Bill Watterson, the creator of popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, is known as a bit of a recluse. Basically, he hasn't drawn a comic since he quit in 1995.
So it was with little hope (and a lot of trepidation) that Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis set out to meet Watterson last April.
Though Watterson declined the meeting, Pastis wrote in his blog that he was encouraged by a friend authoring a book with the artist to send him an email. After this comic ran, Patsis felt emboldened and reached out.
Pastis was shocked when the man he called "the Bigfoot of cartooning" actually emailed him back. And more than that, he had an idea for a comic.
Pastis said he replied:
I will do whatever you want, including setting my hair on fire."
It turned out that Watterson had an idea for guest drawing the strip himself. Pastis writes:
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 he'd 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 it's one thing to write a strip read by millions of people. But it's another thing to propose an idea to Bill Watterson.
One of the only known photos of Bill Watterson (left) and Stephan Pastis.
The 46-year-old cartoonist proposed an idea in return: He would pretend Pearls was being drawn by a "precocious second grader who thought my art was crap." He said he named her Libby, shortened to Lib, which is almost "Bill" backwards.
As the two fleshed out their ideas over email, Pastis discovered that Watterson was not a fan of technology, and the two had to work through difficulties as they sent panels back and forth using a scanner and Photoshop.
He also said he had and an incessant fear that "Bill would disappear back into the ether" and the "whole thing would seem like a wisp of my imagination."
But the comic strips ultimately made it to print last week.
Here are Bill Watterson's first comics in nearly 20 years:
The Washington Post reports that Watterson's only art in recent years was a poster for a documentary film and a painting of Richard Thompson for charity.
There were a few awkward moments between the artists — when he had to give Watterson a suggestion, Pastis said he told him it made him "'feel like a street urchin telling Michelangelo that David's hands are too big.'" "But," he added, "he liked the change. And that alone was probably the greatest compliment I've ever received."
In a rare quote, Watterson told the Washington Post the challenge was worth the effort.
"Stephan kept setting up these situations that required more challenging drawings ... so I had to work a lot harder than I had planned to! It was a lot of fun," he said.
Rachel Zarrell is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Rachel Zarrell at email@example.com.
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