Once in a while, external factors seep into my thoughts about a book. Sometimes this is my own doing—perusing Goodreads reviews isn’t always a good idea. More often than not, those external factors damage my perception of the media I’ve just consumed. Once in a while, new context paints the book in a new light. This is exactly what happened with The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht.
The Mysteries is billed as a graphic novel, but it’s more like a short fable slash picture book. It’s Bill Watterson’s first published work since the end of Calvin & Hobbes in 1995. That sentence alone was enough to pique my interest. When The Mysteries arrived on my doorstep on release day, it took me mere minutes to read. This is why you won’t find a plot summary or anything remotely spoilery here—you could read my synopsis in the same amount of time it’d take to read the book itself. I turned the final page with a disappointed “Harumph.”
The Mysteries didn’t tickle my fancy the same way Calvin & Hobbes had as a child. The story felt vague, diluted. The images, while impressive, didn’t bring me into the world of this short narrative. I sat with the Harumph for a few days, ready to pan the book in my review.
Then I sat down to write, and I found a video from the publisher about Watterson and Kascht’s creative process:
I realized an important distinction. I wasn’t happy with the product I had read, but I deeply appreciated the process. Kascht and Watterson toiled away at The Mysteries for years in a tumultuous collaboration process. Their hard work ended with a unique mix of clay figures and hand-drawn art.
Newly captivated by the process, I revisited the product. This time, I appreciated The Mysteries. Understanding the struggles and iterations it required and the relationship between the creators made something click that hadn’t before.
You might spurn me for this. Surely, if a story is good, it must be good on its own merits, right? Possibly, but there’s also beauty in returning to a story with new context and understanding and appreciating it anew. Without a 15-minute look at the work behind it, I would’ve panned The Mysteries. Instead, I let the external input change my mind, and I’m glad I did.
Now, I’ll put The Mysteries in the Little Free Library outside of my house in the hopes that someone else will go on a journey of their own.