Cartoonist's view: ‘Pearls Before Swine’ creator says best strips show originalityStephan Pastis, 45, began the syndicated comic strip “Pearls Before Swine” after nearly 10 years as an insurance defense litigation attorney. Here is an edited version of his phone interview with the News Tribune last week.
Stephan Pastis, 45, began the syndicated comic strip “Pearls Before Swine” after nearly 10 years as an insurance defense litigation attorney. Here is an edited version of his phone interview with the News Tribune last week.
News Tribune: Why is it called “Pearls Before Swine”?
Stephan Pastis: It comes from Matthew in the New Testament. It’s Rat thinking that everything he says is smart and it’s wasted on the stupid Pig, hence the swine. The evolution of it started as a doodle I did in law school. I drew this little Rat character in my notebook in class and I liked it.
DNT: Did you ever draw it in court when you graduated?
SP: You know, sometimes when you’re sitting in the back benches, yes. I just didn’t like being a lawyer and I thought I would take a stab at the syndicates. I know the chance of getting syndicated are less than getting hit by lightning or becoming a Major League Baseball player.
DNT: What’s with your characters’ names?
SP: I tried to make it very simple for people. The rat is named Rat and the pig is named Pig, though the crocodile is named Larry.
DNT: What audience is it geared to?
SP: Newspapers are in a tough spot because they want younger readers. You turn to somebody like me. I’m not even that young. I know my generation. They enjoy “South Park,” “Family Guy.” There’s no way that kind of humor is going on your comics page. Even the networks are getting a little edgier, but the newspaper is truly a general audience. A perfect comics page has your younger strip, your older strip. My personal opinion is the page is skewed very old.
DNT: What do you think about handing off strips to family members when the creator gets old or dies?
SP: The strips written by the grandsons, at least they’re alive. There is someone there who can respond to current events. There should be no repeats on the comics page, ever. I’m the biggest Sparky (Charles Schultz) fan ever. But “Peanuts” and “For Better or For Worse,” they’re repeats. That goes against my own syndicate, so I might get in trouble for saying that.
DNT: A few years ago, Aaron McGruder, who did “Boondocks” and was one of the very few black syndicated cartoonists, stopped doing it to concentrate on his TV show and didn’t hand it off. If he had mentored someone, he would have preserved at least some diversity.
SP: I don’t like the handing off. That’s like saying, “Picasso has stopped doing his work but he has a son, so what does it matter?” We’re not Picasso, but it does take something away from the individuality of the art.
DNT: There have been successes. If there hadn’t been a Ernie Bushmiller (“Nancy”), there’d be no Jerry Scott, who took over “Nancy.” Once he got in the door, he went on to do his own strips (“Zits,” “Baby Blues.”)
SP: For every Jerry Scott, there are 50 grandsons who suck at it.
DNT: What’s the best strip you’ve ever done?
SP: It’s one where Rat asks Pig is if he could speak to someone living or dead, who would you pick? Pig answers, “The living one.” It was a good joke. It was my first year. It’s been downhill ever since.
DNT: So you’ve had strips that you’ve wanted to pull back?
SP: Oh, my God, yes. How much time do you have?