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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Let there be enlightenment with Stephan Pastis

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

It’s about the past, present and future when Stephen Pastis returns Tuesday for a Northwest Passages Book Club event at the Bing Crosby Theatre.

The creator of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip and the children’s chapter book series, “Timothy Failure” will discuss his latest book, “Pearls Seeks Enlightenment,” which features 18 months of daily comic strips from 2020-21, with Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley. The project was released Tuesday. Pastis will also wax about his forthcoming illustrated novel “Looking Up.”

Pastis’ next book, which will hit shelves in October, is about a little girl upset about how her neighborhood is changing. “She launches a Don Quixote-esque campaign to save her toy store,” Pastis said by phone from his Santa Rosa, California, home.

After Pastis, 55, speaks about his long-running strip, which launched in 2001, the “Timothy Failure” series, which became a film in 2020, he’ll sign books.

“I’ll happily autograph those old books and talk about the old times and draw some of my characters, like Rat or Pig in their books,” Pastis said.

However, Pastis isn’t coming to town on a book tour. His trip to Spokane is about his next as-yet-untitled Anthony Bourdain-esque project. Like the late chef turned reality television star, Pastis is traveling from city to city around the world by his lonesome. The difference is that Bourdain sampled cuisine, but Pastis is trying everything.

“I’m traveling looking for the odd and the unusual,” Pastis said. “I visit certain restaurants, shops, bars, grave sites, whatever is interesting and I take notes. What I would like to do is write a book like David Sedaris does with his essays. But my book will be about travel.”

Part of what inspired Pastis’ concept are the book tours he loved and hated. “What was great is that I got to go to so many different cities,” Pastis said. “What was awful is that I didn’t get to really see the cities. Book tours are grueling. I don’t do them anymore.”

After his Northwest Passages gig, Pastis will visit Coeur d’Alene for the first time and then venture to Glacier National Park. After checking out Helena, Butte and Missoula, Pastis will return to Spokane for an extended visit.

“I rely on travel guides, both physical and online and locals,” Pastis said. “I put little pins in my google map.”

During a recent trip to New Orleans, Pastis dropped 300 pins in his Google map, 400 for a trip through Poland and considerably fewer for runs through Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Baby Bar, Frank’s Diner and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture are at the top of Pastis’ Spokane list. “My decision to check out those places has all to do with folks who live in Spokane,” Pastis said. “If a local loves it, it must be worth experiencing. I’ll also be visiting Atticus Coffee, Riverfront Park and the Riverfront Pavilion. I can’t wait to really see Spokane. I’ve been to your city so many times but again, when you’re on a book tour, you have little time to do anything.”

Local fare is typically at the top of the list for Pastis, which isn’t a surprise since he’s an unabashed fan of the aforementioned Bourdain. “I’ve watched everything Anthony Bourdain did at least twice,” Pastis said. “Bourdain was such a huge inspiration. I don’t think people realize how much he changed the world. When you and I were kids, we would never eat from street vendors. Our parents advised against that. Bourdain changed all of that. When he traveled in Southeast Asia, he would eat from the vendors. What he was about was authenticity. I loved that when he visited Paris, he would drive by the Eiffel Tower knowing that the view from his hotel was probably better than what can be seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Bourdain would seek out a Parisian hoping to get invited to their home for an authentic dinner. I want to bring authenticity to this project and just write it as well as I can.”

The former lawyer isn’t going to stop creating “Pearls Before Swine” strips, and he’ll continue to write children’s chapter books. “I’m going to do what interests me,” Pastis said. “I write for myself.”

That’s the secret behind his “Timothy Failure” series. Pastis wasn’t writing for children. “That just happened to be the audience my work appealed to,” Pastis said. “Apparently my sweet spot is 11- and 12-year old kids. When I write about what I’m experiencing on the road, I can expand what I write. I can write about smoking, getting stoned, I can swear. It just opens up more avenues for me.”

Pastis is off to Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan after he visits Spokane. It certainly looks like Pastis is walking in Bourdain’s footsteps since the former host of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, ” loved visiting the Far East.

“Bourdain really enjoyed that part of the world,” Pastis said. “I can’t wait to see what’s there, but I also can’t wait to really see Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana. I also look forward to Rob Curley asking me questions with my various strips up on the screen. I talk about what’s up there. It’s a format I’m familiar with and it’s fun. I’ll answer questions from the audience and have a good time like I always do in Spokane. And then it’s off to my next adventure.”