Stephan Pastis is the creator of PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, an acclaimed comic strip that appears in more than six hundred U.S. newspapers and boasts a devoted following. His 2011 compilation LARRY IN WONDERLAND debuted at #1 on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list for paperback graphic novels. TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE is his first book for young readers. He lives in northern California. TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE follows a young detective in the mold of Encyclopedia Brown, but with one major difference—your hero’s not the sharpest crayon in the box. What’s the appeal of the bumbling boy wonder?
|p: Susan Young |
Every young detective I had ever read about, whether it was Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys, was always incredibly clever. So I wanted to write a book about one who wasn't. The idea of that just made me laugh. Thanks to a large print run and massive marketing blitz, TIMMY FAILURE is positioned to be anything but. How do you think the book will land with fans of other illustrated novels, such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series?
Uh oh. I'm worried you just jinxed me. So I'm going to knock on wood for the both of us.
As to how it will be received, it's always an unknown. As with anything creative one does. I would hope that kids find it funny, and maybe even a little touching, and that it makes them want to read more books. Due to the reputation of PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, your nationally syndicated comic strip (with a sometimes dark and decidedly adult sense of humor), some have questioned how you can make the leap into middle-grade lit. How did you harness your brand of humor for a younger audience?
Well, obviously I was conscious of certain limitations (i.e. no beer, no smoking, no swear squiggles). But really, other than that, it wasn't that hard. Because I think when I write, I often tend to appeal to those age groups anyways. You'd be surprised at the number of 8 to 12 year-olds that show up at PEARLS book signings. Maybe it's because in my head, I'm stuck at age 11. Thus, I just write for my peers. Your comic strip is played out in 3-panel installments. What problems and new opportunities did you discover as you began working in medium with more space for expression?
It's so hard to tell a story in three panels. Most people probably don't realize what a limitation that is. You have to assume that the reader didn't read the prior day's comic strip, and therefore re-establish the premise each day. And that takes space. Space you don't necessarily have if you're also going to tell a joke.
So writing the novel was wonderful. I had more space and freedom than I've ever had before. On your blog you’ve described your writer’s journey as a movement from “a wayward lawyer to a wayward cartoonist to a wayward kids’ author.” What’s been the impetus for this unruly path?
That was a bit tongue-in-cheek. You can't be too wayward and survive on the American comics page. But I do try to be as original as I can. I just want to do something in a way that nobody has done it before.
© 2013 Stephan Pastis. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. A Book for Every Reader Graphic Novels Reviewed on READING TODAY ONLINE