When the odds of becoming a professional cartoonist are about 1 in 30,000, you have to have a backup plan. That’s why Stephan Pastis was a lawyer for almost 10 years before making it big as the creator of the comic strip Pearls before Swine and the Timmy Failure series.
Pastis spoke at the Denver Post on September 24 and signed copies of his new book, “Pearls Gets Sacrificed.” He’s also working on his fifth Timmy Failure book, which are similar to the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books.
Pastis started drawing comics when he was 8 after reading books of the “Peanuts” comic strips at his aunt’s house. He kept cartooning through college and law school and eventually submitted his best comic strips to different syndicates (which sell cartoons to many newspapers across the country), only to be rejected multiple times. “Every time I got rejected, I would change a little bit, refining the process to where [the comic strip] was something that could be syndicated,” Pastis said. “So each rejection caused me to reassess and readjust, so in a way they were all essential little steps.”
When he was 28, he finally sold Pearls before Swine to a syndicate. The Washington Post was the first newspaper to publish him, which he remembers because “it’s a big paper and pays a lot.” Now, the strip appears in more than 750 newspapers nationwide.
To write his comic strip, he goes to a café and puts on the same music and stares out the window for an hour or so until he gets inspiration. Then he “writes and writes and hopefully has two or three strips after a couple of hours.” To write a book, he sits at his computer with a cup of tea, lights incense, puts on music really loud and just starts typing without anything more than “a skeleton outline, any plan or any idea where it’s going to go.”
Pastis likes writing better than drawing because drawing is such a struggle for him. “I don’t get anything out of the drawing, but I get everything from writing,” he said. “I think I could illustrate with pure stick figures if I have the joke right.”
Did he ever think he’d be so successful? “No way. My only hope was to be able to [draw a comic strip] and to make enough money that I wouldn’t have to do another job.”