Stephan Pastis detested lawyering, but he loves cartooning.

Pastis, the 42-year-old creator of the comic strip “Pearls Before Swine,” earned a degree in political science, then went on to law school at UCLA. For several years, he worked as a litigation attorney in San Francisco.

And he hated every minute of it.

“The best day I ever had as alawyer was not as good as the worst day I have had as a cartoonist,” Pastis said in a telephone interview. “I did litigation, which was one deadline after another, one terrified moment after another. If I was not terrified, I was bored silly. Every lawyer I knew had an exit strategy.”

Pastis’ exit strategy involved creating a cartoon. He started cartooning in high school. While studying at UCLA, he created a strip that included characters from what would become “Pearls Before Swine.”

Lawyering was a lot of work. Cartooning is fun. “You are your own boss. You can sit around in your boxers and do your work. Most people would call that goofing off,” he said.

United Feature Syndicate picked up the strip in 2001, and it now appears in almost 600 newspapers across the country. The Maine Sunday Telegram added the strip to its Sunday comics lineup in 2008, and today “Pearls Before Swine” moves to the daily comics page of The Portland Press Herald as well.

The strip follows the lives of human-like animals. The main characters are known as Pig, Rat, Zebra and Goat, and there are many others.

“Pearls Before Swine,” which takes its name from a Bible passage, is fairly simple artistically, although its subject matter at times trends toward big, serious topics, including politics.

Pastis is also infatuated with other cartoonists and comics, and often pokes fun at other strips, most notably “Family Circus.” One of his current obsessions is Cathy Guisewite, creator of the now-retired strip “Cathy,” which ended publication Sunday.

Pastis, who lives in California, is a self-taught artist. He got early inspiration from the late “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz, whom he passionately tracked down at a local cafe while still working as an attorney.

A big fan, Pastis wanted to meet the legendary cartoonist and show him his sketches, so he went to a restaurant that he knew Schulz frequented in hopes of an audience. Schulz encouraged him to go deep with cartooning, and Pastis pushed forward with his dream.

In addition to “Peanuts,” Pastis said his favorite strips include “Bloom County,” “The Far Side” (both of which are now defunct) and a few others.

“For me, (cartooning) is like oxygen. It’s everything,” he said. “I think a lot of creative people will tell you that you are pushed along by something inside that you cannot stop. You see something in your head, and you want to do it. It never stops.

“Every moment of your day and even when you are trying to sleep, you’re always thinking of an idea. You give your life over to it.”

Four times, Pastis has been nominated for the National Cartoonists Society Newspaper Comic Strip Award. He’s won it twice, in 2003 and 2006.

He also maintains an active blog (stephanpastis.wordpress.com), which offers an alternative means for reaching fans. He has to be mindful of the family readership of a daily newspaper. With a blog, he has more opportunities to push the boundaries of language and subject matter.

“It’s nice to have everything open to you where you can swear occasionally, or mention sex occasionally,” he said. “The blog is my outlet for my own voice.”

Pastis manages to get his own voice into the strip, too. The character Rat represents the inner voice that many of us would like to give power to, but do not because better judgment intercedes.

“He’s that voice that you want when you tell off your boss. All those things you can’t say, he says them. So Rat would be the id,” he said. “As the id, he’s the easiest to write for. He is my natural voice.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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