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"Pearls Before Swine" cartoonist Stephan Pastis put Pig, Rat, Zebra and Goat aside for a bit to give us the dumbest boy detective in literary history.

The result is Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, a very funny book that's (sort-of) aimed at young readers. And partially inspired by what Pastis read when he was a kid.

"Remember The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown?" said Pastis, whose comic strip is a staple in The Salt Lake Tribune. "They always had the super-clever protagonists who could solve anything. I thought — well, what if you played around in that genre but the kid was really, really dumb and could not solve anything? And was not humble about it — he was downright arrogant?

"That just made me laugh, so I kind of ran with that."

Pastis will be in Salt Lake City on Thursday to talk about his new book as well as "Pearls Before Swine."

Timmy Failure is an 11-year-old boy loaded with self-confidence despite the fact that he's clueless. He has big dreams; a sidekick/lazy business partner, a polar bear named Total; and the Failuremobile (his mother's Segway).

The tale of his adventures is a mix of prose and pictures — Pastis' drawings advance the plot and often provide the punchlines.

"In some of the other books in the genre, you can read the book without the illustrations and be just fine," he said. "Not with Timmy."

Pastis was a big Kurt Vonnegut fan as a teenager and found himself "unconsciously" inspired by the author, somewhat mimicking Vonnegut's style of including drawings in books like Breakfast of Champions.

"When he would draw, it would be part of the narrative," Pastis said. "And I just liked that."

So … Timmy Failure is a cross between Encyclopedia Brown and Kurt Vonnegut?

"It's really odd," he said. "Really odd, but very true."

Pastis would like to do more books — including more Timmy Failure books — but that doesn't mean he's getting ready to leave "Pearls Before Swine" behind.

"I'd keep doing the strip, but I love writing," he said. "I think on the spectrum of cartoonists, I would be in the bottom 10 percent when it comes to art. I'm only in the field because of the writing."

And the book provides "a totally different outlet" from trying to tell stories in a comic strip when "you have to presume that the reader has not read the prior strips. So you have to re-establish the premise" every day. "So it's not an ideal storytelling vehicle.

"Whereas with the kids book, heck, you get 200, 300 pages to do what you want."

Which is why he found doing a kids book "freeing."

"I had more freedom than I've ever had. I just had to be careful not to draw the beer cans," he said with a laugh.

He's also hoping that calling Timmy Failure a kids book doesn't scare off adults. It is a very funny book, even for readers who haven't been 11-year-olds for several decades.

"I didn't write it for kids, specifically," he said. "It's a book I would read, but then I wrote it."

Stephan Pastis in Salt Lake City

The cartoonist will be in Utah on Thursday to talk about "Pearls Before Swine," and read from and sign his new book Timmy Failure.

When • Thursday, March 7, at 6 p.m.

Where •Anderson-Foothill Branch library, 1135 S. 2100 East, Salt Lake City

Admission •Free

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