‘Pearls Before Swine’ creator Stephan Pastis to appear in Wichita

03/30/2014 12:00 AM

03/30/2014 12:53 AM

The world of Rat, Pig and Timmy Failure is on tour.

Stephan Pastis, the creator of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip and Timmy Failure mystery books, is coming to Wichita.

And, he is hoping Kansans will turn out for his book signing on Saturday .

“I hope people show up. That is always the best part,” Pastis said in a phone interview.

The native Californian says he likes Kansas. The photos for his book covers were taken in Kansas.

“The impression I have of Kansas is that I love it,” Pastis said. “Everybody is super nice – I think nicer in that part of the country; maybe they are just polite but it is a stereotype that does seem to hold true.”

At the book signings, Pastis generally talks about his path to becoming a mega comic strip superstar. He does a presentation showcasing the strips people have most loved – and hated. His syndicated “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip appears in more than 650 newspapers across the nation. When he was a child, his mother gave him pens and crayons. He doodled. He realized his chances of becoming a mega comic strip superstar were next to nil.

“You can’t just count on becoming a syndicated cartoonist,” he famously told the Los Angeles Times in an article published May 6, 2013. “I actually tried to calculate the odds once, and the best I could come up with is a 1-in-36,000 chance. And the odds of getting hit by lightning are 1 in 7,900 – which kind of shows how long those odds are.”

So he became an insurance defense litigation lawyer – who continued to doodle.

And then he met Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, who encouraged him.

“Schulz was a big inspiration but it is not unusual to hear that from a comic strip guy,” Pastis told The Eagle. “Most of us would say Schulz is the biggest influence by far. If there was a tree of cartoonists where everybody stems from the trunk of the tree, Schulz would be the trunk for anybody post 1950. And to a lesser level, there would then be Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side and Dilbert.”

The Pearls Before Swine strip has been syndicated since 2002.

Do cartoonists have their own circle of friends?

“We have no friends,” Pastis said. “We are friends with each other and get together once a year at an event called the Reubens.”

Indeed, the National Cartoonist Society does present the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year – which he was nominated for last year. People love his characters – Rat, Pig, Zebra and Goat. They also like his Timmy Failure book series, so far two novels for young readers that have made the New York Times Bestseller List. Usually lots of people come to his book signings. He is witty, charming and a bit of a cut-up.

But, he repeats, he is looking forward to coming to Kansas. It is, after all, the home state to other nationally syndicated cartoonists such as Mort Walker, born in El Dorado, who drew the Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois strips; and native Wichitan Jerry Bittle, creator of Geech. It is the home state for Superman (mythical Smallville, Kan.) and, of course, Wichita is the hometown of Dennis the Menace.

Pastis is hoping to take in some of the history of the area.

“I’m wanting people to know that I am nicer than they may think,” he said. “If you read the strip, you may see it as kind of dark. But I think – judging from all the cities I’ve been in – the reaction from people is that ‘you are much nicer than I expected you to be’.”

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