“IF YOU AREN’T IN IT, you don’t know just how lost we are,” says Stephan Pastis, punching his words to punctuate his point.
The “Pearls Before Swine” creator is waxing honest about the state of syndicated cartooning — an industry still groping, like newspapers themselves, to adapt to new business models. And Pastis believes that if newspaper cartoonists aren’t moving into new digital realms, then they’re slipping behind. There is no standing still on the shifting sands of syndication.
With that sense of purpose, Pastis has just launched the first “Pearls Before Swine” iPad app — an elaborate project that features not only 250 color strips, but also “PBS” animations by RingTales, more than a hundred audio commentaries and nearly two-dozen “intimate” videos.
The app, produced with Chronicle Books, goes live in Apple’s iTunes store today.
“I put so many hours into this, it made no sense, dollar for dollar,” Pastis tells Comic Riffs on Tuesday, noting that he spent more than a year working on aspects of the app.
The Northern California-based cartoonist is especially proud of the videos.
“It’s the most personal thing in this,” he tells Comic Riffs. “I even show the bulletin board in my [office] that has everything on it — including my 10 Rules of When a Strip Is Funny, plus additional rules about when the crocs should appear. ...
“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have shown anybody that list.”
The app lets the viewer touch anything on the high-res bulletin board, providing for a more immersive experience.
“You can run your finger along the wall,” he says, “and you can hear me explaining the significance of everything” — from a Cathy Guisewite note to a wall drawing by “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” creator Jeff Kinney.
Working with Berkeley and Stanford film/media grads, Pastis also reveled in creating the videos.
“I basically play this character who is an a-- , so it was not a big stretch for me,” Pastis quips about the blowhard he plays in the app’s video production. “I take my shirt off at one point, I brag about how beloved I am as a local celebrity at this Calistoga cafe — how the owner just loves me. The publisher plays a role. ...
“They’re run into this Orson Welles-sized ego that is me.”
Pastis emphasizes that it was fun to work in collaboration with the young college grads that made up the video crew.
“I don’t think they had even ever read my strip,” Pastis says with zero sense of offense.
Yet with such an immersive app, Pastis — whose most recent “Pearls” collection topped the New York Times bestseller list last year — hopes to attract the next generation of readers, most of whom don’t read newspaper comics sections, he tells ‘Riffs.
“I knew that most people who buy the book would be ‘Pearls’ fans,” Pastis says, “but to people in their 20s and below, newpaper comics don’t exist.
“I don’t think they’re an audience that is going to be happy with something that’s just static.”
Immersion. Intimacy. And an outsize ego of a character who is anything but static.
With his menagerie of wisecracking animals in tow, Pastis now has an app for that.