So I wrote back to Bill.
I will do whatever you want, including setting my hair on fire.”
Well! It turns out that Bill Watterson actually was ghost-drawing “Pearls Before Swine” this week!
(Plus, we got iOS 8. It’s been a pretty good week.)
Read Pastis’ blog post. It’s amazing. How does a comic strip artist — even one as successful as Stephan Pastis — get an email from Bill Watterson offering to draw his strip and not immediately dismiss it as a cruel and obvious hoax?
The Washington Post also has a story with exclusive quotes from Watterson himself.
I’m sure that everyone in my rough age group is going fairly nuts about this. It’s hard for people in their teens and twenties to understand how big this strip was, and still is, to those of us in our thirties and forties. Comic strips, y’see, were once a very, very big deal.
20 years from now, only a sliver of the population will remember “The Oatmeal” or “PVP Online” or “XKCD,” despite the fact that they’re three of the most successful webcomics of the 2010s. It’s no reflection on their creators. I’m certain that fans of those strips will find themselves thinking “Sudo make me a sandwich” at least once a month for the rest of their lives. It’s just that the 1980s were the last time when a comic strip could be a huge popular phenomenon that reached the whole of society. Back then, the comics page was like a TV station, or a movie theater; it was a universal touchstone and a legitimate contributor to pop culture.
Things are different today. Matthew Inman is so successful that he drives a luxury car, has published a New York Times best-selling book, and can raise millions of dollars for one of his pet causes. But did you immediately recognize that name as the creator of “The Oatmeal”? If you mentioned “The Blertch” to people in your office, how many would know what you were talking about?
And that’s what I mean about a strip becoming the cultural property of a whole generation. No modern strip will ever have the sort of broad, lasting cultural impact of “Peanuts” or “Pogo” or “Li’l Abner” or “Calvin And Hobbes.” Inman, Scott Kurtz, and Randall Munroe are all “world-famous in Poland.” Charles Schulz, Walt Kelly, Al Capp, and Bill Watterson were, in their heydays, world world-famous.
(How deep was their culture impact? Well, just now, I Googled for a list of words and phrases that entered the mainstream lexicon after Al Capp coined them for his strip. It turns out that every time my father announced that we were having “Po’k chops!” for dinner…he was quoting “Li’l Abner.” I had no idea! I always thought it was just a “dad” thing. I actually feel a little bit closer to him right now.)
There’s also the matter of how “Calvin And Hobbes” ended. Almost all successful comic strips go on for decades…even decades past the deaths of their creators. We get to let go of our favorite strips gradually, on their own terms, when we’re ready. We weren’t even nearly ready to lose “Calvin And Hobbes” in 1995, and its sudden absence was keenly felt.
So forgive our exuberance, o younger people. Our thirty- and fortysomething-year-old brains are wired up to produce intense joy at the thought of new Bill Watterson comic strip art. And the day has finally come. We are, collectively, the dogs in those YouTube videos who freak the hell out with joy when their masters come home from a long tour of duty overseas.
Speaking of joy, visit GoComics.com and read the complaints that people were making about the “new artist”‘s drawing style:
Sherlock Watson said: “Those are the ugliest crocs I’ve ever seen, including the shoes of the same name.”
Ratbrat said: “Nope – bring back my usual crocs and zeeba and the rest.”
danketaz said: “Meh. Libbie can’t seem to get the hang of croc eyeballs. Why else draw them shut?”
If you’ve ever posted something online and received negative comments…oh, this is a heady draught! I urge you to drink lustily from this flagon.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to email Bill Watterson and arrange for him to draw my next three columns. Because apparently that’s something he does now, and I can see no reason not to commit to that conclusion.