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Stephan Pastis Visit

March 4, 2013

Last Friday afternoon, March 1, Stephan Pastis visited the 10s/11s at the Bank Street School for Children. The 10s/11s are currently studying graphic novels, and they were the first students to read his new highly illustrated novel, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, which was published just a few days before his visit.

The 10s/11s asked Stephan Pastis (pronounced STEPH-on PAST-iss) first to draw Total, Timmy Failure’s 1,500-pound polar bear sidekick. “I start with the nose,” he explained, taking a marker to a blank sheet of paper. Then he drew the circles for Total’s eyes, and told the students that the pupil is key. “If you place the dot in the center, it shows the character is focused,” he said. “You move the pupil back if you want him to look unfocused.” He wanted Total to appear as if “his mouth is always full” (in the book, he’s always foraging for food), and he gave the polar bear “tiny T-rex arms,” which made the students laugh.


As he drew Molly Moskins with her two mismatched eyes and her pile of hair, the classroom erupted in laughter; one student said, “We’re enjoying this too much.”

The students also got a chance to ask questions. “Where did you get the idea for Total?” one asked. Pastis said, “Timmy has no dad. He needs a protector. Total is big and tough, but also soft and furry.” Another asked, “Why doesn’t Timmy have a mouth?” Pastis showed different expressions, and how a mouth changes things.


He said he loved drawing from the age of 7 and drew for the school newspaper. But for every one cartoon panel that makes it into the newspaper, 6,000 cartoonists apply for the job. “So I became a lawyer instead,” Pastis joked. His big break came when he waited outside of Charles Schulz’s favorite diner all morning until the Peanuts creator appeared, and introduced himself, explaining, “I draw.” Schulz invited Pastis to take a seat, and gave him some tips. Eve Andrias asked Pastis how he balances the words and pictures–does he stop writing to do his drawings, or put them in afterwards? He said, “I’ve done it both ways.” Sometimes he writes a note to himself in parentheses, “Timmy crashing through window, show Total in back seat,” other times he pauses in the writing to draw the picture.

Now Pastis is known nationwide for his syndicated comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine.” One student asked if he were still a lawyer. Pastis said not anymore; he quit when “Pearls Before Swine” came out 12 years ago. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is his first book for young people. Thank you for letting us be your first readers, Stephan Pastis, and for bringing Timmy and Total to life right in front of us!


–Jennifer M. Brown

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