This article is about the real-life comic strip author. For the character that appears in the strip, see Stephan Pastis (character).

Stephan Thomas Pastis (pronounced stɛfən pæstəs) (born January 16, 1968) is an American cartoonist and the creator of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. He has since begun writing children's chapter books, commencing the release of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made,[1] which debuted at #4 on The New York Times Best Seller list for Children's Middle Grade Books.[2]


A second-generation Greek-American, Pastis was raised in San Marino, California.[3] He started cartooning as a child; his mother brought him pens and paper to amuse him when he was "sick a lot" and had to stay in bed. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, earning a B.A. in Political Science in 1989. The following year Pastis attended law school at UCLA.[4][5] He kept drawing all during this time, coming up with the character of the first Pearls Before Swine character, Rat, during a boring class in law school.[6]

"When I wrote for him [Rat] it seemed pretty honest. It was the first character where I could really say what's on my mind. When I put it on paper, it's my voice. So it works for me."[7]

From 1993 to 2002, Pastis practiced law as an insurance defense litigation attorney in the San Francisco Bay area, but quickly became disenchanted with it. He didn't like its adversarial nature, nor "the anxiety and tension it produced,"[6] so in the mid-1990s he revisited his earlier ambition of becoming a syndicated cartoonist by submitting various concepts to syndication agencies. The Infirm,[8] Rat[9] and Bradbury Road,[10] as well as others, were repeatedly rejected.

Pearls Before Swine

Main article: Pearls Before Swine

The character of Rat came from Pastis's earlier strip, Rat. The character of Pig, who is Rat's diametric opposite, had been featured in The Infirm, which was about an attorney who numbered an evil pig farmer among his clients. Although Pastis had developed the characters, they were still just stick figures with jokes. One day in 1996, Pastis drove to an ice rink in Santa Rosa where Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, had his coffee every day. The meeting didn't begin auspiciously, since Pastis blurted out: "Hi, Sparky [Schulz's nickname], my name is Stephan Pastis and I'm a lawyer." Schulz turned pale; he thought Pastis was there to serve him with a subpoena. However, he recovered, and Pastis remembers Schulz's graciousness:

"I was a total stranger to him, and he let me sit down at his table and we talked for an hour. I took a picture with him. He looked at some of the strips that I had been doing and gave me some tips. Man, I was on cloud nine."[3]

In addition to Peanuts, he drew inspiration from Dilbert.

What worked for me personally was to study the writing of Dilbert. I just bought a bunch of Dilbert books and studied how to write a 3-panel strip. Then I showed them to a group of people who were acquaintances (but not quite friends) in order to get their honest assessment of which ones were funny and which ones weren't. As to the ins and outs of getting syndicated, I bought a book called “Your Career in the Comics” by Lee Nordling.[11]

Pastis drew about 200 strips for the new comic and selected 40 of the best, but fearing more rejection, let them sit on the counter in his basement for the next two years. It wasn't until 1999, when he visited the grave of a college friend who had been a free spirit and had encouraged him to be the same, that he overcame his fear and submitted them to three different syndicates, including United Features. United took the unprecedented step of first running the strips on its internet site to gauge reader response. When Scott Adams, Dilbert's creator, whom Pastis had never met, endorsed the strip the response "went through the roof".[7]

Pastis also credits Get Fuzzy cartoonist Darby Conley with contributing to the development of the strip. They met through their syndication attorney, and Conley taught him how to color the Sunday strips and add gray tones to the dailies.[7]

Eight months afterwards, Pastis gleefully quit his law practice.[6] Pastis attributes his dissatisfaction with the law in being helpful insofar that "humor is a reaction to and defense against unhappiness",[6] and that wanting to get out of his job provided him with the impetus to create better comic strips so that he could get selected for syndication.[7]

Eleven years later, Pearls is still one of the fastest-growing comic strips, appearing in more than 650 newspapers worldwide.[11] Pastis generally works five to nine months ahead of deadline, a rarity in the world of newspaper comics.[12]

Pastis' wife, Staci, is sometimes depicted in the strip, usually offering to exchange her husband for a free pizza. They have two children, Thomas and Julia. The family lives in Santa Rosa, California where Pastis is on the board of the Charles Schulz Museum, helping with merchandising rights issues and answering questions about Peanuts.

“Schulz is to comic strips what Marlon Brando was to acting. It was so revolutionary. Before ‘Peanuts,’ the writing was physical, over the top, but Sparky goes inside the soul. His influence on me is enormous. I’ve taken his backgrounds, the front porch, the beach and the TV beanbag. Rat is Lucy, Goat is Linus and Pig is Charlie Brown. Sparky is a template, whether or not you know it, he’s the template.”[13]


Pastis's first treasury, Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic, was published in 2004. In addition to the content of the previous books, BLTs Taste So Darn Good and This Little Piggy Stayed Home, and Sunday strips in full color, Pastis included responses from readers and a section in which he explained why certain strips weren't successful, and how he would have corrected the content. Five more treasuries followed. Each book in the series is subtitled "A Pearls Before Swine Treasury".

  1. Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic (September 2004, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 0-7407-4807-6)
  2. Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! (September 2006, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 0-7407-6155-2)
  3. The Crass Menagerie (April 2008, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 0-7407-7100-0)
  4. Pearls Sells Out (August 2009, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 0-7407-7396-8)
  5. Pearls Blows Up (March 2011, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 1-4494-0106-6)
  6. Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out (October 2012, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 1-4494-2302-7)

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

On February 26th, 2013 Pastis released his first book aimed at younger readers, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, from Candlewick Press. Modeled after the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Timmy Failure follows the exploits of a young hapless detective and his polar bear friend, Total, as they solve crimes in their local neighborhood.


Stephan Pastis has his own blog where he updates his fans. The write-ups are usually humorous, describing his daily life, vacations and trips. He had also described his trip to Iraq in his blog in a series of write-ups starting "Saddamapalooza". His posts are accompanied by doodles from Pearls, or his own photographs.


Pastis was nominated for the National Cartoonists Society Newspaper Comic Strip Award for 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007. He won the 2003 and 2006 awards. He was also nominated for The Reuben Awards for the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.[11]


  1. Cavna, Michael. ‘Pearls Before Swine’ creator takes on Timmy Failure in new series of kids’ books. The Washington Post. February 25, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  2. Best Sellers: Children's Middle Grade. The New York Times. March 17, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hartlaub, Peter (September 16, 2005). "Cartoonist Stephan Pastis cast aside his career in law to put Pearls on the comics page". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  4. "Stephan Thomas Pastis - #168717". Attorney Search. The State Bar of California. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  5. Pastis, Stephan (March 18, 2011). "Comic for March 18, 2011". Pearls Before Swine. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Interview: Stephan Pastis: Attorney Turned Cartoonist". JDBliss. November 2006. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Smith, Richard L. (2006). "Stephan Pastis: Animal Attitude". Crescent Blues 9 (1). Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  8. "Cartoons and Funnies - The Infirm". Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  9. Pastis, Stephan (September 2004). Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury. Andrews McMeel Publishing.
  10. "Cartoons and Funnies - Bradbury Road". Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Pastis, Stephan. "About". The Official Pearls Before Swine Blog. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  12. Pastis, Stephan (April 27, 2009). "About". The Official Pearls Before Swine Blog.
  13. Dreesen, Kathleen (September 2, 2006). "A pig, a rat and a goat". Napa Valley Register.

External links

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