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

‘Dilbert’ artist Scott Adams calls Stephan Pastis the ‘Beatles of cartoonists,’ as Pearls Before Swine creator readies for Northwest Passages event

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

Stephan Pastis’ considerable talent as a cartoonist was immediately evident to Scott Adams.

During the late ’90s, Adams was at his peak as the cartoonist behind the quirky and very successful “Dilbert.” Adams was accustomed to viewing subpar work from fledgling artists submitting their strips hoping to land a syndicated deal.

“At that time I was with United Media, who syndicated ‘Dilbert,’ ” Adams recalled. “I was in the middle of that world in which I would see what new cartoonists were doing. I saw their work before the public. It would be placed on the United Media website since the work wasn’t good enough to be in a newspaper. The new ones I saw were almost universally awful. But then I saw Stephan Pastis’ ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and it stood out from the rest.”

Pastis, 55, who will appear tonight at the Bing Crosby Theatre at a Northwest Passages event, was working by day as a lawyer and crafting “Pearls Before Swine” strips at night a quarter-century ago.

“I saw Stephan’s work in its nascent form, which was revealing since it’s the time before people are beaten into something else. With Stephan, you could see the intelligence,” Adams said while calling from his Pleasanton, California, home. “You can see how good the characters were and how it was just so interesting at the very start. It was raw but it was so good.”

“Pearls Before Swine” was added to a newsletter for “Dilbert” fans.

“I blasted out that newsletter, and the response was tremendous,” Adams said. “Stephan started making a dent before (United Media) tried to sell him. I endorsed him, and my syndication company trusted me.”

Adams, 66, was a mentor for Pastis, who is thankful for all of the advice he received.

“I can’t say enough how much Scott helped me,” Pastis said.

“I was glad to answer any questions Stephan had,” Adams said. “His work was not cliché or hackneyed. There was a tangible freshness to it. It was different. I had lunch with him and spent two hours with him while he picked my brain. I gave him my formulas for humor. I told him what worked and what didn’t work. Stephan took copious notes, and I watched him implement what I told him into his strips.”

“Pearls Before Swine,” which is in 850 newspapers around the world, is as popular as it’s ever been. However, “Dilbert,” which ran for 34 years in print, was canceled by newspapers, including The Spokesman-Review, in February after Adams published a video that called Black Americans a “hate group.”

What impresses Adams most is that after crafting “Pearls Before Swine” strips for 22 years, his work continues to improve.

“What Stephan does that’s consistently brilliant is that he keeps adding and changing things in the strip,” Adams said. “It’s easy to get lazy, and some strip writers do that by having guest gag writers. Stephan is different since he’s still intellectually curious even after all of these years. It helps that he has so much to draw from. He has a background in law. He has a real active mind that is always looking for something new. The more he sees, the more there’s a chance that it’ll inspire new jokes.”

Pastis is often traveling to different cities around the world looking for new experiences that he hopes will enhance his strips.

“All that I see definitely helps me as a writer,” Pastis said. “I’m curious to see what’s out there.”

It’s a benefit that Pastis is busy.

“It’s great that he has children’s chapter books that he writes, movies and speaking engagements,” Adams said. “The busier a writer is, the better. No wonder his strip is flourishing.”

As for Pastis, Adams has been so impressed that he gave him the ultimate compliment.

“Stephan is like the Beatles of cartoonists,” Adams said. “If you studied the Beatles, you see how Paul McCartney managed the group and took bits and pieces from other recording artists and added those elements to the Beatles. Even though he added all of those elements, the Beatles sounded like no other band. The same goes for Stephan.”