Stephan Pastis has heard about Akron all of his life. Now he’ll finally get to see it.
His family roots here go back more than a century.
“To me, it’s a homecoming of sorts,” he said.
Pastis is the creator of the syndicated comic strip “Pearls Before Swine,” which appears in more than 800 newspapers, including the Akron Beacon Journal. He is also the creator of the “Timmy Failure” and “Trubble Town” book series and the co-writer of the 2020 Disney+ movie “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.”
He’ll be traveling from his Northern California home in Santa Rosa, the heart of Sonoma County wine country, where he lives with his wife, Staci, and children, Tom and Julia.
“I have Ohio all researched, so I’m going to do a trip where I really spend time there,” he said. “Probably 10 days or maybe more.”
Stephan Pastis has Akron roots
Pastis’ great-grandparents Gust and Calliope Pastis emigrated from the Greek island of Icaria and settled in Akron in the early 1920s with their children John, James, George, Nick, Peter, Steve and Bessie. The family operated the Savoy Restaurant on East Market Street near Goodyear.
Pastis’ grandfather Steve owned the Apolon Pool Hall on East Market Street during the Great Depression. He and his wife, Pana, lived on Middlebury Avenue with sons Gus, Tom and Arry in the 1930s and 1940s.
“Everyone in my family came through Ohio,” Pastis said.
Pastis’ father, Tom, attended Fraunfelter Elementary School, built model planes as a boy and sold World War II stamps as a newspaper carrier.
“I love this little fact: As a little kid, he delivered the Akron Beacon Journal on his bike,” Pastis said.
Little did the newsboy know that his future son would have a regular feature in its pages.
Many of Pastis’ relatives moved west to Arizona and California in the 1950s, but some stayed in Ohio, including cousins who owned Egg Castle, Grapevine Cafe, Burger King and Arthur Treacher’s restaurants here.
Pastis’ mother, the former Patti Tripodes, grew up in a Greek family in Cleveland and married Tom in 1957. Stephan, the youngest of three siblings, was born in 1968 in Los Angeles.
As a kid growing up in San Marino, he loved to read “Peanuts” and idolized Charles M. Schulz. He drew cartoons and dared to imagine what it might be like to have his own comic strip.
“It was a lifelong dream,” he said. “I never really thought it was very realistic.”
“I was an insurance defense lawyer in San Francisco for 10 years,” Pastis said. “I put on a suit and tie every day, argued with people, and then would draw in my spare time.”
Pastis bought a book on how to become a syndicated cartoonist and submitted batches of original strips to the corporate addresses printed in the back. He must have been rejected 80 times before something clicked with his characters.
“Eventually I did this thing where I paired the rat, who had been in all the rejected strips, with this pig,” he said. “And that was the key because I think it softened the rat and made it more palatable.”
“Pearls Before Swine,” featuring Pig, Rat, Goat, Zebra and other characters (including Pastis himself), debuted as an online strip from United Feature Syndicate in 2001 and premiered in 150 newspapers in 2002.
Pastis was all too happy to quit his job as a lawyer.
Creating ‘Pearls Before Swine’
It takes Pastis about 90 minutes to draw a daily strip and four hours to illustrate a Sunday comic. The writing, however, is a wild card.
“You can write a strip in a minute or six hours,” he said. “It all depends on how clever or not you are in a given day. That’s the great unpredictable part.”
His writing process involves listening to music and taking a 3-mile walk. When he has an idea, he records it on his iPhone, and by the time he gets home, he usually has a strip. The deadline pressure helps him create.
“So that’s how I’ve been doing it, and it’s really effective,” he said.
He’s released more than 40 “Pearls Before Swine” books through Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Pastis said the comic strip has evolved over the years, gaining maturity as he’s matured. Since he doesn’t know how he will change, he doesn’t know how the strip will change. “It goes where I go — for better or worse,” he said.
One thing is for certain. He hopes to continue writing it for years to come.
“People have asked me: ‘When are you going to retire?’ And I always say, ‘Retire to do what? To do exactly what I’m doing now, but not get paid?’ This is what I do. Nothing ensures longevity more than doing the thing that you love to do.”
Pastis has branched out with the New York Times bestselling children’s series “Timmy Failure,” about a young detective and his polar bear friend, and “Trubble Town,” a graphic novel series about a quirky community.
‘Looking Up’ is new book
His new illustrated novel, “Looking Up,” due for release Oct. 10 from the Simon & Schuster imprint Aladdin, introduces a quirky character, Saint, who is obsessed with birthday piñatas, medieval knights and lost causes. The middle grade novel, geared toward ages 8 to 12, is “about a girl struggling with loneliness and the curveballs of life.”
As she witnesses the demolition of beloved landmarks in her neighborhood, she hatches a plan to save what is left of her hometown with the aid of a neighbor boy. Akron residents will relate.
“This little girl is so obsessed with the past and putting things back to how they were, ostensibly, to return her city to what it was like because her city is now being gentrified,” Pastis said. “But really, that’s not what it’s about. I would call that the top line plot — the plot that’s right in front of you. But it’s really about a little girl who wants to turn back the clock for other reasons that don’t become obvious until the end.”
Whimsical, poignant and funny, the 240-page hardcover book features black-and-white illustrations from the author and retails for $13.99.
“I’m proud of this one,” Pastis said.
While in Northeast Ohio to promote the novel, Pastis has already lined up some landmarks to see, including McKinley National Memorial in Canton and the James A. Garfield Memorial in Cleveland. Other possible stops include the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame, A Christmas Story House, Castle Noel, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Akron sites related to NBA superstar LeBron James.
He definitely will stop on Middlebury Avenue to see the childhood home of his father, Tom Pastis, who passed away in 2020 at age 88. The author might also drive past the former Fraunfelter Elementary, now the North Arlington Street offices for Oriana House, and visit the vacant lot where his grandfather’s pool hall once stood.
Pastis said he’s excited to visit his father’s hometown.
“I just love the idea,” he said. “My dad would have loved it. He’s no longer living, but, boy, if he had known I was going to Akron, he would’ve had a lot to say.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at email@example.com
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