Santa Rosa cartoonist Stephan Pastis found himself at the center of the comics universe Saturday. Pastis, who draws the popular newspaper comic "Pearls Before Swine" revealed late Friday that three of last week's strips were drawn in collaboration with reclusive "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoonist Bill Watterson.
The news that the celebrated Watterson had returned, if only for three days, to newspaper comics pages for the first time since 1995, and that almost no one knew about it until it had already happened, has stunned fans of Pastis, Watterson and comics in general.
"It was by far the most amazing and humbling experience I've had as a cartoonist," said Pastis, who was in the Washington, D.C., area for an appearance at the Library of Congress on Saturday. "I don't know how I could ever top this."
"Calvin and Hobbes" followed the adventures of a young boy named Calvin and his anthropomorphic and sardonic stuffed tiger Hobbes. Hailed for its artwork, humor and experimentation with forms and ideas, it debuted in November 1985 and became an instant hit. But Watterson shocked his legions of fans by ending it after only a decade — and he pretty much disappeared from public view along with his strip.
"I'm still kind of blown away by the whole thing," said Pastis. "I mean we're talking about Bill Watterson. The Bill Watterson."
Pastis, whose "Pearls Before Swine" was first published in 2000 and runs in The Press Democrat and more than 750 newspapers around the world, has gotten more than 2 million hits each on his blog and Facebook posts about the collaboration. An exclusive story quoting Watterson ran on the front page of the Washington Post. It has rocketed all over the Internet, on social media and been posted by Rolling Stone and CNN.
The love comes in large part due to Watterson's status as a revered cartoonist who, until he retired it in 1995, drew one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed comics ever. The Cleveland-based artist's famous reclusiveness — there are almost no photographs of him, and he refuses to be videotaped, making few public appearances — has only enhanced his legend.
In fact, until Pastis contacted his idol in April, he had never seen or spoken to him. Now, he's not only met him, he's collaborated with him on characters he created.
"It was like Babe Ruth asking me to go play baseball with him," Pastis said.
Watterson's "Pearls Before Swine" panels, ostensibly drawn by a young girl who Pastis created, named Libby, were part of a brief narrative where the girl mocks Pastis' artistic skills. Self-deprecation is a frequent theme in "Pearls Before Swine," which stars several talking animals as well as a cartoon representation of Pastis himself.
In the three strips, Libby tells the cartoon Pastis she can draw "Pearls" better than he can, and shows off her range in the Watterson-drawn panels featuring crocodiles, a zebra, UFOs and a trio of buxom women swooning over a muscle-bound version of the cartoon Pastis.
Pastis, who agreed to keep the collaboration secret until after the strips appeared in newspapers, was on a book tour when he first made an attempt to meet Watterson.
While the meeting never happened, Pastis was encouraged by mutual friend and fellow cartoonist Nick Galifianakis to email Watterson anyway.