Do you ever see yourself differently from how other people see you? That, writer and cartoonist Stephan Pastis believes, is vital to so much laughter.
“I think the key to humor is the blind spot — the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us,” Pastis, the bestselling author of the “Timmy Failure” book series, tells KidsPost. “The wider that gulf, the funnier that character.”
And that is a crucial element of the appeal of his Timmy Failure character, says Pastis, who will appear at The Washington Post on June 2 for a talk, audience sketches and book signing. Pastis released his second “Timmy Failure” book in February, and the third one is due in October; they feature a bumbling boy detective and his pet polar bear, who may or may not be real.
Post “Comic Riffs” columnist and cartoonist Michael Cavna talked to Pastis, who also is the creator of the comic strip “Pearls Before Swine”:
MICHAEL CAVNA: Why do you think “Timmy Failure” has struck a chord with so many young readers?
STEPHAN PASTIS: Well, thank you. Maybe it’s the humor. I know when I was that age, I really just wanted to laugh. So I wrote a book that would have made 11-year-old me laugh. Which, by the way, is the same stuff that now makes 46-year-old me laugh.
MC: You excel at creating characters that have high self-importance. Is that a trait you find is especially ripe for humor — and if so, why?
SP: Poor Timmy has very few friends and is not very smart, but sees himself as an immensely popular genius. To me, that’s funny.
MC: Making your lead character a boy detective is a great way to introduce new situations and scenarios as we come along for the latest misadventure. Are you a fan of mysteries now, or were you a fan of detective tales as a boy?
SP: I think my two older sisters had the complete set of “Hardy Boys” books and “Nancy Drew” books. And I believe I read through all of them.
MC: As you travel to schools and libraries, what kind of feedback do you get from kids about “Timmy Failure”? And what are some of the more interesting kinds of questions you get?
SP: Kids are great. Usually, they shout out what they want to see more of in the next book, or ask when a certain character will reappear. They are very invested in the characters. Then they follow up with awesome, random kid questions: Do you have a dog? What’s your favorite color? How much money do you make?
The most rewarding feedback is often from the parent or teacher standing behind the child, who after the child is out of earshot will sometimes say to me, “You know, he usually doesn’t like to read, but I gave him your book, and he read the whole thing without putting it down.” To me, that’s the biggest compliment. To hold the attention of that boy or girl.
MC: You wear two hats as a creator, writing and drawing both “Timmy” and “Pearls Before Swine.” Is it difficult to go between those two types of work, or do you find it invigorating and mentally stimulating?
SP: Oh, totally invigorating. I take off seven weeks every summer to write the “Timmy” books. And every summer when I do it, it’s like meeting a bunch of friends I haven’t seen in a year. Plus, Rat and Pig like the vacation.
MC: What advice would you have for young readers who want to write or draw detective/mystery stories?
SP: I always tell kids the same thing, which is that I have no training in creative writing or drawing. It’s just something I do every day. So I tell them that, just like sports or music, it’s something that simply takes practice. Even just 10 minutes a day, and even if no one else is going to see it, just write or draw something. If it’s something you really want to do when you’re older, you’ll put in that time, and you’ll get better.
You could win four tickets to Stephan Pastis’s sold-out talk June 2 at 6 p.m. Here’s how: Answer the trivia question below, and we will draw a name from among the correct replies.
Trivia Question: In the “Timmy Failure” book series, what is the name of the female polar bear with whom Total is in love?
To enter this contest, go to the form at kidspost.com. A parent or guardian must fill out your name, age and home town as well as the name and phone number of the adult submitting the entry. Then you can fill in the answer to the question.
The deadline for entries is May 29 at 5 p.m. The contest is open to kids ages 6 to 14. At least one adult must accompany the winning child to the event.
Pastis will sign books at two area Costcos on June 1. He will appear at the Arlington store, 1220 S. Fern St., noon to 1 p.m., and the Fairfax store, 4725 West Ox Rd., 3 to 4 p.m.