Stephan Pastis' cartoon strip "Pearls Before Swine" has been featured in The Baltimore Sun's Sunday section for over 10 years, depicting quick-witted and memorable characters like Rat, Goat and the ever-athirst Pig, each exploring a range of themes like modern technology, breakups, jobs and politics with a twist of humor.
But Sunday will mark the cartoonist's first local signing. On the seventh stop on his nine-city tour, Pastis stops in Baltimore to promote his latest book "Pearls Hogs the Road" at The Ivy Bookshop, and it's safe to say Pastis is looking forward to his visit.
"First off, I just like being there. Secondly, I've never done a signing [in the city], so it's the butterflies," Pastis said. "For me, that's exciting."
The treasury, available since Tuesday, is Pastis' ninth compilation of 18 consecutive months of comics. It's sprinkled with colorful and candid commentary about the stories behind the cartoons and the author's most memorable moments — most notably, the collaboration with Bill Watterson, the veteran cartoonist and author of "Calvin and Hobbes," who returned for a stint from a 19-year hiatus.
For Pastis, 49, who refers to Watterson as the "Bigfoot of cartoons," it was a dream come true. It was cartoonists like Watterson and Charles Schulz, the late creator of "Peanuts" and the Charlie Brown gang, who fueled his passion for cartoons at a young age.
"I wanted that kind of life, but I knew even at a young age that the odds of syndication were mind boggling," said the Santa Rosa, Calif., resident. Instead, he took a "more dependable route," banking on his promising high school debate skills to become a lawyer in hopes of practicality and more money.
But once he got it, "I did not enjoy it at all," he said. He soon resorted back to his dream of being a cartoonist, facing years of rejection starting in 1996 before Pastis got his break in 1999. United Feature Syndicate, which also published "Peanuts," liked his work and debuted his strips in 2002, kickstarting his career, which would require him to expose parts of himself in his characters, like Schulz once personally advised.
"He said you can't base them on other people because you don't know anybody well enough to base a fully rounded three-dimensional character on them. So he said all the characters of 'Peanuts' were aspects of his own personality, and I sort of took that to heart," he said, adding that it's apparent in his work.
"If you like the book, you'd probably like me. It's like me on the page ... There are few arts and mediums that are wholly one human vision. Movies, plays, TV shows — they are collaborative efforts. A strip, by and large, is not. A strip is one vision," he said. "If done right, they can be one of the few really unique, artistic voices in the newspaper."
Cartoons might even fit in today better than they did two decades ago, he said, adding that in the age of social media and short attention spans, everything must be quick — and "comic strips have always been that."
"They are complete in and of themselves. ... There's a beginning, middle and end, and you're done in seven seconds, and that's sort of where we are now," he said.
The humor, which he explains is sort of an alchemy, spinning the "bad, worthless or sad" into something funny, however, is timeless.
"Humor is somehow the release of that pain. There's so much anxiety in your life, and I think humor is opening up the valves on a pressure cooker. ... I think I've always probably done it," he said.
Pastis will bring the humor to the Ivy, too, featuring a presentation with slides displaying the works people have loved and hated along with the criticisms and complaints, and will end the night with his own tradition — drawing a character of the attendee's choice with every autograph.
Although it's time consuming, it's worth it, he concedes. It adds a special touch.
But on second thought, "I totally regret Zebra. That [character] takes a long time."