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Bill Watterson, creator of the beloved "Calvin and Hobbes," returned to comics this week.

This is not a drill. The author and artist of a generation's laughs and philosophical insights, delivered by a mischievous boy and his tiger, drew and co-wrote three strips of Stephan Pastis' acclaimed "Pearls Before Swine" comic.

Pastis confirmed the collaboration Saturday on his blog.

It all started with a joke in Pastis' strip about pretending to be Watterson to get laid. Pastis e-mailed the strip to Watterson, thanking him for his great work and influence, not expecting any response from the man who retired from the funny pages in 1995."Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning," as Pastis puts it on his blog. "He is legendary. He is reclusive. And like Bigfoot, there is really only one photo of him in existence. Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him."

And then Watterson e-mailed back — with an idea for a new strip.

"Now if you had asked me the odds of Bill Watterson ever saying that line to me, I'd say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff," Pastis wrote. "And yes, I'm aware Hendrix is dead."

One strip turned into three, in which an artistically talented girl shows up Pastis' stand-in character. You can read more about their collaboration, during which Pastis felt "like a street urchin telling Michelangelo that David's hands are too big," on his blog.

The reason you're only hearing about this team-up now is that Watterson, ever the secretive type, asked Pastis to keep a lid it until after the strips had run.

You can find their collaboration online, and in this week's comics sections of The Salt Lake Tribune. Monday's and Tuesday's introduce the girl character, and Watterson's art shows up for the remainder of the week. Of all of them, Thursday's might be the highlight for "Calvin and Hobbes" fans, with Pastis' animal characters caught in the midst of a giant robot attack that's reminiscent of the science-fiction adventures of Calvin's daydreams.

I sure scoured the office for every edition and will probably frame them.

This isn't the first time Watterson has emerged from his long-running absence. Last February, it was announced that he had drawn the poster for "Stripped," a documentary about the business of the funny pages.

— Michael McFall

Twitter: @mikeypanda

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