Photograph by Michael Amsler
Best North Bay Cartoonist Readers Love to Hate
"Here's the untold secret about being a cartoonist," reveals Stephan Pastis, the supremely clever Santa Rosa-based creator of the syndicated comic strip "Pearls Before Swine." The strip currently runs in 400 newspapers (the San Francisco Chronicle being the closest), and has resulted in seven book compilations and two "Pearls Before Swine" calendars. "I might not be supposed to divulge this, but here I go," Pastis says. "You know those cartoonists who work full-time on their cartoon and then say it takes every minute of their week, and that they have no spare time? Well, I think they're lying. I think they are wasting lots of time playing video games. It simply does not take six or seven days to do a full week's worth of comic strips."
Pastis uses his own career as an example. Three days a week, he draws his edgy, dark-humored musings about a sweet and innocent pig who shares a house with an evil, Machiavellian rat, and three days a week (three other days) Pastis works for Creative Associates, Charles Schulz's studio in Santa Rosa, where he reviews licensing requests for "Peanuts" merchandise. Even working part-time at Schulz's place, Pastis is still seven months ahead with his comic, having drawn the strip for most of the rest of the year. Maybe he's just well-organized, possibly a knack he picked up during the seven years he spent as a lawyer.
"It's really not that hard," he insists. "Though it probably helps that I draw rather simply, compared to those strips that are really elaborate."
Elaborate "Pearls" definitely is not. Most of the characters have little stick arms and legs, and Pastis admits he only knows how to draw Pig in a couple of positions. Still, his drawings are fun to see. But the real soul of the strip is the witty writing, which frequently pushes the edge of good taste and has won him many detractors.
"I had one strip that showed Rat writing a letter to President Bush," Pastis recalls. "It was right after he invaded Iraq, so Rat was saying something like, 'Dear President Bush. So far you've only invaded two nations. There are 192 countries on the globe. If we're going to get them all, you're going to have to pick up the pace.'"
Then there was the strip in which Abraham Lincoln shows up, complaining about his wife dragging him to the theater all the time. At the end, Lincoln says, "I need to see another play like I need a hole in the head." Put simply, that one made a lot of people mad.
And yet, it was nothing compared to the outrage that Pastis inspired with a series in which Rat was hired to babysit the kids from the "Baby Blues" comic strip and sat out in the kitchen downing tequila shots. Once he had run out of liquor, Rat gave the kids the keys to the car and sent them out to the store to buy more tequila, and in the process they ran over and killed the kid from "Zits."
"You would have thought, from the reaction I got, that I had actually babysat some kids while drunk, that I had actually run over a kid," Pastis says. "There was no difference in their reaction between my having actually done something awful, and the fact that none of it was real, that it was only ink on the paper. It was crazy. People accused me of endangering those children by letting the Rat drink while on the job. It was scary how seriously people took it."
Ultimately, Pastis just finds it amusing that so many people feel his strip is so cutting-edge and dangerous.
"You put me up against South Park and The Family Guy," he says, "and I am not dark and edgy at all. I write about pigs and rats and crocodiles. It's a sad commentary on the state of comics that I'm one of the edgy ones."--D.T.
Best Place to Be a Kid but Spend Like an Adult
Amazing balancing acts! Hilarious clowns! High-flying trapeze! All to be found at Circus Chimera, one of the country's premier traveling Mexican circuses. You've probably seen the two-for-one coupons at the supermarket checkout line, and in an age where modern entertainment means crowding around a computer screen watching last week's Saturday Night Live skits on YouTube, now more than ever is the time to cash them in and learn to be a kid again with a real-live variety show. Under a big-top tent, you'll sit and eat peanuts and cotton candy as jugglers and gymnasts alike tantalize your eyes with deft displays of dexterity, all leading up to the thrilling motorcycle "Globe of Death" finale. Each year, the show traces a loose story line that's equal parts amusement and confusion, while opportunities for lightening the wallet abound, with patrons paying $5 to have a Polaroid taken standing between the stars of the circus. Outside, there're rides, slides and funhouses, and after a brief weekend run, just like the old days, Circus Chimera packs up and leaves. Circus Chimera returns to the North Bay on May 25.--G.M.
Best Place for Your Budding Paganini to Learn the Ropes
The Young People's Chamber Orchestra, sponsored by the Santa Rosa Symphony, was patterned after the celebrated New Century Chamber Orchestra, which performs without a conductor, with musicians taking their cues from one another as they play through a piece. The members of the YPCO are all under 18--and they are all marvelous. Since 1998, the Young People's Chamber Orchestra has been part of the educational wing of the Santa Rosa Symphony; there has been talk in recent months that the youth group may be discontinued in the near future. We hope that's not the case. More than just a cool place for kids to play, the group gives great concerts, and the community has begun to embrace them for their musical excellence (not to mention the chance to catch the next Yo-Yo Ma before anyone else). The group is run by renowned North Bay violist Linda Ghidossi-DeLuca. Whenever the Youth Orchestra perform--following the example of the New Century Chamber Orchestra--Ghidossi-DeLuca plays along with the young musicians. It's the kind of group they make inspirational movies about. The Young People's Chamber Orchestra perform their spring concert on Saturday, May 19, at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Rosa. For details, call 707.546.8742.--D.T.
Best Way to Develop the Next Generation of Entertainerss
Given the condition of our state's educational priorities, how lucky are our children to live in this nursery of creativity, rampant with visual arts, music and theater! Santa Rosa's Sixth Street Playhouse encourages well-rounded performers ages four and up with miming games, memorization of tongue-twisters and poems, dance (California reel, anyone?) and other dramatic fun, plus the kids get to visit that mysterious land, the backstage. Other local theater groups indulge drama queens and kings with enough reasonably priced weekly classes and day camps that even the hammiest of hams can satisfy the need to bask in the glow of footlights almost year-round. Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 707.523.4185.--A.H.
Best Place to Feel Like a VIP During the Let-down
When you can't stand another second of diapers, poop, aching nipples, exhaustion-fueled inane arguments with your partner, and not knowing what everyone's talking about at dinner parties, it's time to reserve the baby room at Sebastopol Cinemas. They've got three theaters in which you can reserve a soundproof screening room to watch a film in private with zero to eight of your closest friends. And all you need to gain admittance is a newborn to two-year-old child--meaning, you actually can't get in without this child, but you only need one per eight adults. So here's what you do: 1. Call the theater. 2. Ask what's playing in the "baby rooms." 3. Pick your flick and tell the nice man to reserve the room for you. 4. Bob's your uncle. It's first come, first served, but I've never had a problem getting a room, except when I couldn't find a baby to go with me. Sebastopol Cinemas, 6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol. 707.829.3921 for reservations.--M.T.J.
Best Place For Controlled Cacophony
Listening to classical music improves math skills, but how to experience a live orchestra in a casual setting? It's OK to wave your invisible baton at the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra's thrice-yearly "sit-in" concerts, ostensibly for children but educational and accessible for any age. Sit among middle- and high-school-aged musicians and learn about classical works and instruments on a visceral level while conductor George Thomson explains the nitty-gritty in a fashion that's engaging for little and big ones alike. After a few lively pieces, get hands-on at the instrument "petting zoo." Don't worry, disinfectant wipes are in regular use, so no one shares slobber off the trombone mouthpiece. Besides the ice cream party following the show, the best part of the afternoon of quality music, polite teens and thrilled tots is the price: absolutely free. www.marinsymphony.org. --A.H.
Best Place to Scare Your Kids Witless
For some of us, Halloween is all about dead things coming back to walk among the living. With that in mind, here's hoping that Dr. Evil's Nightmare, the most recent incarnation of the Russian River's annual fundraising haunted house, comes back from the grave to scare little kids and their parents in the name of charity. Every year, it looks like the end, so maybe it is--but we hope not. Held within the old, über-creepy miniature golf course on Neeley Road near Guerneville, the yearly walk-through has developed a reputation as one of the coolest October haunts in the North Bay. Benefiting different local charities each year, the community-supported event is always run by dedicated aficionados of "the dark stuff." The haunt contains as many as 16 themed areas crammed with twisty shocks and boos, including twitching corpse action, cannibalism, forbidden rituals and other fun stuff. Not recommended for children under 10, but somehow they keep getting in. Should Dr. Evil's Nightmare be resurrected for 2007, word will spread. Keep your eyes open.--D.T.
Best Way to Develop the Next Generation of Entertainers
Given the condition of our state's educational priorities, how lucky are our children to live in this nursery of creativity, rampant with visual arts, music and theater! Santa Rosa's Sixth Street Playhouse encourages well-rounded performers ages four and up with miming games, memorization of tongue-twisters and poems, dance (California Reel, anyone?), and other dramatic fun, plus the kids get to visit that mysterious land Back Stage. Other local theater groups indulge drama queens and kings with enough reasonably-priced weekly classes and day camps that even the hammiest of hams can satisfy the need to bask in the glow of footlights almost year-round. www.6thstreetplayhouse.com 707.523.4185, ext 124. --A.H.
Best Place for Controlled Cacophony
Listening to classical music improves math skills, but how to experience a live orchestra in a casual setting? It's okay to wave your invisible baton at the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra's thrice-yearly "sit-in" concerts, ostensibly for children but educational and accessible for any age. Sit amongst middle- and high-school-aged musicians and learn about classical works and instruments on a visceral level while conductor George Thomson explains the nitty-gritty in a fashion that's engaging for little and big ones alike. After a few lively pieces, get hands-on at the instrument "petting zoo." Don't worry, disinfectant wipes are in regular use so no one shares slobber off the trombone mouthpiece. Besides the ice cream party following the show, the best part of the afternoon of quality music, polite teens and thrilled tots is the price: absolutely free. www.marinsymphony.org. 415.479.8100. --A.H.
Best Place to Ride Bikes Without Training Wheels Or, Best Place to Laugh at Tourists "Experiencing" Nature
Oh, wonderful Armstrong Woods, filled with towering, oxygen-pumping redwoods, luscious, fern-filled canyons, smoothly paved, gently sloping parking lots. Pack some snacks, unload the bike in the front lot and after a weeble-wobbly pedal to the picnic area, the young one will feel ready for the next Tour of California! The flat, relatively empty roads are perfect for the beginning bicyclist, but please, watch out for folks who drive all the way out to this beautiful, prehistoric place only to remain on their asses in their cars behind rolled up windows driving too fast so they can say they've been here. Armstrong Woods State Reserve, 170000 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville. 707.869.2015. --A.H.
Best Way to Be Reminded of Our True Place on the Food Chain
Rob and Barbara Dicely of Leopards, Etc. pay quarterly visits to the Sebastopol Community Center with various members of their cat collection. Cheetahs, ocelots, leopards, Canada lynx, servals, our neighbor the cougar and other gorgeous and undeniably wild felines frisk and strut, chasing treats from the end of a leash. Kids can get a really, really good look from a distance comfortable for parents, but these shows aren't for kids (or parents of kids) too young to understand that a small, moving human animal looks like an irresistibly tasty snack to a big cat, although watching the split-second transition from lolling big kitty to focused hunter is awe-inspiring. www.leopardsetc.com. 707.874.3176. --A.H.
Best Place to Torture Your Kid with Venomous Insects In the Name of Warm Weather Fun
While the south end of Lake Sonoma is packed with speed boats most fine days, Yorty Creek, the secluded north end, has a great swim area. Clear, shallow, surrounded by an extensive no-wake zone, most boats in the neighborhood are the inflatable type. The roped-off swim section drops off gradually enough that the smallest of kids can feel safe splashing but extends far enough that big folks can get submerged. Baby fish swirl through, and being just west of Cloverdale, the blazing air temperature translates to bathtub warm water. Good thing the water is so nice, because wasps on the shore can be outrageously persistent, not hesitating to make a kid cry, even if just for a stinkin' pretzel! Hot Springs Road, Cloverdale. 707.433.9483. --A.H.
Best of the North Bay 2007