Pearls Before Swine (comics)
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|Pearls Before Swine|
|Launch date||December 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, satire, anthropomorphic|
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, as well as a number of supporting characters. Each character represents an aspect of Pastis' own personality and world view. The daily and Sunday comic strip is distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication (by United Feature Syndicate before 2011).
The strip's style is notable for its black comedy, simplistic artwork, self-deprecating fourth wall meta-humor, social commentary, mockery of other comic strips, and stories concocted in elaborate fashion leading into a pun.
Prior to creating Pearls Before Swine, Pastis worked as a lawyer in California. 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. In 1999, Pastis first submitted Pearls Before Swine to syndicates. Several expressed interest and three accepted it, 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.
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.
United Feature Syndicate launched the strip in newspapers on December 31, 2001 in The Washington Post. On January 7, 2002, Pearls was running in approximately 150 papers. Since 2011, the strip has been appearing in 750 newspapers worldwide.
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."
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Rat is a megalomaniacal, misanthropic rat, who is frequently critical of the strip's style and artwork, as well as the other characters in his and other strips, real life people, and almost all living (and often nonliving) things. He believes himself to be much more intelligent than he actually is, and thinks more or less anybody else is stupid (one strip indicates that he sees Leonardo da Vinci as the only person in history worthy of his respect). He tends to irritate people, particularly his intelligent friend Goat, and is easily irritated by his naïve, dim-witted housemate Pig. Rat believes himself to be the wisdom of the strip, if not wisdom itself, and that anybody else is more or less dumb, whereas most other characters view him as "a loudmouth, pompous malcontent".
In addition to his pridefulness and arrogance, Rat is very high-strung and easily upset. On one occasion, the diner that most of the characters frequent changed the color of their stools, which upset him as he claimed he did not like change. Goat attempted to console him, saying "It's a chair", but Rat simply responded that he was going home to cry in his closet. He has little patience for others, and is constantly dreaming up schemes that invariably would keep him away from anyone and everyone else, which inevitably backfire. He often appears incapable of seeing his own faults.
Rat is also a con artist, as he is often taking up professions he knows almost nothing about and charging people a lot of money, often insulting or confusing his customers, co-workers and boss in the process. He is often self-employed, using his jobs to trick vain, unintelligent people into either giving him money or making them do things for him. In one instance, he even started a big controversy over a bogus weight-loss scheme he created, involving the starvation of obese people, that wound up on the Senate floor. At times, other companies make the mistake of hiring him, in which case Rat is usually rude to his customers and employers.
In the comic's history, Rat has hosted several jobs for varying lengths of time. Some of them include a marriage counselor, a book store information guide, a Feng Shui expert, a telemarketer, a supermarket cashier, a reporter for the New York Times, where he is allowed to make everything up (Pastis has said this was inspired by the Jayson Blair scandal), a pizza parlor manager, a pet psychic, a stockbroker, a life coach, a talk radio host, an oil company CEO, a barista at a coffee shop, a supermarket tabloid manager, a Lawyer, a cartoonist, a perennial candidate, a Priest, and a hotel concierge among others. Much about his family is unknown, but he did telephone his mother in one strip, and we know that his father was killed by a circus clown for an unknown reason. It is also known that he has a deceased aunt who made him her sole beneficiary over his many cousins, all of whom greatly detest Rat for bringing a "loot bowl" to her funeral.
Despite the partial success of many of his get-rich-quick schemes, he constantly claims to be poor, although it is quite possible that he always squanders or otherwise loses the money. Despite this, he has enough money to get by in life (although it is possible his housemate, Pig, chips in to help him), and he often does things that would require large amounts of money, such as purchasing nuclear missiles from Russia.
He has been known to collect people in whom he sees a severe flaw in their driving, lifestyle, or other personality aspects, and place them in an area whose name corresponds with their supposed imperfection (collectively referred to as "Box O' Stupid People", they have also been known as "Cubicle O' Shame", "Pit O' Useless Blowhards", etc.). Strips featuring this invariably feature another character (usually Pig) objecting, only to wind up in the "box" himself.
He has also made various forays into the world of literature, and Sunday strips often depict him typing novels. These novels usually are about a character called Angry Bob, who, in every book, finds true happiness, followed by an untimely death. Rat also has a comic strip, Dickie the Cockroach, about a cockroach who ties people up and slaps duct tape over the mouths of people who say stupid things (he did this to the titular character of the comic strip Cathy); he is seemingly oblivious to the fact that no one reads it. Recently he has begun writing children's books, starring the character Danny Donkey (Rat even made a doll of Danny who mysteriously came alive, an event Pig compared to Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes)-ironically, as now-live Danny proceeded to rob a liquor store). He has made references to poetry many times too, although he has almost never written a poem himself (except for rhymes that he used to put in postcards, who turned out to be almost always rather insulting to the postcard's owner), and wrote equally-insulting gravestone slogans ("He lived, he died. We barely cried.") He once said that the key to writing great poetry is making your work so obscure that "no one can understand you, much less criticize you". He once wrote the following free verse poem: "Atop the fog the Zebra's buttocks angry at my mother's sloth".
While Rat is often cold-hearted or mean to his housemate Pig, he has been shown to be kind at times, saying nice things to him (although quickly covering it up with his usual attitude). He sometimes lies to Pig to spare his feelings, although not very often. It has also been revealed that Rat has a soft spot for Pig's sister, Farina, a germaphobe who lives in an air-filtered bubble. She, however, had on-and-off feelings about Rat, often breaking Rat's heart and dating other characters. This has proven to be one of the few things that can destroy his giant ego.
He is also quite materialistic in his likes; he has said that the American Dream is to have a video store on every block, enjoys pornography and slasher films, and his philosophies tend to say that we're all doomed and that there is no moral law.
One of Rat's most frequent pastimes, and one that has gained Pearls and Pastis significant attention, is openly commenting on and criticizing the quality of other comic strips, particularly older ones or those aimed at a specific group (the more sympathetic Pig often states his admiration for these same strips). For this reason, he and the other characters were banned from the 75th anniversary of Blondie. He often even goes into the "real world" and complains to the strips writer, Stephen Pastis directly, usually when Pastis runs a strip with a bad pun. Rat once mentioned that another reason the funnies are "unfunny" is because the censorship code hasn't been updated since the 1950s, meaning they can't do things commonly seen on prime time television for various reasons (Pastis has written that Rat's penchant for criticizing the funnies has made Pearls the target of complaints from other cartoonists). He explains that some comic strips, such as The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, were genuinely funny, but the writers retired, because they had the good sense to not let their features grow stale and let new cartoonists make their livings. Unfortunately, most of the new writers follow in the footsteps of the very comics Rat states as the root of the problem, so the funnies are trapped in a vicious cycle.
Rat's religion is disputable. He is friends with Satan, but has also stated at least once that he would likely be much more religious if it "weren't for all that 'love thy neighbor' stuff", as he hates his neighbors (this caused Goat to comment that [his] soul is so dark it smudges [his own], after which Rat said: "Maybe I could love your neighbors. I don't even have to see them"). At one point, Rat confessed that he was looking for a religion in which he could (in his words) "Drink beer and punch people I don't like." He was once seen at the "Church of the Amazing Grace Annual festival". Rat has "invented" several new types of philosophy/religion over the strips run, a few of which include "Unthinkology", "Mulliganology", and "Cheezepuffology". He explains "Unthinkology" as "The belief that thinking causes pain... hence, one must cease all thinking." He explains "Mulliganology" as "In golf, when you screw up on a shot, you say 'Mulligan', and you get to take it over again. A Mulliganologist applies this purpose to all tenets of life". He explains "Cheezepuffology" as "The fundamental tenet is that nothing you dream ever comes true, so you might as well live in front of your television and scarf cheeze-puffs."
Rat has made multiple sojourns into politics. In 2003, he ran for City Council against a deceased opponent, faking his own death to even up the polls, and, after that plan backfired, advocating the invasion and occupation of Mexico. He only received one vote, with even he himself voting for his opponent (Pig "had a little trouble with the butterfly ballot"). In 2004, he ran for president as an Independent (joining the race 10 days prior to the election after being incorrectly informed by Pig that it was in six months). During this campaign, he appeared on Meet the Press, where he voiced support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but said he would remove all troops in order to invade France. He also criticized Ralph Nader for his book Unsafe At Any Speed and John Kerry for his first name.
In 2006, he ran for mayor against Jojo the Crocodile in an election that was moot as Guard Duck staged an election day coup d'état. During these campaigns (and several other times), he voiced extremist conservative opinions (whether or not this was ever direct commentary on Pastis' part is a matter of debate, though Pastis has described Rat as "to the right of Dick Cheney" and said he does not subscribe to the same politics that Rat does). On the other hand, he has voiced anti-capitalist and even revolutionary socialist beliefs during his employment at Joe's Rostery and called George W. Bush a "[bleeping] fool" during a visit to The Boondocks, although these may have been more intended to spite his boss and suck up to known leftist Huey Freeman, respectively, than to express his actual views.
During one series of three strips, he was known as "Johnny on Top, Folk Singer Singer For the Far Right", an extreme right-wing folk singer intended as a counterweight to other politically liberal/leftist folk singers. He wrote three songs; "Shoot the Hippie out of the Redwood Tree", "If You're not White, and You Talk Funny, We'll Drop Bombs Right on Your Bunny" (because camel didn't rhyme) and a pro oil spill song titled "Maybe Your Ducky Likes Swimming in Mucky". He has also been known as "Blind Bobby Z, Blues Singer for the Rich and Uptrodden" (also known as "Blind Jimmy Windthrop") for three strips, singing songs about taxation and Nordstroms. His only known song was "My Capital Gains Are Blowin' Away In The Wind".
During a two-week series containing nine strips, he attempted to buy a rifle from "Walmartopialand Guns" to "pop his neighbor in the rear". When the gun dealer refused to sell, he accused him of being a far left radical, calling him "Hanoi Jane" and a "Dennis Kucinich-loving liberal", unlikely scenarios among gun shop employees.
In 2008, he donned the name "El Jefe, The Cuban Evenger" and sent the Guard Duck and Snuffles the cat as mercenaries to topple the Cuban dictatorship of Raul Castro. This failed, as the two landed in Jamaica and were arrested for shooting a police officer, though the Guard Duck claimed that he had shot the sheriff but had not shot a police officer.
In 2016, Rat launched a new campaign for the presidency, with a platform stating that he is just as corrupt as his opponents, the difference being that he is open about said corruption.
He has on three occasions testified before the United States Congress; the first time on the "growing pet psychic scandal (where he pretended to read the Congressmen's minds, predicting them all saying (apparently correctly) "Fundraising and sex with [their] intern), testified at hearings on his "Box Me In!" weight loss program where he sparred with Teddy Kennedy (see above), and more recently attempted with the title character of Dennis the Menace (unsuccessfully) to get Congressional bailout money for comic strips.
Rat has also repeatedly forayed into literature, and Sunday strips often show him writing novels, often while drinking. His main character is Angry Bob (see below). In addition to Danny Donkey, mentioned above, he has also written Killing Zeebas for Dummies: A Step-By-Step Guide, which he marketed to the crocs, as well as multiple unnamed romance novels, Elly Elephant (a helpful elephant who sometimes kills people who do not return her many favors), at least two books focusing on a private investigator named "Detective Bob", and a short story focusing on Zorro's brother, "Orro." He has also written a comic strip entitled Dickie the Cockroach, and briefly a rip-off of Dilbert entitled Bildert.
Rat has died twice in this strip and was near death a third time. The first of these occasions, occurring in 2002, saw Rat ascend to Heaven, only to be turned away by St. Peter, after being hit by a car (while he was comatose in a hospital). Rat's first official death came in 2005 when, after being encouraged to smile more, his body exploded from the stress (although he'd return one week later). His second official death came in July 2008 as he suffered a heart attack from overstimulation related to the death of Stephan Pastis in the strip one day before, but both he and Pastis were returned to Earth later that week at the intervention of United Feature Syndicate.
Stephan Pastis, the strip's author and formerly a lawyer, started drawing Rat in law school, often killing him off for the sake of humor. He would often doodle Rat in classes while bored, and in his early stages Rat was more of a depressed, philosophical character as opposed to the cynical egomaniac he is today. Naturally, Pastis titled his doodled strips Rat after his title character.
Later, as he began attempting to get syndicated, Pastis added a second character as Rat's companion. This resulted in the creation of Poe, an amorphous blob that resembled nothing. However, Rat was deemed too depressing by newspapers and Pastis stopped drawing the strip.
Rat was later put into another one of Pastis' comics, Bradbury Road, which was also rejected.
Bradbury Road is the story of Gus, a ten-year-old boy who is befriended by Rat, a cynical rodent who gnaws his way through the wall into Gus' room. Gus, the child of divorced parents, lives with his mother and very rarely sees his father. Reserved and slightly awkward, he spends a lot of time in his own room. For those times when Gus is not around, Rat talks with Jingles, a stuffed, court jester doll that lives on a shelf in the boy's room.
After some rejection, Pastis eventually wrote Pearls Before Swine, which was an attempt to revive Rat with a less depressing tone. Poe was replaced by Pig, and began syndication by United Media on December 31, 2001.
Pig is a good-natured pig. He believes that there is good in every being, even his cynical housemate Rat. As well as somehow being friends with Rat (despite Rat's constant abuse), he also frequently is seen talking with Zebra and Goat.
Pig is very dimwitted and naïve (he reads Sky Mall to keep up with the War in Iraq), often being beaten up by Rat after trying to have a serious conversation with him, only to say something unrelated (i.e. Euthanasia being confused for "Youth in Asia" or "Port-au-Prince being confused with Port-a-Potty). Pig is usually oblivious to how cruel Rat often is.
Pig also has a knack for making friends with inanimate objects, mostly food (who are almost always eaten by Rat). In certain instances, Pig makes clubs with these friends, like "The Fruit Buddies" and "The Bait Club". He also dated "Ms. Bootyworth (a syrup bottle who died when the syrup inside her was eaten by Pigita and Rat)" for a week.
Pig will often misunderstand an expression or figure of speech and apply it literally, with humorous results. He has also been known to use such terms literally in a context where he is misunderstood, often getting beaten up by someone who he does not realized he has offended. Unlike Rat, who is constantly criticizing other comic strips, Pig has occasionally been seen praising other comics, such as Mutts.
Pig, when on a date, is most likely seen with Pigita, but earlier in the strip, he can be seen with other pigs. Pigita, like many people, is irritated by Pig's stupidity. She also has dramatic mood swings possibly resulting from bipolar disorder, though these happen far less frequently in recent strips. Pig has also married a lamb named Sweet Fanny, his biggest fan. Unfortunately, she was killed by officer Potus.
In one strip, he said his favorite TV show was The Office. He has also mentioned liking the Care Bears and Happy Days and often says his favorite comic strip is Blondie (although this at least once was "altered dialogue" being used as evidence to try to let the "Pearls" cast into the Blondie 75th Anniversary, which they had been banned from). Rat has referenced Pig's "point of reference" as Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
He also appears to know more about the people in the neighborhood than Rat does, for example when Rat bragged about knowing things about strangers and celebrities but couldn't identify the man who walked past, Pig identified him as Bob, their next-door neighbor for the last eleven years. In one strip, he mentioned going to "Father Nick's" funeral. When he told Rat (who didn't know who Father Nick was) that Nick had been their priest since 1979, Rat said "Maybe I've missed a [mass] or two".
He frequently writes letters to well-known real-life people, usually foreign authority figures at odds with the United States like Fidel Castro or Kim Jong-Ill concerning rather unimportant things like image; while Rat constantly berates him for doing this, the people they are sent to have been shown to care about what he says, occasionally crying when he criticizes them. He also makes massive donations to Rainbow/PUSH, misunderstanding Jesse Jackson's slogan of "keep hope alive" and thinking the money will be used to afford medical treatment for Bob Hope. [Note that when this strip ran, Hope was still alive].
He likes football and has tried to play at least twice in the strip, with poor results: The first time, he tried to play touch football, but the two teams, having picked everyone else, started picking inanimate street neighborhood objects, deceased people, and even types of wine over him; the second time, he ran into the wall and wrecked the "print registration", messing up the strip's artwork.
Not much is known about Pig's family, although Pig writes letters to his mother occasionally, and she writes back with indifference, if not rudeness, to him. Pig's mother's first appearance in Pearls, where she is actually seen, was on June 25, 2005 when she tried to get Pig out of a tree he was climbing. Pig was born in a liter of seven piglets, one of whom is his sister Farina who had a brief relationship with Rat. Pig is also a cannibal (since he eats corn dogs and BLT sandwiches) but is somewhat oblivious to this fact. He can sometimes name the dead relative he is eating. The May 25, 2003 strip revealed that he lost a relative in the Vietnam War.
Pig also had a rushed marriage with Pearls fan Fanny, a sheep that had been stalking him for a while. However, Officer Potus unwittingly crushed her to death while helping Zebra shut down Rat's restaurant McZeeba's for serving zebra meat, thus rendering him a widower.
Pig's beginnings lie in The Infirm, a third attempt by Pastis to get syndicated. In this strip, Pastis based the story on a lawyer named Bob Grossman who screwed up a lawsuit brought by a sausage company and was forced to work at the farm the sausage company owned until he made up the difference. Grossman worked with pigs, one of whom told him he was "screwed" because the farmer was only paying minimum wage.
Although The Infirm was rejected, Pastis liked the pig characters so much that he eventually simplified the artwork and one became known simply as "Pig" in the first Pearls strips Pastis sent to the syndicators. In fact, it was Pig's addition to the strip that caused it to be known as Pearls Before Swine- Rat would consistently be imparting his "pearls of wisdom" on Pig only to have it fall on deaf ears. (Pastis also said this was a play on a Biblical verse, part of which reads "neither cast ye pearls before swine".)
Pig's religion is never clear, but one strip mentions him believing in "Butter Boy". He is rather fond of cheese, though, and once made a church based around it.
Zebra is a supportive and caring zebra, who is often seen either writing to his predators or talking about recent deaths. He thinks it is a large problem and tries to promote peace and understanding between species. He is seen mainly around Pig or Rat, but also occasionally hangs out with Goat, being one of the comic's few characters Goat is able to stand for any particular length of time. Zebra was the fourth main character to be introduced, as Pastis said in "Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic" that his original intent was for Zebra to be in a limited run. His popularity forced Pastis to include him full-time.
He lives next door to the Fraternity of Crocodiles, much to his dismay, as they are constantly trying (and failing) to eat him. His other neighbors are a pride of lions who he apparently has a better relationship with as the male lions usually warn him whenever Zebra is acting "weak" which marks him as an easy target for the Lions' wives. Before these predators moved next door to Zebra, he often tried to reason with them by mailing them letters either encouraging them to give up their predatory lifestyles or berating them on the immorality of their actions. The lions, on the other hand, would usually give terse and stupid responses, sometimes taking the advice the wrong way and eating a Zebra.
He recently adopted a pet cat named Snuffles that the Crocs tried to use to kill him. Instead the cat liked Zebra (the Crocs think the cat has a secret plan). It's later revealed that, while not homicidal like the crocs, Snuffles does have a criminal side; selling nuclear weapons technology to Arab countries, posing as a "deposed" Nigerian king for an e-mail scam, selling stolen Rolex watches on the street, acting as a mercenary, and scalping tickets for a San Francisco Giants baseball game are among his crimes over the strip's run.
Not much is known about the surviving members of his family except for their names, with those usually being a relative of Pastis. He has a brother named Peter, nicknamed "Stumpy" after a crocodile ate his left leg, and a brother or sister who has one child, a girl named Joy in memory of Stephan Pastis's grandmother.
He often tries to stop predation, but his efforts usually fail miserably. He once came up with a plan to fool the lions by playing dead. This didn't work, as 99 of the 100 zebras that tried it were eaten (the one who succeeded "wasn't faking"). Another time, he tried getting zebras some "popemobiles", so they could travel safely. However, it worked too well, and they wouldn't leave, eventually dying of other causes and leaving little if any offspring. Zebra also tries reasoning with the lions and crocodiles, but they refuse to listen, often eating their would-be instructors.
On one occasion he organized the "Zebra/Lion/Croc Olympics", which took place in Athens, Greece, like the real-life 2004 Olympics going on in Athens at the time. The Olympics failed, as the Crocs kept eating the Zebras and the Greeks were more interested in smoking cigarettes and drinking soda pop then building the stadiums, a reference to real-life construction delays that took place prior to the games (Stephan Pastis is himself Greek and references this frequently in his books).
Zebra debuted in the February 4, 2002 strip and was only scheduled to be a limited run character. His debut saw him trying to sell cookies to Rat and Pig to raise money to help save his herd, but Rat declined because of not wanting to mess with natural selection. Reader reaction to Zebra eventually made Pastis decide to make Zebra a permanent character.
Goat is intelligent and literate. Like Pig, he is well-meaning and tries to be kind; like Rat he is arrogant and easily irritated, which is often his stumbling block when dealing with characters other than Zebra. He has a hard time putting up with Rat's ego and Pig's stupidity. He willingly interacts with Zebra, but usually tries his hardest to keep away from the other characters. He likes to read, and would rather read than hang out with anyone else. He is described on the Pearls website as "the voice of reason that often goes unheard", referring to his level-headedness, compared to the other characters.
Goat has a particular dislike for and rivalry with Rat, whom he criticizes on a regular basis for his ego as well as his writings. Rat in turn makes fun of Goat for having a blog that no one reads and (on at least one occasion) ruins a date for Goat by hanging around him and annoying him.
As with most of other animal characters in the strip, Goat is only referred to by the noun as a name. However, in an arc where Goat travels home and visits his mother, she comments on how his name is never used in the comic strip he works in, and that his real name is Paris. This name was chosen as a tribute to Stephan Pastis's grandfather who died before Stephen's birth, Paris Tripodes. Goat replies that "Goat" is just a stage name.
Goat was the third main character to debut in the strip and was the first of two conceived specifically for Pearls (as opposed to Rat and Pig, who as noted appeared in Pastis' rejected strips). He was originally supposed to be a bear, but after the syndicates rejected the idea Pastis reworked the character into a goat.
- On the cover of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip treasury "The Crass Menagerie" Goat is seen seated on the right reading the book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
- In the same story arc that says his name is Paris, it is revealed that he and his mother are the only anthropomorphic members of his family.
- For the first two years of the strip, Goat had a beard. He first appeared without the beard on March 31, 2004. It began to appear irregularly shortly thereafter until it was dropped altogether
(Debuted March 14, 2005) The Guard Duck is a violent duck, hired by Pig because the cost of a proper guard-dog was too high. In Guard Duck's early appearances, a running gag was that Pig would introduce him to one of his neighbors. The neighbor would then laugh at the idea of a duck being a guard animal, and the strip would finish with Guard Duck responding with violence. Initially simply a violent, sociopathic duck, he later assumed a more militaristic personality, seeing the world as his battlefield. He often blows up the neighbors' property, often assuming he is at war and that the neighbors are the enemy. He often suggests militaristic solutions for neighborhood problems, often getting him locked in a clothes hamper by Pig. On one occasion, he actually did go to war, albeit as a mercenary in Rat's plan to topple Raul Castro (see above). He was fired after stealing a neighbor's inflatable pool, and then robbed a bank, escaping from prison. He appears to see Pig as his General, often referring to him as "Sir". He has twice rescued Zebra from the Crocs, once by force, and once as Zebra's attorney. He is also a member of the Order of Panelwalkers and taught Pig how to panelwalk. He also served as mayor of Albany, California, obtaining the position after overthrowing the incumbent in a coup d'état, until he was caught using the city police force to bug the offices of political opponents and forced to resign in disgrace.
Guard Duck fell in love with a non-anthropomorphic duck named Maura, who flew away from him and failed to return for over a year. Guard Duck thought he'd lost her forever, because of his being unable to fly (having never learned how), but one day she returned to him. He resigned his "commission" shortly thereafter and traveled to Paris with Maura. Snuffles, his former ally, followed him to Paris and refused to leave. Maura left him while there to work for Aflac. He was reintroduced during a Fantastic Four-parody storyline focusing of the crocs under the pseudonym of "The Waterfowler" (likely a reference to Batman's nemesis The Penguin). In a recent series of strips, Guard Duck was seen training gophers to use grenades which causes problems in the neighborhood. More recently, the Grenade Gophers went renegade and joined the Crocs as assassins.
The Fraternity of Crocodiles are the main antagonists and villains of the strip, and while they are indeed on very poor terms with all five main characters (with the possible exception of Rat), they are usually involved in various attempts to kill and eat Zebra, all of which fail. The fraternity name is "Zeeba Zeeba Eata" (although one of them called it "Zeta, Zeta, Epsilon" in their first appearance in a botched attempt to fool Zebra).
The male crocodiles often speak in broken English or improper grammar. In an e-mail to a fan, Pastis claimed, "My inspiration was probably from a Saturday Night Live skit that had Tarzan and Frankenstein trying to talk [to each other]." (The "language" would later be called "Croc-ese" by Pastis in a February 2009 strip.) When talking, they often say words in the phonetical style, such as "nome" (gnome), "keel" (kill), "eediot" (idiot), "gud" (good), "woomun" (woman), "mouf" (mouth), "juss" (just), and "stoopid" (stupid). They also say "me" instead of "I', refer to themselves as "crockydiles", and omit the linking verbs. The Fraternity also writes this way (i.e., a valentine sent to Zebra reading "Hapy valeentine day, zeeba neighba! Me keel yu ded, Me eet yu hed"). They also speak in an unusual font: their dialogue is shown in crude, lower-cased letters (sometimes shown in capitals when they yell, scream or talk loudly) which is also used for the lions, toy Vikings and the killer whale, although they spoke normally. They often begin with their catch phrase "Hullooo, zeeba neighba!". On one occasion, a croc tried to explain their accent. One of these crocs is Larry's young son Junior, who despite his father's idiocies is actually quite intelligent. The female crocodiles, Junior, and various "Smart Guy" crocodiles speak normally. In a 2010 strip, Larry claimed to have a speech impediment.
Junior actually thinks that killing wildlife is immoral and decided to become a vegetarian.
They believe they are hunting prey when they catch plastic flamingos, garden gnomes, or carved "tofu cows". The crocs usually need to go to the Safeway supermarket or order fast food (one ordered pizza every night for seven straight weeks; at least one croc has resorted to cannibalism) to get food. Larry has been known to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken, often crossing out the brand logo and writing, "fres zeeba meet" to try to fool his wife. They often come up with harebrained plans to lure Zebra into their house, including toga parties, swimming, and attempts to get into his house (one croc posed as a cable guy). Rat has often taken advantage of their incompetence (Including by selling them tomato seeds that he claims will produce Zebras). Their inability to catch prey is looked upon with shame by other crocodiles, especially their wives, girlfriends, and mothers. The main crocodile in the strip is "Larry". Other crocs include Bill, Biff, Bob, Floyd, Rick, Jerry (this and the one before it were seemingly named after Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, and both appeared in a story arc involving the characters of Baby Blues), Willie, Jojo, Fat Fred, Ted, Frank, Fred, Erik, Dan, Bert, Smart Guy Fred, Gary, Gus, Nick, Joe, Jimmy and Vern. Larry usually works with Bob, Floyd, or another crocodile. Larry is known as the Zebra's nemesis.
At least two of the crocs have girlfriends or are married (not to be confused with Larry's family); one croc had two children who were accidentally eaten by his wife, Debbie, after he slapped her on the back (she had opened her mouth to show Zebra that crocodiles hide their young in their mouths to hide them from other predators; Larry remarked that "Is okay. We make more").
In September 2007, the crocs finally did catch Zebra; Jeffy from The Family Circus jumped into the crocs swamp, thinking it was a swimming pool, Zebra jumped in to save him, and the crocs got them both. Jeffy persuaded the crocs to release him (Zebra commented "I always liked Billy better") and Guard Duck scared the crocs away with a rocket launcher.
A recurring gag is the crocs' tendency to die, usually due to their own ineptitude; they have been shot, blown up, choked, eaten, stabbed with a speargun, drowned, covered in cement, suffocated, nuked, shredded, had a heart attack, wood chippered, hung, and killed in some way by other characters; often, it is a result of their own attempts to kill Zebra. Regarding how they always come back, it is unclear if they are many crocs with the same names, or come back to life a la Kenny McCormick.
While Pastis had depicted various crocodiles in the strip as early as February 2002, these crocs were relatively competent and spoke normal English in a normal typeface. "Da Brudderhood of Zeeba Zeeba Eata" (to quote the title of Pastis' fifth book) were not introduced until January 3, 2005; they have since become the collective fifth "main character" of the strip.
Larry, Patty and Junior
Larry (born February 9, 1969), his beehive-sporting wife Patty, and son Junior, are the most-frequently-depicted family of crocodiles in the strip. The family house neighbors that of Zebra, and, although Zebra's home is also neighbored, on another side, by the Zeeba Zeeba Eata house, they have little relation to the fraternity. Larry is, however, sometimes involved with the Zeeba Zeeba Eata's schemes to kill Zebra (several strips prior to Patty and Junior's existence portrayed ZZE members named "Larry").
Patty and Junior are far more intelligent than Larry, and Junior is a pacifist and a vegetarian. Junior, a studious young crocodile, is often frustrated by his father's stupidity, though he still loves him, similar to the relationship between Warner Bros. character Sylvester the Cat and his son, Sylvester Jr.. As if his son being a vegetarian wasn't enough, Junior has also been shown dating Zebra's niece, a Floridian named Joy, after Pastis' grandmother, at one point even eloping with her and hiding out at Zebra's house.
Junior also tries to bring the Zebra and Crocodile families together from time to time. In one Christmas series, Junior, wanting to be with his girlfriend, ran away. He agreed to come back only when Patty and Larry said they would invite the Zebra family over for Christmas. At this point, Patty, who had previously found the idea appalling, caves in and tries to be a good hostess. Larry, however, is not so accepting, and the series ends with him biting off the Zebra uncle's leg.
It is unclear what Junior's age is. His vocabulary and the fact that he has entered a romantic relationship indicates that he would be at least a pre-teen. However, he also likes it when Larry reads him nursery rhymes and Sesame Street before bedtime, a characteristic that is identified with younger kids.
Despite the seemingly large number of Crocodiles, most of the males (who are in turn most of the crocodiles) have virtually the same mindset; rude, smug, disloyal, but above all, incompetent. They never give up in their attempts to capture and kill Zebra. Despite their bravado, the crocodiles appear to be ashamed over their constant failures and try to hide them. The reason may be that the predator community appears to view buying your own food (something that one would naturally be forced to do if unable to capture anything) as a wimpy thing. They also have incredibly bad English, calling Zebra "zeeba" and rarely conjugating verbs correctly, if at all.
The female crocs (who the males collectively refer to as "woomun") are more intelligent than the males. They constantly find the males' failures embarrassing.
The great exception to the general croc mindset is Junior, the bookish young son of Larry. Having decided that it is wrong to kill others, he is a vegetarian, much to the exasperation and shame of Larry. In fact, Junior often gets along with Zebra, and even is in a relationship with the Zebra's niece Joy.
The Adventures of Angry Bob
The books that Rat writes are entitled, "The Adventures of Angry Bob (by Rat)". Sometimes, they will have a subtitle, such as, "An Epic Tragic Poem Thingie" or "A Big Fat Tale 'O Woe".
In every story, Angry Bob becomes frustrated with his life, usually stating that he is either angry or sad, or both. During the course of the story Bob will decide to try to do something about it, and more often than not succeeds. However, as is the case in nearly every Angry Bob story, something goes wrong and Bob meets a horrible and gruesome death or failure at the end, often shot or crushed.
(debut: June 1, 2003) — Pastis appears self-reflexively in many strips as the cartoonist of the strip, usually exhibiting ambiguous feelings toward his characters (and an exasperation with Rat in particular, who gives it back to Pastis in return especially when things don't go his way). On one occasion, Rat had him briefly change the name of the strip to "Worship The Rat". He is often seen smoking and drinking beer, although Pastis has mentioned in his books that he does not smoke (but he does drink a lot of beer) and has no idea why he drew himself that way to begin with (though Rat and Guard Duck are often featured smoking as well). In The Crass Menagerie he says that he's gotten criticism for his smoking, as people seem to believe he's glamorizing smoking (Pastis claims he's doing the exact opposite). On the week of July 7, 2008, the cartoon Pastis announced that he would be killing off one of Pearls's characters in order to "stay competitive" with other strips. That Wednesday (July 9), Pastis was found dead in the cartoon, but he and Rat (who died of a heart attack due to excitement from finding out) were sent back to the strip days later. Pastis has since returned to drawing himself in the strip. Pastis is occasionally seen commenting about anger-inducing strips (like a strip where Rat claims that he tries to run cyclists off the road) in the cartoon.
Pastis is shown to be a character more than just in the breaking the fourth wall strips, he also appears occasionally at the diner frequented by many of the members of the cast, and has interacted with several characters who don't appear to be aware they are in a comic, such as Neighbor Bob.
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- Pigita (debut: July 22, 2002) — Pig's on-and-off girlfriend, known for her wild mood swings. According to the strip published on September 6, 2007, Pig and Pigita have been together for seven years. However, in the treasury "Pearls Sells Out" Pigita seems to want either that Pig propose to her or they stop going out. In March 2011 she broke up with Pig; however, they are seen together in a number of strips after their "breakup", allegedly because she needed his Brillo Pad Hairso to clean her toilet. She has attempted to break up with him again at least once more.
- Chuckie is a non-anthropomorphic sheep who appears occasionally. He is good friends with Goat, but is despised by Rat, who finds no point of having a non-anthropomorphic animal in the strip. He can only say "Bah".
- Farina (debut: August 19, 2002) — Pig's germaphobic sister who lives in a bubble, although that doesn't prevent her from dating characters from many comic strips. After her debut, Pastis removed her from the strip for two years, and when he brought her back he had to do a complete reintroduction (from Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!). In "Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic", Pastis said that part of the reason why he doesn't draw her as often is because she is the only character who requires a drafting compass to draw and he usually cuts himself using it.
- Snuffles the Cat (debut: September 30, 2007) — Zebra's cat, accidentally given to him by the crocs, who occupies his time committing crimes and running scams. He is a frequent partner of Guard Duck, and a common underling of Rat in many of his schemes.
- Angry Bob and Danny Donkey (debuts 2002 and 2006, respectively): Rat's two main fictional characters in his writings. In "The Adventures of Angry Bob", Angry Bob always starts out angry and decides on a particular reason, then goes to do something about it. Angry Bob always finds some level of success in becoming happy, only to meet a horrible death at the end of nearly every story. Rat is shown drinking heavily while writing 'Angry Bob' stories. Danny Donkey is a children's book character with an amazingly twisted moral compass and a hatred of most every person on Earth. He is a passionate kleptomaniac and loves cigarettes and beer.
- Elly Elephant: A female nice guy elephant who loves pouncing on her boyfriend Henry Hippo.
- Henry Hippo: A purple Hippo who is Elly Elephant's unfortunate boyfriend.
- Jeffy: Used as a running gag since Stephan hates The Family Circus.
- Max and Zach: Zebra's other neighbors are laid-back, surfer type lions. Their lioness wives used to hunt for them until they divorced them, but they received frozen zebras as court-ordered support from them; despite this, Max and Zach have proven to be capable hunters when necessary, earning jealousy from the crocodiles (at least one of which- Larry- stole the frozen zebras). It is unknown whether the lions are friends or enemies of Zebra. They ask for high fives when their wives kill Zebra's friends but give him advice that will help him not get eaten himself.
- Andy: A dog who makes big plans for his life only to have them dashed by the fact he is tied to a pole in his backyard. In the treasury 'Pearls Sells Out', Pastis mentioned that whenever he shows Andy, animal-rights supporters complain because they feel it is cruel for a dog to be tied to a post in the backyard. For a period of time Andy shared the backyard with a female dog named Olive, who like Andy was chained to a post. She left him after her chain broke in the middle of the night. Both Andy and Olive are named for cartoonist Paige Braddock's dachshunds; incidentally, the character Shallow Breast Guy in Braddock's Jane's World is based on Stephan Pastis.
- Olive: Andy's wannabe girlfriend
- Joy: Zebra's niece and Juinior's love interest, despite the irony of crocodiles hating zebras.
- Viking Figurines: Pig has miniature Viking figurines that write in their diaries and do other non-manly things. Rat is often seen putting on WWE or singing violent songs etc. to make them try to become more like Vikings.
- Gary, the coffee shop manager: Rat often works at a coffee shop at which the manager yells at him for being rude to the customers, yet they cannot fire him because of a corporate diversity policy. In one strip Rat creates clones of himself, although they turn out to be kind and caring so he gives them to Larry the croc to use as feeder mice. Larry then gives them to the coffee shop, allowing them to fire Rat. When Rat asks Larry why he can't handle feeder mice, the response he gets is "Dey punch me in hed". He appeared in a series of strips where Rat was celebrating 'Garbanzo Week' a week-long holiday devoted to Garbanzo Beans.
- Orca Predator: Has no name, constantly dies and comes back to life, and vice versa.
- Jef the Cyclist (formerly Jeff the Cyclist): An extremely haughty friend of Pig who is obsessed with his own fitness and grandeur. He refers to other non-cyclists as "commoners" and "scum", and does not hesitate to express his superiority. Jef believes that he is a god, and thus prays to himself, but is in reality oblivious to much of the world. He had trouble remembering the names of his wife and children when inquired, and changed the spelling of his own name thinking that it would make him faster. Other methods that he uses to increase his performance include a strict diet regimen and blood doping. Also may be a reference to Jef Mallett, creator of Frazz, an avid cyclist/triathlete.
- Neighbor Bob A neighbor of Rat, Pig and Guard Duck's, Neighbor Bob is a long-running secondary character in the strip, and the most prominent of the gang's many neighbors. Pig and Goat like Bob, but Rat and Guard Duck hate him. Pastis said in the treasury Pearls Freaks the @$&@ Out that "Neighbor Bob is really not treated well in my strip. He really should move." In a story arc where Guard Duck declared war on a cow, he called in air strikes to flush the cow out. However, they instead bombed the neighbors' houses, starting with Bob's. He is also implied to have a bad relationship with his wife.
- The Lemmings: Part of a former running gag where they would attempt suicide. Now they are background characters.
- Toby The Tortoise:A bong -smoking beer -drinking tortoise.
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."
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.
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.
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., 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.
There are over a dozen Pearls Before Swine books, mostly strip collections and treasuries.
- The Crass Menagerie. p. 32.
- "Swine Connoisseur: The Stephan Pastis Interview". Hogan's Alley (16). 2009. Archived from the original on January 11, 2019. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- Pastis, Steven (2003). Pearls Before Swine: BLTs Taste So Darn Good. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-7407-3437-7. Retrieved September 27, 2008.
- "Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls Before Swine". Phi Kappa Phi Forum. 84 (3): 34–37. 2004.(subscription required)
- 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".
- "''This Little Piggy Stayed Home'' (March 2004): "Product Detail"". Andrewsmcmeel.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- "About Pearls Before Swine". Stephanpastis.wordpress.com. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
- 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).
- in Attorney Career Success Stories (November 6, 2006). "Interview: Stephan Pastis: Attorney Turned Cartoonist". Jdblissblog.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- 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.
- Guard Duck,
- "Baywalk.com - Lifestyle Shopping and Articles - Cartoons and Funnies - Bradbury Road". www.baywalk.com. Archived from the original on September 5, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2008.
- Pastis, Stephan. Pearls Sells Out p.186. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2009
- Pastis, Stephan. Pearls Before Swine 2007-09-21
- Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic. p. 114.
- "Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis for Sep 23, 2005". GoComics. September 23, 2005.
- Cavna, Michael (March 25, 2009). "Plush 'Pearls' Toys? Indeed-What a Croc!". Voices.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- "Division awards". National Cartoonists Society. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
- Johnson, Caitlin (April 4, 2011). "'Pearls Before Swine' creator Stephan Pastis to visit Dallas area". Dallas Morning News.
- "This Year's Nominees". National Cartoonists Society. March 15, 2009. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- "2009 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 23, 2010. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- "2010 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 22, 2011. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- "2011 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 17, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- "2012 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 21, 2013. Retrieved April 20, 2013.