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'Pearls Before Swine' cartoonist to speak in Little Rock

Stephan Pastis will be speaking at the Ron Robinson Theater on March 16.
Stephan Pastis
Stephan Pastis will be speaking at the Ron Robinson Theater on March 16.

Stephan Pastis, who for 21 years has been providing social commentary, self-deprecating humor, and occasional longwinded puns through his daily comic strip "Pearls Before Swine," is scheduled to speak in Little Rock on Wednesday, March 16. His work is featured in 750 newspapers worldwide, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Through characters like Rat, Pig, Goat, and animated cameos from Pastis himself, the strip has also highlighted the anxiety over the last two years from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the only time in my career where I knew the whole world was talking about one thing,” Pastis said in an interview with KUAR News. "If you don’t address that one thing, you’re not going to be very relevant.”

Given the constraints of preparing the strip for syndication, Pastis works about eight months ahead of his publication date, but says he is constantly asking his editor about substituting more timely strips in an effort to be as relevant as possible to current affairs.

“I don’t know if most people know, but when you do a comic strip, you have to produce 365 days a year,” Pastis said. “You sort of get used to writing no matter what.”

A Pearls Before Swine comic strip from Feb. 20.
The "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip from Feb. 20.

The visit to Little Rock is part of his "I Just Gotta Get out of the House 2022 mini-book tour," which also includes stops in Tulsa, Oklahoma on March 9, Fort Worth, Texas on March 14, and Fairway, Kansas on March 21.

“I haven’t toured for 'Pearls [Before Swine]' in those two years, it was impossible,” Pastis said. “I think it will be nice and sort of cathartic hopefully for all of us to just be together again.”

He said working alone was not new for him, he just swapped out writing in cafés to working exclusively in his studio. According to Pastis, the pandemic made him more productive, including writing three children's books.

His first children's book "Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made" became a New York Times best seller and led to a film of the same name released by Disney in 2020. He has released subsequent books in the series about an 11-year-old who runs his own detective agency.

Before becoming a cartoonist, Pastis spent a decade working as a litigation attorney in California defending insurance companies.

“I always say that in the show for one reason, because I know it will make the entire room boo and it always makes me laugh."

Pastis said he hated working as an attorney, so he spent nights and weekends focused on drawing and submitting his work to companies in an effort to get a strip syndicated.

The Pearls Before Swine comic strip on Feb. 1.
The "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip on Feb. 1.

He also made a visit to meet Charles Schulz, the legendary cartoonist who created Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Pastis had heard Schulz ate an English muffin every day at a café that was part of an ice arena he owned in Santa Rosa. Pastis says he decided to take time off from work in hopes of meeting him.

“I don’t know who it is in your life who’s your hero, but push them together with five other of your heroes and that was who that was to me,” Pastis said. “I’ve met famous people, Schulz to me was mythic.”

After waiting for Schulz to finish his English muffin, Pastis says he approached Schulz and introduced himself, adding that he was an attorney.

"I remember distinctly that his face turned red. I think he thought that he was being served," Pastis said, "with a subpoena. So, I saw that and I said, 'No, no, I also draw."

Schulz asked if he had any of his work with him. Pastis said he retrieved drawings from his car and talked with Schulz who provided tips and suggestions.

“I still can’t believe it happened,” Pastis added.

During a recent visit to St. Paul, Minn., Pastis said he looked at every house Schulz and his father lived in. Pastis says he continues to find inspiration from Schulz which he incorporates into his own strip.

Like Schulz, who said every character in "Peanuts" was based on some aspect of his personality, Pastis says the characters in "Pearls Before Swine" are based on himself.

“Every single one of them is based on some aspect of me. It’s hard to do a character that’s not because you don’t know other people as well as you think you do.”

Asked if he has received blowback because of the dark humor, drinking or profanity included in his strip, Pastis reflected on a complaint his syndicator received from Frank Fellone, deputy editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“It was four swear squiggles, 'i-n-g,' which could only telegraph one word” Pastis said. Fellone responded, Pastis said, by saying "if you ever do this again, that’s it."

"I never did it again," Pastis said, acknowledging he had crossed a line. Now when he swears in the strip, Pastis says he uses symbols to represent every letter in a word.

His appearance in Little Rock will be on Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater. You can learn more and register for the event here.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
Remington Miller was an intern at KUAR News as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. She later worked as a reporter and editor for the station.