Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tales of Starting, and Doing, Comics

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tales of Starting, and Doing, Comics

Article excerpt

Speakers at NCS confab offer 'Pearls' of wisdom about cartooning

The stars and up-and-comers speaking at the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) meeting here all took interesting routes to syndication, but Stephan Pastis' road may have been the most unusual.

Pastis, who does the "Pearls Before Swine" comic for United Feature Syndicate (UFS), worked as a litigation attorney from 1993 to last year. "I hated every moment of being a lawyer," he said. "I always wanted to be a cartoonist." So Pastis drew in his spare time, and eventually had several different comics rejected by syndicates. All featured an arrogant rat.

By 1997, Pastis decided he needed more training in comic humor, dialogue, and timing. His curriculum: reading every "Dilbert" book collection by Scott Adams of UFS. Then Pastis, after pairing his rat with a humble pig, drew 200 "Pearls" strips. But, fearing another syndicate rejection, he put them away for 18 months.

"In 1999, I took the strips to my law firm and had associates vote on the best 40," said Pastis. "I submitted them -- and three syndicates were interested."

Pastis entered a development period with UFS. He said the syndicate was going to launch the comic in 2000, but then decided a feature starring a rat and pig had no target demographic.

Then Pastis got two breaks. UFS, though not offering "Pearls" to newspapers, included the strip on its site starting in late 2000. It was getting a good, not great 2,000 hits a day when Adams gave the strip a rave review on his "Dilbert" site. The next day, Pastis received 95,000 hits.

UFS syndicated the comic after all, starting early last year. And, said Pastis, "I'm no longer an attorney, thank God."

Others speaking at the NCS meeting included Adams, "Get Fuzzy" creator Darby Conley of UFS, "Rhymes With Orange" creator Hilary Price of King Features Syndicate, and "FoxTrot" creator Bill Amend of Universal Press Syndicate.

Adams said success is a product of talent and hard work, but luck and timing also play a role. "The media was kind of looking for someone to represent high-tech and downsizing," said the "Dilbert" creator, whose 14-year-old comic now runs in 2,000-plus papers.

Conley recalled receiving some obscenity-laden e-mails after having his Satchel the dog character display a sign saying, "Don't Bom Irak" (prior to the U. …

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