When our son Christopher was born, we used a “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip to announce his birth. “Calvin and Hobbes” is the work of advertising exec turned cartoonist Bill Watterson, who named the 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger after a French theologian and an English philosopher.
I left doctoral studies in philosopy and religion to be a stay-at-home mom, so it’s no surprise that “Calvin and Hobbes” resonated at the time. But nowadays another comic strip speaks to us as parents — and people. It’s Stephan Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine.”
Pastis is a second-generation Greek American born and raised in an L.A. suburb who says he’s never had formal training as an artist or cartoonist. Seems Pastis honed his art with lots of drawing time alone in his room. He began drawing “Pearls Before Swine” in 1997.
Pastis holds a political science degree from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA. He drew his first “Pearls Before Swine” character (Rat) during a class on the European economic community. Seems boredom was an early secret to Pastis’ success.
I recall Tony-Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda sharing a similar tale when we chatted a few years ago during the cast party for “In the Heights” at ASU Gammage. Apparently the playwright and actor first penned parts of the musical during astronomy classes when he should have been taking notes.
“Pearls Before Swine,” now published in more than 600 newspapers worldwide, was named after a famous saying from the New Testament. It’s about the friendship and foibles of an arrogant rat and a dim-witted pig. Together, Rat and Pig offer “caustic commentary on humanity’s quest for the unattainable.”
Pastis once practiced law in San Francisco. Today he lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Staci and their two children — reading American history books in his spare time. It’s no wonder his work resonates so well here in our house, where Jennifer dreams of a life in San Francisco and swaps history books with her equally history-obsessed dad.
I used to dream of retiring so I’d have time to read my swelling stack of Sunday magazines from The New York Times. These days I’m leaning more towards Pastis pearls like “The Ratvolution Will Not be Televised,” “The Crass Menagerie,” “When Pigs Fly” and “Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!” All illustrate “the flaws and shortcomings of human nature.”
Pastis’ latest work, titled “Larry in Wonderland: A Pearls Before Swine Collection,” will be released on Oct 4. It features the antics of Mad Ducker, Cheshire Snuffles, Tweedledum Pig and Tweedledee Idiot Pig. Also Raterpillar, Zebra and Larry the Croc — all well-known to fans of the award-winning comic strip.
You can meet Pastis at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe Thurs, Oct 20, at 7pm. I learned of the teen & adult event thanks to a Changing Hands “Educators Preview” e-mail listing an impressive slate of author events. The e-mail also notes that Pastis is available for high school visits that day.
Be sure and look for us in the history, art or philosophy sections if you attend. In the meantime, head to www.comics.com to explore animated versions of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip. They debuted in late January, but you can catch up thanks to the online archive.
Remimd me to use a “Pearls Before Swine” strip the next time we want to announce news of a new baby. Though, come to think of it, that’ll only happen “when pigs fly.”
Coming up: A double dose of fairy tales, Valley theater by the numbers, Fun with free concerts, AriZoni nominations