Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls before Swine

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls before Swine

Article excerpt

Pearls Before Swine is a daily newspaper strip that features a self-centered, rude, sometimes violent Rat, a dimwitted but good-natured Pig, a Zebra who is constantly trying to make peace with the lions and alligators to keep them from eating his relatives, and assorted supporting characters. The strip was just awarded a 2003 Reuben for Best Newspaper Strip of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society. Mr. Pastis kindly took part in a telephone interview for this issue.

Fomm: Were you interested in comics and drawing more than the average kid, and did you have some idea early on that you might want to be a cartoonist?

Pastis: Since I was a little kid I wanted to be a cartoonist, mostly from reading Peanuts books. So I drew from a very young age; when most other kids were out playing, I was probably in my room drawing. Though I always wanted to be a cartoonist, I never thought it was a realistic goal, so I went to law school and became a lawyer. But it was definitely something that was always my dream.

Forum: Did you have any formal training in art or drawing or design?

Pastis: No. None. In college I was a Political Science major at UC-Berkeley, and then I went to law school at UCLA. When I got out of law school, I went straight into litigation, and I was a litigation attorney in San Francisco for almost nine years. So at no point did I take any lessons. If you look at the strip, it becomes apparent.

Forum: At what point did you seriously begin to entertain the notion of doing Pearls Before Swine? How did it evolve?

Pastis: Well, in 1996, after I had put in about three years at a law firm, I was really tired of being a lawyer, so I thought I would try to create a strip and submit it to the five or six comic syndicates and see what happened. I knew that the odds were long. The big syndicates get around 6,000 submissions a year, and of those, they pick maybe three. Of the three, maybe one actually gets launched. In 1996,1 submitted a strip featuring a rat and a pig to all of the syndicates. Or did it have the pig - no, it just had the rat. I expected rejections from everyone, but to my surprise, the people at King Features, while still rejecting it, were very kind about it and said that they saw something there. After that I submitted three more different strips, and they were all rejected. One of them was about a law firm. Because I kept getting nice comments, I created Pearls Before Swine. I drew two hundred of the strip in 1997. After I drew them, I put them up on my shelf and did nothing with them for eighteen months, until 1999.

Forum: Why?

Pastis: I didn't want to get rejected again. I thought the best way not to get rejected was not to submit; it was foolproof. I don't know what the triggering point was for me to get the strip off of the shelf, but in June of 1999,1 took them into my law firm, all two hundred if you can believe it. I had people there vote on which forty they liked best, and based on their vote, I took those forty and sent them to the syndicates. Lo and behold, I had not just one, but three syndicates that wanted it. I chose United Feature Syndicate because it published my two idols: Peanuts and Dilbert.

Forum: A bidding war is always good.

Pastis: Yeah, that helps a lot. That's really rare. It's funny. It was either feast or famine. I mean, nothing else I sent got anything.

Forum: How soon after that did you segue out of the law?

Pastis: It was a long road. First, you go through what they call development, which is where you keep producing strips so that they see whether you can keep doing it. After all, they don't know whether you spent twenty years coming up with the funny ones that you submitted. They also have other launches that are scheduled. So after signing around the beginning of 2000, it wasn't until January 2002 that the strip was actually launched into newspapers. I kept my law job until August 2002, so I remained a lawyer for another eight months while the strip ran in the newspapers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.