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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pearls Before Swine creator talks comics, journalism at Northwest Passages forum

Cartoonist and author Stephan Pastis spoke with Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley as part of as Thursday online Northwest Passages forum.
By Ed Condran The Spokesman-Review

It was a reminder of how different life is when Northwest Passages host and The Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley greeted cartoonist and author Stephan Pastis Thursday for a book club event clad in a mask.

“Journalism Matters” was the message across the aptly colored black-and-white face covering.

Pastis, 52, didn’t know what to expect prior to his first virtual book club appearance. But the creator of the amusing cartoon strip “Pearls Before Swine” and the author of the entertaining children’s book series “Timmy Failure” was at ease once the hourlong session commenced.

Curley, who held court from his office at The Spokesman-Review, delivered a number of questions from subscribers and members of the Northwest Passages Club and sprinkled some of his own queries into the mix.

Northwest Passages Book Club / The Spokesman-Review

The laid-back and humble Pastis was amusing and informative when speaking about his 20-year-old strip and his children’s book series. For those who dream of crafting their own strip, Pastis revealed what’s most important after downplaying his artistic skill.

“What it comes down to in comics is your ability to write a joke in three or four panels,” Pastis said via Zoom conference. “That turns out to be the much rarer talent.”

Pastis, who was an attorney before becoming an cartoonist, reverently spoke of his hero, “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz.

“That’s where our family tree starts,” Pastis said. “Schulz brought in the topics, psychology and theology.”

“Pearls Before Swine” takes the air out of the pompous. The prolific Pastis, who works nine months ahead, revealed that his favorite character in the strip is Rat.

“Rat is the simplest (to draw), and he’s the most like me. But I’m all of the characters.”

Each copy of Pastis’ latest book, “Pearls Goes Hollywood,” which is available at Auntie’s Bookstore, includes a drawing of one of the “Pearls” characters. “I do it with every signing,” Pastis said.

Literary fans miss the book signings, but preautographed copies will have to do for now. Who knows when there will be such an event? Perhaps Curley should have asked Pastis, who is the Nostradamus of the cartoon world. Pastis proved prescient with his Dec. 29, 2019, strip. The pig answered the door and the New Year’s Baby shows up. The baby only offers a greeting of “New Year.”

The pig reminds the baby that it should be “Happy New Year.” But the baby says that he saw what was on the horizon and is frightened. “Oh God, help us all,” the baby says before falling.

“The strip ran before any of this happened this year, which is just so weird,” Pastis said. “That one I can’t explain. That’s just a wild one.”

Pastis writes and appreciates the written word. “If you’re not paying for journalism, you’re paying for not having journalism,” was the close of one of his cartoons.

“That last line journalists around the country latched onto,” Pastis said. “It’s something I feel very strongly about. Everybody needs a local paper because without it, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

Journalism matters, indeed.