to Bill.
I will do whatever you want, including setting my hair on fire.
So he wrote back and explained his idea.
He said he knew that in my strip, I frequently make fun of my own art skills. And that he thought it would be funny to have me get hit on the head or something and suddenly be able to draw. Then hed step in and draw my comic strip for a few days.
The cartoonist who last drew Calvin and Hobbes riding their sled into history would return to the comics page.
To draw Pearls Before Swine.
What followed was a series of back-and-forth emails where we discussed what the strips would be about, and how we would do them. He was confident. I was frightened.
Frightened because its one thing to write a strip read by millions of people. But its another thing to propose an idea to Bill Watterson.
The idea I proposed was that instead of having me get hit on the head, I would pretend that Pearls was being drawn by a precocious second grader who thought my art was crap. I named her Libby, which I then shorted to Lib. (Hint, hint: Its almost Bill backwards.)
(The introduction of Libby can be found HERE and HERE).
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 wasnt 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 Davids hands are too big. But he liked the change. And that alone was probably the greatest compliment Ive ever received.
I dont want to say any more about our exchange because to do so would probably be to compromise the privacy he so zealously guards. But I will offer you this one biographical tidbit:
Technology is not his friend.
I found that out when it came to the logistics of the artwork. I drew my part first and then shipped him the strips. I wanted him to fill in the panels I left blank, and simply scan and email me back the finished strips.
I asked him to do this because I did not want to be responsible for handling his finished artwork. Partly because I knew it would be worth thousands of dollars. Partly because I knew he wanted to auction it off for charity. And partly because my UPS driver has a tendency to leave my packages in the dirt at the end of our driveway. (I could just imagine the email Id have to write the next day: Dear Mr. Watterson The first comic strip youve drawn in 20 years was ravaged by a squirrel.)
So this left doing it my way. Digitally.
And this is when I found out that Bill Watterson is not comfortable with scanners or Photoshop or large email attachments. In fact, by the end of the process, I was left with the distinct impression that he works in a log cabin lit by whale oil and hands his finished artwork to a man on a pony.
So I proposed working out our technological issues over the phone. But he didnt want to.
At first I thought it was because he didnt own one. Or have electricity. But then I remembered we were emailing.
And so I soon came to the sad realization that he probably just didnt want me to have his phone number. Which was smart. Because I would have called that man once a week for the rest of his life.
And so we worked through the technological problems via email.
And unlike every other technological problem Ive ever had, it was not frustrating.
It was the highlight of my career.
The only thing Bill ever asked of me was that I not reveal he had worked on Pearls until all three of his strips had run. (And if you havent yet seen those three strips, they can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
And so I did not reveal his participation until now. And it was the hardest secret Ive ever had to keep.
Because I knew I had seen something rare.
A glimpse of Bigfoot.
Full title: Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did.
Yes. Nearly every day.
Comics are as good as dead along with the newspaper business.
There was a different thing posted about this yesterday. Imagine a comic strip that stopped 20 years ago still being so popular.
Bill Watterson should have a web or blog site where he can post anything he wants bypassing the newspapers. He would have a big following.
My two favorite cartoon strips are The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.
Ditto. I have mixed emotions about both stopping at their peak.
Mine too ...
only on the same line equally. Best of the best.
Thanks for the thread.
“Imagine a comic strip that stopped 20 years ago still being so popular.”
The creator was worried the strip would get old as his creativity waned. A friend of mine said he would volunteer to check each new edition of Calvin and Hobbs and pull the plug the moment he word “Zamboni” showed up. I’d add to that an additional caution that it should be pulled when one of the characters comes out as gay. Also, if one of the characters dies.
My dad, who was constantly enraged by my Calvinesque childhood adventures, loved the cartoon.
Thanks for posting. Enjoyed seeing and hearing the likes of respect, funniness, making fun of oneself, even a little honor and a dash of brotherly love.
Ha ha ha, and a little tear in the eye. Where did that come from?
For some reason he doesn’t want money or attention even though he did some brilliant work. In other words he’s the exact opposite of Al Gore.
My grandson has a child’s book of Kalvan and Hobbs. He wants me to read it everytime I baby sit. It wasn’t till then did I realize how funny they were. The comics have quit being funny a long time ago. They would be politically incorrect now.
did you ever see the awesome homage to Calvin and Hobbs from last year or was it the year before that?
Really wonderful story. Watterson’s cartooning (and to a slightly lesser extent Breathed’s) shaped and forever changed my life, my outlook on life, and my view of other life. I will pay more attention to Pastis in the future, as he has been deemed worthy.
Thanks for the Ping
What a great tribute...
I forgot about Bloom County. I’d make that number three on my favorites list.
"Pearls Before Swine" is pretty much the most consistently funny comic strip I have ever read.
Lost cash is hard to recover!
Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County were my favorites.
Bill Watterson and Berkely Breathed both perfected the art of “leave ‘em wanting more.”
I will have to add Pearls before Swine to my reading list.
bloom county affected my drawing too. for the better.
Gary Larson and Bill Watterson are actually friends. A few years back I watched a lecture where Gary Larson showed some of the cartoons he and Bill used to send back and forth to each other. They were funny.
Pastis must be insane..............
I would start buying a paper again, just for Calin and Hobbs!
I miss that strip.
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