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Stephan Pastis on drawing Timmy Failure

Author and illustrator Stephan Pastis talks about his character, detective Timmy Failure.

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Stephan Pastis

Fiction, Graphic Novels

Stephan Pastis

Stephan Pastis is a lawyer-turned-cartoonist, the creator of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, and the author of the New York Times best selling Timmy Failure chapter book series for middle school kids.

Timmy Failure follows the exploits of the young “defective” detective and his polar bear friend, Total, as they solve crimes in their neighborhood. “I have an unreliable narrator,” Pastis says of the title character. “I have to remind myself every chapter: He gets everything wrong.”


Draw Timmy? Uh, Timmy is, um … in the words of the director who’s going to make a Timmy film - a seriously messed up a little kid. He thinks he’s … he thinks he is the world’s most brilliant detective but he is the dumbest person in the room and he wears that big scarf all the time. I offset one of the little eyes to the side a little because it makes him look a little … little nuttier. And … but he’s sweet. I think he’s got a good heart, you know. I think he’s got … he’s got a good … He’s got a single mom, you know. I think deep down he wants the whole family to be okay, you know, thinks he’s going to make a good living being a detective. Pay for everything. He won’t say it that way. He’d say it in a very arrogant way, but yeah … but he’s that thing I was talking about. Not a smart guy but thinks he’s brilliant. Not a clever guy, thinks he’s super clever. Not a good detective, thinks he’s the world’s greatest detective, you know. And then he’s got a sidekick that’s a … it’s a big, giant polar bear that may or may not be real depending on how you read the book. I’ve had people read it convinced that he’s real. The other people, convinced that he’s part of Timmy’s imagination. And I think, fairly, you can read it either way. My wife had a good theory. My wife’s theory was the polar bear is sort of a manifestation of how hurt Timmy is, like when he’s … he’s … the more you see him, the more Timmy needs this in his life. The more there’s something he’s missing in his life. Does that make sense like he’s sort of … a sort of uh …  yeah, sort of like that imaginary friend you created when you were a kid, you know? So anyways that’s to me that’s a polar bear