Pearls Before Swine (comics)

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Pearls Before Swine
Large pb rec 201804050954.jpg
Author(s)Stephan Pastis
Current status/scheduleRunning
Launch dateDecember 31, 2001 (The Washington Post)
January 7, 2002
Syndicate(s)United Feature Syndicate (2001–2011)
Andrews McMeel Syndication (2011–present)
Publisher(s)Andrews McMeel Publishing
Genre(s)Humor, black comedy, Gag-a-day

Pearls Before Swine, (also known as Pearls) is an American comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis. It chronicles the daily lives of an ensemble cast of suburban anthropomorphic animals: Pig, Rat, Zebra, Goat, and a fraternity of crocodiles,[1] as well as a number of supporting characters. Each character represents an aspect of Pastis' own personality and world view.[2] The daily and Sunday comic strip is distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication (by United Feature Syndicate before 2011).

The strip's style is most notable for its dark humor, fourth wall meta-humor, social commentary, mockery of other comic strips and stories concocted in elaborate fashion leading into a pun.

Publication history[edit]

Prior to creating Pearls Before Swine, Pastis worked as a lawyer in California.[3] Bored in his law school classes, Pastis started to doodle a rat, eventually casting it in a non-syndicated comic strip which he titled Rat. The title character of Rat would later become one of the main characters in Pearls Before Swine. Pastis continued to draw comics; the character Pig came from a failed strip titled The Infirm.[1]id=8hnfzrTLZrsC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=falseIn 1999, Pastis first submitted Pearls Before Swine to syndicates. Several expressed interest and three accepted it,[4] but they could not convince their sales staff that it was marketable. However, Amy Lago, an editor at United Media, saw the strip's potential and launched it on the United Media website in November 2000, to see what kind of response it would generate. Pastis recalled in 2009,

United signed me in December 1999, and they put me in development ... where the syndicate says, OK, you were funny in your submission packet, but for all we know, it took you 10 years to come up with these 30 strips. So we want you to keep drawing, and we'll watch you. If you're good, we'll agree to put you in newspapers. A development period can be anywhere from two weeks to a year. Not all cartoonists have to do it, but most do.[2]

Pearls Before Swine debuted in 2000 as a website strip under United Feature Syndicate. When Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and supporter of the strip, told his fans about Pearls Before Swine, interest skyrocketed, and the strip was taken to print. Aiding Pastis in the artistic elements of the strip was Darby Conley, creator of the comic strip Get Fuzzy.[3]

United Feature Syndicate launched the strip in newspapers on December 31, 2001 in The Washington Post.[5] On January 7, 2002, Pearls was running in approximately 150 papers.[6] Since 2011, the strip has been appearing in 750 newspapers worldwide.[7][8]


Pearls' style and humor are inspired by several comic strips, chiefly Peanuts, Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County and The Far Side. Pastis has drawn tributes to these influences in his strip. When asked in an interview about whether his profession as an attorney inspired the humor in the comic, he said, "I was very unhappy as a lawyer, and humor is a reaction to and defense against unhappiness. ... if you dislike what you're doing to the extent that I did, it gives you the impetus to get out."[9]

Cartoonist Darby Conley, creator of Get Fuzzy, helped teach Pastis the technical aspects of cartooning.[10] The two remain friends, sometimes poking fun at each other in their strips.



Rat (debut: December 30, 2001) is a narcissistic, misanthropic rat, the antihero of the comic strip. He frequently breaks the fourth wall.

Rat is an insensitive character in the strip, whose interactions with others are typically sarcastic, condescending, self-centered, insulting and often violent. In particular, he will frequently berate his creator on the general quality of the strip. Often self-employed, most of his businesses involve either punishing or defrauding people for their ignorance, much in the same vein as Dogbert, though with darker humor. His political views are right-wing, especially in foreign policy.

Rat's short stories, which are mostly extremely cynical reflections on life and love, make up several comic strips.

Pastis has mentioned that the character of Rat is his "voice" and that he identifies himself with Rat more than any other character.[11][12]


Pig (debut: December 30, 2001) is the character that receives the most abuse from Rat (though ironically, he is Rat's only friend). He is kind by nature, but extremely stupid.[7][9] Pig's jokes generally involve his stupidity; Pastis once stated that Pig is easy to write for because he misunderstands everything said to him, and, once it is explained, he misunderstands the explanation. Pig has a habit of talking to inanimate objects such as food, stop lights, or bait. Pig's moody on-and-off girlfriend, Pigita, often misunderstands his ignorant statements and will often become violent toward him.

Pig loves to eat, including pork products, making him a cannibal, although he appears to misunderstand this. Unlike the other characters, Pig almost never uses mock profanity.


Goat (debut: January 18, 2002) is the intellectual of the strip,[7] usually appearing whenever there is a small issue dealing with a character or a conflict to be mediated. Goat has a hard time dealing with both Pig's stupidity and Rat's cruelty and occasional ignorance. He is sometimes seen telling other characters about various philosophical, political, and social issues, though usually the others do not care.

Goat's real name is revealed as "Paris" in the September 21, 2007 strip; he claims "Goat" is his stage name.

In early strips, Goat has a beard; he first appears without it in the March 31, 2004 strip.


Zebra (debut: February 4, 2002), also known as "zeeba neighba" (zebra neighbor) by the crocodiles, is a zebra who is often seen trying to patch up relations between his herd back home and its predators. Pastis has stated that the Zebra's only goal is to avoid being eaten by his inarticulate next-door neighbors, the crocodiles.[7] Jokes involving Zebra usually involve his interactions with predators.

Because Stephan Pastis was once unable to draw lions, these particular predators were not shown in the strip until May 31, 2007,[13] when two of them moved next door to Zebra, on the opposite side from the crocodiles. Zebra's lion neighbors, however, are male lions, which do not hunt, and they awkwardly remain friends.

Prior to their appearance, Zebra has been corresponding with the lions by mail.

Guard Duck[edit]

The Guard Duck is, as his name implies, is the "guard duck" for Pig and Rat's home.[7]

His first appearance was March 14, 2005,[14] when Pig bought him instead of a more expensive guard dog for the house.

Originally, Guard Duck was described as a violent duck with anger management problems, but he transformed into a deluded soldier who sees the world as his battlefield. He responds to neighborhood problems militaristically, often using excessive violence (usually with an RPG, his usual weapon).

In the treasury The Crass Menagerie, Stephan Pastis remarks that the Guard Duck has become so popular that he's become a sixth main character (after Rat, Pig, Goat, Zebra, and the crocs).[1]


The ZZE fraternity of crocodiles (whose name supposedly means "Zeta Zeta Epsilon" but actually means "Zeeba Zeeba Eata") is described by Pastis as "inept and inarticulate neighbors" of Zebra.[7] They repeatedly attempt to kill and eat Zebra, but fail every time as a result of their stupidity. Each croc has very little regard for his fellow crocs' lives; dozens of crocs have died in their botched attempts to kill Zebra. They speak in a "language" called "Croc-ese": English with very bad grammar and pronunciation. According to Pastis, "Croc-ese" is not meant to imitate any accent.[15] They are on poor terms with all five main characters (with the possible occasional exception of Rat).

In addition to the fraternity of crocodiles, there is a separate family of crocodiles that live in the neighborhood and are also neighbors to Zebra. The family consists of Larry, his wife Patty, and their son Junior (originally named Billy). Larry is a typical croc similar to those in the fraternity: he is also characterized by his stupidity and his failure to kill Zebra. In contrast, both his wife and son are intelligent and do not speak "Croc-ese". Patty is a housewife with a bob haircut. She is often frustrated with her husband's insensitivity and stupidity and even responds with physical violence in many cases. Despite this, Patty is still shown to love her husband. Junior is the only child of his family. He is a vegetarian, and also loves his father. Larry sees Junior as something of a disappointment, but in a strip published in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting he makes clear his love for his son.[16]

Stephan Pastis[edit]

Stephan Pastis appears self-reflexively in the strip. He is often seen with Rat, who makes him the target of criticism about his artwork and jokes involving puns. His character has also expressed his hate of being an attorney, which was his former career. He is usually depicted wearing a baseball cap backward, a plain white T-shirt, and blue jeans.


Snuffles (also known as Mister Snuffles) is Zebra's cat. Originally, he was adopted by the crocodiles on September 30, 2007, to kill Zebra, but the plan backfired. He does not talk like the other characters, only saying "Meow" (but the other characters can understand what he says). However, he is still shown to have human-like intelligence. While he is always obedient and good-natured to Zebra, he can be violent to others. He often commits illegal or immoral acts, which range from scalping tickets to hiding weapons of mass destruction. Snuffles is often seen with Guard Duck.

Semi-regular characters[edit]

  • Jef the Cyclist - A parody of an arrogant cyclist. He is loosely based on Jef Mallett, the creator of the comic strip Frazz.
  • Andy - A chained-up dog who dreams of being unchained. His optimism contrasts with the darkness of the comic strip.
  • Farina - Pig's sister, a germaphobe who lives in a plastic bubble. She is Rat's ex-girlfriend.
  • Pigita - Pig's on-and-off girlfriend.
  • Neighbor Bob - Rat and Pig's next-door neighbor, with whom Rat frequently fights.
  • Vikings - Pig's Viking figurines; instead of killing people and plundering villages like most Vikings (which they should be, according to Rat) they prefer to watch shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Ellen Degeneres Show.
  • Lemmings - A group of four (sometimes five) lemmings that always contemplate jumping off a cliff. This is based on a myth created by a 1950s Disney Nature film about lemmings.
  • Comic Strip Censor - A man who gets mad whenever a character (usually Rat or Pig) would say something close to being offensive. This character often allows Stephan to get away with making dirty jokes in the strip because "No newspaper editor wants to censor [it] and risk looking like [him]"[17]
  • Staci Pastis - Stephan's ex-wife. Stephan lives in a basket outside her house.
  • Max and Zach - Two lions that live next door to Zebra, but they won't eat him because it's the female lions that do the hunting.
  • Mr. Death - Rat and Pig's grim reaper neighbor. His appearance confuses people that would think that he's there to kill them, when he isn't.
  • Chuckie - A non-anthropomorphic sheep.
  • Killer Whale - An unnamed killer whale that is also a very bad predator.
  • John and Jennifer - Two seals that the whale tries to eat.
  • Bombast Cable - Rat and Pig's cable company, who Rat always has trouble with on the phone.
  • Gary - Owner of Joe's Roastery, a coffee shop Rat on-and-off works at.
  • Jeffy - A character from The Family Circus that appears in Pearls every time the former strip is parodied.


The strip is set in a fictional suburb in Albany, California.[citation needed] Venues where the characters can be found include a brick wall, a beach, a curb, a bar, and a diner.


Artistically, Pearls is extremely simple. Pastis stated, "People say that they like my strip's simplicity, but I'm doing the best I can to just to get up to that level. I'm not dumbing the art down."[4]

Pearls is a meta-comic in that it often satirizes the comics medium, and its characters frequently break the fourth wall. Characters frequently communicate with the author or with characters from other strips. Some strips are based on the premise that the characters live in a comic strip: for example, the strip published on January 14, 2008, had "roof fish" sitting on top of the panel fishing for the characters, and other strips have had smeared newsprint or beer affect the appearance of the strip.

Pearls will often also mock older strips, such as Cathy and The Family Circus. The frequent comedic jabs at long-running comic strips has earned Pastis the disdain of many comic artists, which the author referenced in a storyline where the Pearls cast is not invited to the 75th-anniversary crossover party of Blondie.[18]

Pastis will often employ a shaggy dog story, using a great amount of dialogue to spin an elaborate premise often resolved with a character's unforeseen death or near death. A variation known as a feghoot builds to an intentionally bad pun in the penultimate panel, with the final panel showing the cartoon version of Pastis as the target of criticism, hostility, or even physical violence from the characters, usually Rat.

Pearls uses dark humor, at times involving topics such as death, depression and human suffering.

Other media[edit]

In an interview on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch that aired on February 7, 2008, Pastis mentioned that he had been approached by producers about an animated TV series based on Pearls.

In 2009, a line of Pearls plush dolls was released by Aurora World, Inc.,[19] featuring four characters (Rat, Pig, Zebra and Croc) from the comic, to which Pastis jokingly said he would use for reference when unsure how to draw the characters.[20]

On October 20, 2010, RingTales launched their series of animated Pearls strips on Babelgum. Pastis has since begun to release these cartoons on YouTube.


There are over a dozen Pearls Before Swine books, mostly strip collections and treasuries.


Pastis won the National Cartoonists Society's Division Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip for Pearls in 2003, 2006 and 2014.[21] He was also nominated for the award in 2002 and 2008.[22]

Pastis was one of the National Cartoonists Society's nominees for Cartoonist of the Year in 2008, [23] 2009, [24] 2010, [25] 2011,[26] and 2012.[27]


  1. ^ a b The Crass Menagerie. p. 32.
  2. ^ a b "Swine Connoisseur: The Stephan Pastis Interview". Hogan's Alley (16). 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Pastis, Steven (2003). Pearls Before Swine: BLTs Taste So Darn Good. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-7407-3437-7. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  4. ^ a b "Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls Before Swine". Phi Kappa Phi Forum. 84 (3): 34–37. 2004.(subscription required)
  5. ^ Pastis, Stephan, Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2004; ISBN 0-7407-4807-6), p.5: "Pearls was supposed to launch in newspapers on January 7, 2002. But just prior to the launch, the Washington Post bought the strip and wanted to start running it a week early. Thus, this week of strips [dated beginning 12/31] was quickly put together just for the Post, and this [12/31] strip became the first Pearls strip, published in exactly one paper".
  6. ^ "''This Little Piggy Stayed Home'' (March 2004): "Product Detail"". Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "About Pearls Before Swine". Retrieved 2014-09-14.
  8. ^ Dwyer, Ed. "CULTURE: The Funny Papers: Newspapers may be in trouble, but the comic strip is alive and well — and flourishing online," Saturday Evening Post (November 7, 2016).
  9. ^ a b in Attorney Career Success Stories (November 6, 2006). "Interview: Stephan Pastis: Attorney Turned Cartoonist". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  10. ^ Leopold, Todd (May 4, 2006). "A Rat, a Pig and Some Really Dumb Crocodiles: Stephan Pastis dives deep for his 'Pearls Before Swine' strip". CNN.
  11. ^ "Artist Interview: "Stephan Pastis: Animal Attitude"". Crescent Blues. Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  12. ^ "Strip deals wry Pearls of wisdom /". December 24, 2006. Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  13. ^ "Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis for May 31, 2007". GoComics. May 31, 2007.
  14. ^ "Pearls Before Swine Comic Strip, March 14, 2005 on". March 14, 2005. Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  15. ^ Squires, Chase (December 13, 2005). "Exactly what ees that zeeba-eating accent". Tampa Bay Times. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  16. ^ Pastis, Stephan. "Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis for March 23, 2018". GoComics. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  17. ^ Pastis, Stephan (2015). Pearls Gets Sacrificed. p. 153.
  18. ^ "Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis for Sep 23, 2005". GoComics. September 23, 2005.
  19. ^ "Pearls Before Swine at Aurora". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  20. ^ Cavna, Michael (March 25, 2009). "Plush 'Pearls' Toys? Indeed-What a Croc!". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  21. ^ "Division awards". National Cartoonists Society. Retrieved 2010-11-22.
  22. ^ Johnson, Caitlin (April 4, 2011). "'Pearls Before Swine' creator Stephan Pastis to visit Dallas area". Dallas Morning News.
  23. ^ "This Year's Nominees". National Cartoonists Society. March 15, 2009. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  24. ^ "2009 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 23, 2010. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  25. ^ "2010 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 22, 2011. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  26. ^ "2011 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 17, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  27. ^ "2012 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 21, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-20.

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