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Surprise! Bill Watterson rides in the comics pages again

Calvin and Hobbes artist/professional recluse Bill Watterson quietly collaborated with Pearls Before Swine’s Stephan Pastis to write and draw a short sequence of comics that appeared in newspapers this week.

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.

Now if you had asked me the odds of Bill Watterson ever saying that line to me, I’d say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff. And yes, I’m aware Hendrix is dead.

So I wrote back to Bill.

“Dear Bill,

I will do whatever you want, including setting my hair on fire.”

All Watterson asked was that the original artwork be auctioned off for charity, and that Pastis not reveal the trick until it was complete.

Pastis did tip his hand a little on Twitter โ€” how could he not? โ€” writing that “this week’s Pearls strips will contain a mind-blowing surprise,” which led some people to take a good look at the artwork (and the lettering โ€” it’s the lettering that gives it away) and put two and two together.

In an interview, Watterson tells the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna that the motivating impulse for his temporary return was to raise money for a charity founded by Post cartoonist (and close Watterson friend) Richard Thompson:

Thompson, a longtime Washington Post artist who lives in Arlington, Va., ended his Reuben Award-winning syndicated strip “Cul de Sac” in 2012 as he underwent therapy and surgery to treat his Parkinson’s; Watterson is an enormous fan of Thompson’s, and the two now have a dual exhibit at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus.

“I thought maybe Stephan and I could do this goofy collaboration and then use the result to raise some money for Parkinson’s research in honor of Richard Thompson,” Watterson tells me. “It just seemed like a perfect convergence.”

The conceit of this week in Pearls Before Swine is that the cartoonist protagonist meets his neighbor Libby, who takes over drawing his comic. (Libby is in second grade, roughly the same age as Calvin, and her name is a play on “Bill.”)

My favorite of the strips is easily Thursday’s, where a talking-head pig and mouse are interrupted by a beautifully-drawn Martian robot attack.

“I could do better if I had more space,” Libby gripes โ€” a nod to Watterson’s famous insistence on only syndicating the Sunday strip of Calvin and Hobbes if it could be printed in full.

But the whole week is worth reading. Start with Monday’s and keep clicking right until you run out of Libby. And let us never cease from exploration, but at the end of all our exploring arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

(Thanks to Bill Wasik, Susie Cagle, and TS Eliot)