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Don't tell Rat, Pig or Zebra — as sweetly as their creator, Stephan Pastis, savors drawing and concocting predicaments for them in his massively popular "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip, he has found creative bliss with the kid detective who stars in his new book.

The Santa Rosan is traveling the country on an ambitious, VIP tour to promote, "Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made." The bountifully illustrated and ridiculously hilarious kids' book is unrelated to Pastis' syndicated strip, but the fame he has achieved as a cartoonist is what makes most people eager to meet him and check out his book.

Pastis, 45, figures that 80 or 90 percent of the people turning out for his typically packed book talks and signings are there to behold the guy who draws the sardonic and silly "Pearls."

"Obviously, 'Timmy' is new," he said. "I expect that ratio will change."

Pastis, a former lawyer and Los Angelino who married Santa Rosa's Staci Daniels, has long said he considers himself much more a writer than a cartoonist. Even so, he seems surprised by how much he enjoys writing books after 10 years of squeezing stories into comics-page panels.

"It's just so much fun. I love writing these books," he said. It's more fun than the strip."

Those words might strike fear into the hearts of "Pearls" fans. But Pastis has no intention to stop drawing the strip, which now appears in more than 650 newspapers.

He's able to dedicate time and creativity to writing books because he's so efficient at cartooning that he has stockpiled six months and 22 days worth of strips. That inventory allowed him the time to write the first "Timmy" book, published earlier this year by Candlewick Press of Massachusetts, and also to complete a yet-to-be published second.

"Right now I'm thinking about the third," he said. "I can do it in eight weeks. I love those eight weeks."

His "Timmy" is a hit, and not only with its target audience.

"They say the book is for kids 8 to 12, but I'm hearing from adults about it," Pastis said.

He is tickled by a great many things, including the book's publishing-industry category: "middle-grade illustrated fiction."

"I call it the wimpy kid genre," he said. "Timmy" has taken up residence on the New York Times' best-sellers list for the category.

Elements of Pastis' his early success as a writer of pre-teen books include his pre-existing fame as a cartoonist, his fundamentally funny drawings and writing style and his determination not to dumb-down to his presumed audience.

"If you talk down to kids, they know it," he said. The vocabulary in "Timmy" boasts phrases such as mendacity, scalawag, ignoramus and unconscionable.

An example of Pastis' non-juvenile humor: One morning, Timmy's mom bursts into his bedroom waving a report he'd written for school.

"My mother hands me my report on the French Revolution. There is a large B written at the top of it. "I can't believe it," my mother shouts. "It's a B! Your new teacher gave you a B!"

"Our educational system's shortcomings are no cause for celebration," I tell her. "The imbecile's lucky he has me. May I return to bed?'

Pastis, a Cal alum, clearly cracks himself up by dressing rotund character Charles "Rollo" Tookus in a shirt emblazoned "Stanfurd." And many of his chapter titles are puns on musical and literary references that few 9-year-olds are likely to get:

"You May Find Yourself Behind the Wheel of a Large Automobile."

"It Ain't Me, Gabe."

"Happiness Is Not a Dumb Blanket."

"Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lunch Recess."

Pastis said, "I love being their (the readers') first introduction to Dylan, but they don't know it yet."

To capitalize on his renown as a cutting-edge cartoonist and his potential as an author of illustrated novels for kids, Candlewick Press made his book tour the centerpiece of a $250,000 marketing campaign — the publishing house's "most robust ever for a debut book."

Pastis first went on the road for "Timmy Failure" in late February, to Kansas City, MO. Since then he has appeared at bookstores and book festivals and other literary events in Austin, Houston, Tucson, Philadelphia, Madison, Conn.; Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Diego and San Jose.

At 7 p.m. on Friday, May 3, he'll be at the Copperfield's Books in Petaluma.

"The book has done so well that they're going to put me out there again this fall," the new novelist said.

International book-promotion trips are possible because Pastis has signed 23 contracts, and he has five more pending, with foreign publishers that will produce their own versions of "Timmy Failure."

That the German rendition is entitled "Timmy Flop" amuses Pastis but, here again, it doesn't take much.

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)