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Chagrin Falls native and 'Calvin and Hobbes' creator Bill Watterson pens climate change book

Aside from co-authoring a 2014 book on artist Richard Thompson and contributing to friends' strips, Bill Watterson's new book, "The Mysteries," is his latest work since 1995.
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Along with co-authoring a 2014 book on artist Richard Thompson and contributing to friends' strips, Bill Watterson's new book, "The Mysteries," is his latest work since 1995.

The last time Chagrin Falls native Bill Watterson published a book the internet was a novelty, newspapers were thriving and Taylor Swift was in kindergarten. The October release of “The Mysteries” is his first solo work since his beloved comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes,” ended in 1995. Since then, he’s occasionally contributed to strips in recent years, and he co-authored a book about artist Richard Thompson in 2014.

“It was a big surprise for us," said Kirsty Melville, president of Andrews McMeel Publishing. “Bill sent a package in the mail... we opened it up and we're like, 'What is this?'”

John Kascht illustrated the book. His work has appeared in dozens of publications including "The New York Times," "Rolling Stone" and "Esquire." His website lists some of the caricature subjects who have acquired his work, including Ken Burns, Sean Connery and Katharine Hepburn.

Melville said “The Mysteries” is Watterson’s chance to test himself creatively, with a collaborator he’s known and respected.

“I think he wrote the story about 10 years ago, put it in a drawer, got it out… to collaborate with John on the art,” she said. “They’re not fiercely oppositional, but they just have a different approach. That's sort of an interesting outcome. I don't know quite how to use that as a role model for the world, but… it gives you a little bit of hope.”

While she’s uncertain about any more surprise manuscripts in the future, Melville said the authors were involved throughout the book’s production process, insisting it be cloth-bound.

“There was a lot of discussion between all of us about the paper, the format, the printing, the proofing, the size, everything,” Melville said.

She calls it an “adult picture book” with imagery reminiscent of Tim Burton movies and Neil Gaiman books. Press materials describe the story as “speaking to our current climate crisis” and “our collective anxiety about the environment.”

Melville said both men value their privacy and prefer to let their work speak for itself, which is why pre-release copies are not available. A profile last month on The American Conservative website called Watterson a “tortured minor genius” who left behind the comic world, and public life, 28 years ago.

At the Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson, owner Kate Schlademan said there is still demand for the anthologies of the comic, which published between 1985-1995. She learned of "The Mysteries” several months ago as pre-orders started coming in.

“I’ve ordered 30 for the store,” she said. “To put it into perspective, if Stephen King had a new book coming out this fall, which he does, we would maybe get 10 or 12 and then re-order as needed.”

Schlademan has owned the store since 2013 and recalled her friend and previous owner, Liz Murphy, describing Watterson’s book signings in the 1980s.

“He would sneak in the back door, go all the way up to the office,” she said. “He would sign as many books as she wanted, and then he would leave again.”

Schlademan has heard nothing about events for “The Mysteries,” but she said she’s hopeful that working with a co-illustrator might compel him to make an appearance.

“He’s so beloved for his work, but also as a person in this area,” she said. “People have always admired and respected him.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.