We don't know how we missed this, but Friday's Wall Street Journal featured a review of Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis's intermittently brilliant biography of Charlie Brown creator Charles M. Schulz. What makes this review notable above all the other recent reviews of this title is the author: Bill Watterson.
Yes, that Bill Watterson: the famously reclusive creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," who shut down his strip in 1995 and disappeared so completely into his hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, that the Cleveland Scene made a great Roger & Me–style piece out of just trying to find the guy. As far as we know, this is
the first time one of the first times* Watterson's appeared in print since the fateful day Calvin and Hobbes rode their sled off into the wintry forest. How the hell did the Journal get him to write a book review? Did they send one of their Pulitzer-winning investigative reporters to Ohio to ferret him out?
Nothing so interesting as that, says Mark Lasswell, deputy books editor for the Journal. "He didn't leave much of a paper trail," he says, so the editors went through Watterson's old comic syndicate. "They said, 'Well, we'll send your request along, but we don't want to encourage you."
Much to the Journal's surprise, though, Watterson said yes. "The next surprise when it came through was what a wonderful piece of writing it was," Lasswell says. Watterson points out in the lede of his review how much of an impact Schulz's work had on his own, which is why, Lasswell assumes, he said yes to this request when he's said no to so many others.
How much contact did the Journal's staff have with Watterson? Did edits go through the syndicate, or did someone get to talk to him on the phone? Lasswell demurs from going into too much detail but does allow, "It was not something that required a lot of editing. Let's leave it at that."