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Is Bill Watterson's surprise return with The Mysteries an allegory about his own mysterious return after 28 years?

Bill Watterson and John Kascht's The Mysteries, and the hunt for something that may not be what you dreamed of

The Mysteries preview
Image credit: Bill Waterson/John Kascht (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

On February 15, news broke that iconic cartoonist Bill Watterson has come out of retirement for a new illustrated book. Now, we have a first look at eight pages from the project.

The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht is described as a "fable for grown-ups," and from the first eight pages you can almost see that Watterson might be telling a story about the mystery of his own departure from the public eye.

The disappearance of Bill Watterson

The Mysteries
Image credit: Bill Waterson/John Kascht (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

"Long ago, the forest was dark and deep. So the Knights set off into the misty forest. Year after year they searched," read the first lines of The Mysteries.

In real life, people have been searching for Watterson's return after his surprise and sudden ending of Calvin & Hobbes in 1995. In a letter to readers on November 9, 1995, the cartoonist said it "was not a recent or easy decision, and I leave it with some sadness." While expressing disillusionment with "daily deadlines and small panels," he spoke of a want to work at "a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises."

So what came next? Landscape painting, among other things. Watterson wasn't the type to do signings at bookstores or conventions, and even held back at the notion of licensing Calvin & Hobbes out for the usual animation/live-action/merchandise rounds.

The fascination with the disappearance of Bill Watterson

The Mysteries
Image credit: Bill Waterson/John Kascht (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Watterson's retirement at the seeming height of his fame turned from a curiosity to a mystery, with newspapers including The Washington Post and more sending reporters to uncover 'the story.' They all came back empty-handed.

Not that he didn't do interviews - he has done five in the past 28 years, for more niche publications such as a magazine called Honk in 1987, The Comics Journal in 1989, the Plains Dealer in 2010, Mental Flossin 2013, and an catalog for an exhibition of his work in 2015.

"I think some of the reason Calvin and Hobbes still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it," Watterson said in 2010. "I've never regretted stopping when I did."

Sightings of new Watterson artwork have been few and far between. In 2011, Watterson submitted an unprompted painting of Cul de Sac character Petey Otterloop for a fundraiser in honor of the strip's creator, Richard Thompson. In 2014, he illustrated the poster for the documentary Stripped, three surprise daily strips for Pearls Before Swine, and a poster for the 2015 Angoulême International Comics Festival.

But no more Calvin & Hobbes. And no new original daily strip, comic book, graphic novel, illustrated book, or anything. Until the news on February 14, 2023.

The resappearance of Bill Watterson

The Mysteries
Image credit: Bill Waterson/John Kascht (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

"The public thronged for the great unveiling," The Mystery's preview continues. "But the Mystery was nothing like what the ancient stories had led the people to expect."

Initial response to Watterson's return in The Mysteries with John Kascht was profound on social media (and Popverse's website, to be frank). Comments were the pinnacle of positivity, with cartooning colleague Phil Hester responding "You poor mortals who thought you might earn an Eisner in 2023."

But when people read below the headline and found that Watterson wasn't the primary artist of The Mysteries (it is John Kascht), for some, the bloom fell off the rose - while others kindly reminded that Watterson is still writing The Mysteries, and presumably collaborating with Kascht on what the art should be.

But maybe I'm being a wizard.

The anticipation of Bill Watterson's return

The Mysteries
Image credit: Bill Waterson/John Kascht (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

"Nevertheless, the Wizards watched the horizon uneasily and made note of the strange creaks and shudders occurring far below in the ground," The Mysteries' preview ends.

Popverse will be watching the horizon uneasily and making notes of the strange creaks and shudders ahead of The Mysteries' release on October 10, 2023. You can pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Meanwhile in the land of vikings, Hägar the Horrible is celebrating 50 years.

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About the Author
Chris Arrant avatar

Chris Arrant


Chris Arrant is the Popverse's Editor-in-Chief. He has written about pop culture for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel, Newsarama, CBR, and more. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. (He/him)