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Drawing a New Career


Stephan Pastis has been drawing comic strips since he was a little kid. Without any formal training, he created cartoons for every school newspaper from elementary school through law school.

After graduating in 1993 from UCLA School of Law (where he published a comic strip called Rosen about one of his fellow students), Pastis joined a San Francisco insurance defense firm and continued cartooning on the side. Eventually, he tried to get syndicated.

Pastis devised many concepts for strips, sent in samples, and was rejected. Finally, though, United Media, which publishes Peanuts and Dilbert, two of Pastis’s favorite strips, agreed to syndicate his Pearls Before Swine. The cartoon, which touches on philosophical, political, and social issues and features a haughty rat and a sweet but dumb pig who is protected by a vicious but delusional duck, debuted in January 2002 in about 50 newspapers.

Eventually, Pastis quit lawyering to work at Peanuts creator Charles Schulz’s studio in Santa Rosa, California, where he approved products for licensing and, at the same time, continued to publish Pearls Before Swine. The Charles Schulz job “morphed over the years” as Pastis began writing, including authoring the “Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown” television special. In November 2010, Pastis left Charles Schulz to cartoon full time.

Today, Pastis works in a condo he converted into a studio, with one room for writing, one for drawing, and a main room he “tricked out” with a pool table and pinball machine. But cartooning isn’t all fun and games: Pastis works 11-hour days, 6 days a week. “I work more than I did as a lawyer,” he says, “but I enjoy the work.”

Using Japanese brush pens and Bristol board paper, Pastis writes a daily strip in two hours and a Sunday strip in four. In addition to creating 365 strips a year, which now run in 650 newspapers around the world, Pastis works on print books, e-books, calendars, and a children’s book. He also handles e-mails, promotion, and the strip’s social media presence. Pearls Before Swine has twice earned the Best Newspaper Comic Strip award from the National Cartoonists Society and was nominated three times for the Reuben Award, syndicated cartooning’s highest award.

Pastis’s legal past influences his work habits. “Other cartoonists constantly complain about deadlines. I want to tell them, ‘Try being a lawyer.’ I don’t whine about the pressure of cartooning. I know the value of what I do because of what I did then.”

Leslie A. Gordon Freelance legal affairs journalist and corporate writer/editor for law firms and other professional service firms. Former staff writer at The Daily Journal, a legal affairs newspaper in San Francisco. A "recovering" lawyer, also spent five years as an adjunct professor teaching writing at UC Hastings College of the Law. Author of the novels HEADS OR TAILS and CHEER.

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