As I’ve mentioned before, I started reading a few months after I started walking, and I still read better than I walk. Not surprisingly, I developed a very early interest in comics, both newspaper and comic book. Sometimes I was a bit befuddled — I remember Dad telling me that comics like Mary Worth weren’t supposed to be funny, which was kind of a relief. Until then, I had wondered if they were some sophisticated grown-up humor I just couldn’t get. This was especially true of Gasoline Alley, because of its more “cartoony” art style. But I fell in love with the medium, from Superman to Mad, and from Burne Hogarth to Walt Kelly. (Later, I found it both appropriate and ironic that I did my Ph.D. in Muncie, home of Jim Davis’s Garfield factory, PAWS. Yeah, it’s a comic connection, but not a favorite. Still, Mr. Davis is a good guy who has done a lot for Muncie, so I think well of him.)
When I was in undergrad, Calvin and Hobbes debuted, and I felt like my generation got its own Walt Kelly. It was, for me anyway, the best strip of my reading life. I don’t need to go on about the strip — you’re either familiar with it, or you’ve stopped reading this post by now. And like the rest of the best comics, it has a transgenerational appeal. When the Spawn was eight, the C&H box set was the top item on her Christmas list. (That is one of my many “proud dad moments.”)
But of course, Bill Watterson, the strip’s creator, had gotten out of the business by then, following his muse to more spacious regions. While not precisely pulling a Syd Barrett, he walked away from the strip (and to his credit, didn’t farm it out to other folks.)
And so matters stood — until this week. As it happens, Stephan Pastis’s Pearls Before Swine is another favorite strip of mine. In many ways, the strip couldn’t be less like Watterson’s creation. It’s far less whimsical, typically carries more of a barb of smartassery, and Pastis’s cartooning style is rather minimalistic, as opposed to the richness of Watterson’s work. But it makes me laugh, and it’s one of my bookmarked daily reads.
And of course, one of Pastis’s strengths is in his awareness of his limitations — bad drawing jokes are a frequent theme in Pearls. Such was the case this past week, as Pastis (a character in his own strip) was visited by a second-grader named Libby, who berates him out his drawing skills, and when he challenges her to outdo him, does this:
That’s right — Pastis gave some of his Pearls real estate to Watterson, who ghosts as Libby (a kind of spoonerism of Bill). The little girl’s complaints about lack of space (and in a later strip, her claim that the comics are a dying form) echo similar comments in Watterson’s limited public life. (The funny thing for me is that what really gave it away for me was the lettering. I guess I’m just destined to be a word guy forever.)
This was a limited run, as today’s strip indicates (while echoing Watterson’s C&H farewell strip):
If you’re still with me, you probably already were aware of all this. But here’s a cool part you might not already know. The original Pastis/Watterson drawings will be on display in a couple of weeks… at Heroes Con, which my regular readers know is an annual ritual for the Spawn and me. They’ll be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to Parkinson’s research (a cause that brought Pastis and Watterson together when they contributed to a project benefiting Parkinson’s-afflicted cartoonist Richard Thompson.)
I won’t be buying the originals, of course — I don’t have that kind of scratch. But they’ll be great to see.