Pearls Before Swine (comics)
||This article possibly contains original research. (January 2015)|
|Pearls Before Swine|
|Current status / schedule||Running|
|Launch date||December 31, 2001 (The Washington Post)
January 7, 2002
|Syndicate(s)||United Feature Syndicate (2001-2011)
Universal Uclick (2011-present)
|Publisher(s)||Andrews McMeel Publishing|
Pearls Before Swine is an American comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis, who was formerly a lawyer in San Francisco, California. It chronicles the daily lives of five anthropomorphic animals, Pig, Rat, Zebra, Goat, and Guard Duck, as well as a number of supporting characters. Pastis has said each character represents an aspect of his own personality and world view. Pearls is distributed by Universal Uclick as of 2011; previously, United Media's United Feature Syndicate distributed the strip.
United Feature launched the strip in newspapers beginning December 31, 2001, in The Washington Post. On January 7, 2002, it began running in approximately 150 papers. As of September 2011, the strip was appearing in 750 newspapers worldwide.
The strip has become controversial due to its use of adult humor, mock profanity, violence, drinking and drug references and a few references to Middle-Eastern terrorism.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Comic strip influences
- 3 Main characters
- 4 Setting
- 5 Meaning of the title
- 6 Style
- 7 Controversial strips
- 7.1 Lou Gehrig's Disease strips
- 7.2 President Bush strip
- 7.3 ADHD strip
- 7.4 Satanic visit
- 7.5 "Desperasexual" strip
- 7.6 Family Circus Meet Osama Bin Laden
- 7.7 The Midget strip
- 7.8 Rat the Babysitter
- 7.9 Washing machine strip
- 7.10 Atatürk the Llama strips
- 7.11 The comic strip with the uncensored F-word
- 7.12 Jef The Cyclist
- 7.13 Controversial month
- 8 Other media
- 9 Technical aspects
- 10 Books
- 11 Awards
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Prior to creating Pearls Before Swine, Pastis worked as a lawyer in California. In law school, he became so bored during classes, he started to doodle a rat, eventually casting it in a non-syndicated comic strip he called Rat. The title character of Rat would later become one of the main characters in "Pearls Before Swine." The "Pearls" character of Pig also came from a failed strip called The Infirm, about a struggling lawyer.
In 1999, he submitted Pearls Before Swine to syndicates. Several expressed interest and about 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.
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.
Comic strip influences
Pearls' style and humor are inspired by several comic strips, chief among them being Peanuts, Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County and The Far Side. Pastis regularly puts tributes to them in his strip. When asked in an interview about whether his profession as an attorney inspired the humor in the comic, Stephan said, "I was very unhappy as a lawyer, and humor is a reaction to and defense against unhappiness. Also, the law inspired me because if you dislike what you’re doing to the extent that I did, it gives you the impetus to get out." Pastis also regularly parodies comics he finds stale or unfunny, including Cathy, The Family Circus and Garfield (although in the case of The Family Circus, Pastis actually is a fan). The relentless and merciless riffing on classic comics (i.e. a series where Osama bin Laden comes to live with the Family Circus, causing the parents, Billy, Jeffy, Dolly and PJ to be sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp) has earned Pastis the disdain of many comic artists, which Pastis referenced in a later storyline where the Pearls cast is not invited to the 75th anniversary crossover party of Blondie.
Stephan Pastis has also mentioned that the incongruity between the cute characters and the dark themes surrounding them is a source of humor in the strip.
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Rat (debut: December 30, 2001) is a narcissistic, misanthropic rat, and is an antihero. He frequently breaks the fourth wall, as well as being aware of his existence as a fictional comic strip character. Because of this, Rat is often critical of the comic strip's style and artwork as well as the other characters in the strip and many other living things. 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 a darker humor. His political views are right-wing, especially in foreign policy, and he has a particular hatred for the nation of France. Rat is often rude, and he can usually be found criticizing or insulting someone.
Rat is an insensitive character in the strip, whose interactions with others are typically sarcastic, condescending, self-centered, insulting and sometimes violent. It's stated during a storyline where Rat dies and subsequently returns that nobody really likes him other than Pig. When breaking the fourth wall he will berate his creator on various topics, including joke writing, artwork, or the general content of the strip itself. Rat has beaten up and possibly tried to kill his creator, but has also asked him to simply retire early. In one strip, Rat makes a puppet of Stephan and mocks him.
In his spare time (almost always on Sunday), Rat writes one of three stories:
- The Adventures of Angry Bob: A novel series about a man who is always angry. Angry Bob stories almost always consist of Bob angry over something, finding something that makes him happy, then dying a horrible death because of his actions.
- Danny Donkey: A children's book series about a donkey who tries to teach children morals by drinking, smoking, stealing, violence, hating people, and various other methods. At one point in the strip, he came to life after Rat made a stuffed animal of him, but Pastis eventually returned him to a character in Rat's stories after it did not catch on.
- Elly Elephant: A series about a female elephant who is extremely friendly, thoughtful, and helpful toward other people, but does not receive the same consideration. These stories sometimes end with Elly stomping on (and in a couple instances, strangling) them.
- Romance stories - stories of two people, (usually named Bob and Betty) that fall in love with each other and kiss, but they have non-romantic endings (example: the hidenburg exploding)
Pig (debut: December 30, 2001) is the character that receives the most abuse from Rat. He is kind by nature, but very naïve. Pig's jokes generally involve his incompetence and not knowing his true surroundings. His on-again-off-again girlfriend, Pigita, is driven insane by his naïveté, but she can never bear to dump him. Pastis says that Pig has a habit of talking to inanimate objects such as food, stop lights, bait, and various other things. His dimness is often exhibited in the strip. Pig's least appropriate characteristic is his love of pork products; He likes bacon, ham, corn dogs, and so on, making him a cannibal, although he appears to misunderstand this. He is also sometimes able to tell which member of his family has been made into the food product. Pig is one of the few characters that does not constantly utter mock profanity in the strip; however, he has done so on rare occasions. Possibly the most notable example of Pig swearing in the strip is the July 15, 2010 strip, in which he curses BP for the recent oil spill. Pig has also sworn after Rat told him that, due to the fact that comic censorship is still the same as it was in the 1950s, many topics can not be discussed.
An intellectual goat who interacts sparingly with the other characters, Goat (debut: January 18, 2002) usually appears whenever there is a small issue dealing with a character or a conflict to be mediated. Goat has an equally hard time dealing with Pig's incompetence and Rat's cruelty and occasional ignorance. Goat maintains an internet blog that, as Rat likes to point out, receives no hits. Goat in turn tends to criticize Rat's forays into writing, often telling him not to write them at all. In early strips, Goat had a beard; he first appeared without it in the March 31, 2004 strip.
In a few strips, he is seen telling Rat and Pig about various philosophical, political, and social issues. However, Rat and Pig don't pay attention, instead usually starting to talk about something else such as baseball or The Apprentice.
Goat dislikes conversing with the other characters at all; he much prefers reading. However, it seems that he most tolerates talking to Zebra; he is least tolerant when talking to Rat (although he tends to be equally hostile towards Pig). It is actually debatable if he dislikes talking to Rat or Pig more, Rat for his ego and self-centered remarks, which anger Goat greatly; however, Pig's stupidity has, on multiple occasions, equally driven Goat over the edge, particularly when he attempts to explain something simple to Pig, and Pig continues moving further and further into the wrong direction and misunderstanding everything Goat says. Goat's real name is revealed as "Paris" in the September 21, 2007 strip, claiming "Goat" is his stage name.
He is the only character that has catchphrases, which are "I give up", "Never mind", "Check please", & "I'm leaving/going", usually at the very end of the strip in a resigned sort of mood.
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Zebra (debut: February 4, 2002), also known as "zeeba neighba" (zebra neighbor) by the Fraternity of Crocodiles next-door (Zeeba Zeeba Eata), is a zebra who is often seen trying to patch up relations between his herd back home and its predators, lions and hyenas. Pastis has also stated that the only goal of Zebra is to avoid being eaten by his inarticulate next-door neighbors, the Fraternity of Zeeba Zeeba Eata crocodiles.
Because Stephan Pastis was once unable to draw lions, these particular predators were not shown in the strip until May 31, 2007, when two were shown moving next door to Zebra, on the opposite side from the crocodiles. Prior to their appearance Zebra has been seen corresponding with them via letter, attempting to give them more culture than just eating zebras and to establish a friendship between their species. Instead, the lions' replies are always terse responses, often featuring them taking his advice the wrong way by eating a zebra. Zebra's lion neighbors, however, are male lions, which do not hunt, and they seem to like Zebra, often giving him advice on how to avoid their wives, who actually would hunt him down if given the chance. However, the lion neighbors also caused some bad things to happen to Zebra (albeit unintentionally), such as suggesting that Zebra redecorate his house with Girls Gone Wild merchandise to be more macho when his mother comes over to the house once.
One time, Larry sent a cat to Zebra, but in the first years, the cat, which was named Snuffles, was harmless to Zebra. However, in spring 2008, Zebra was arrested by the FBI because of the cat's terrorist activities, although Snuffles loves Zebra, and he didn't mean to put his owner mistakenly in jail. In one strip, he was revealed to be a big fan of Peanuts (a strip Pastis cites as one of his many influences), which the crocs attempted to exploit, without success.
In the Pearls Sells Out collection, Pastis explains that Zebra has three neighbors: The Zeeba Zeeba Eata fraternity house, Larry the Croc and his family, and Max and Zack, the Lions. Larry's house is, in fact, behind Zebra's house (the houses are next to each other via backyards) while the Lions and the Zeeba Zeeba Eata are on either side of Zebra's house.
The Guard Duck is, as his name implies, the "guard duck" for Pig and Rat's home, Guard Duck has recently retired from the army and moved into the woods, because, he's tired of everyone having to give off their thoughts on Twitter so he got a Pony Express rider .Pig has described him as "very sensitive and having an anger management problem". He's known for a short temper and a violent streak. He has gone to several anger management seminars, but he leaves with more issues than he had before.
His first appearance was March 14, 2005, when Pig bought him instead of a more expensive guard dog for the house. 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. He often suggests militaristic solutions for neighborhood problems, often getting him locked in a clothes hamper by Pig.
Originally, Guard Duck was a violent duck with anger management problems, but he eventually transformed into a duck associated with the army, seeing the world as his battlefield. He has occasionally referenced the Vietnam War and war movies such as Apocalypse Now. In one of his "missions" that he was given, he teamed up with Zebra's cat Snuffles to invade Cuba, but mistakenly invades Jamaica. While in Jamaica, he also shoots a sheriff. The moment he gets to Cuba, he and Snuffles are arrested, but released. He is also a member of the Order of Panelwalkers and taught Pig how to panelwalk. In a series of strips, Guard Duck is seen training gophers to use grenades which causes problems in the neighborhood. Most recently, the Grenade Gophers went renegade and joined the Crocs as assassins.
It is also mentioned that Guard Duck has a girlfriend, Maura, who leaves him from time to time and once in particular (after a trip to Paris) to become a corporate spokesperson for Aflac.
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).
The Fraternity of Crocodiles are the main antagonists and villains of the strip, described by Pastis as "inept and inarticulate neighbors" of Zebra and while they are indeed on very poor terms with all five main characters (with the possible occasional 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). They have very bad grammar, speak in upper- and lower-case captions (most Pearls characters' captions are in all-capitals) and also have an expanded and a slightly smaller font size.
The Crocodile Family
In addition to the Zeeba Zeeba Eata 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 and his pals [such as Burt, Bob etc.] are a group of typical dumb crocodiles in the strip, speaking in the same language as the fraternity ("Croc-ese", which is actually the reader's own language spoken with exceptionally improper grammar and spelling), which he is often seen with plotting to kill Zebra. By contrast, both his wife and son are intelligent, with Junior being particularly gifted. Also, Larry seems to have come from a well to do family because his parents speak impeccable English. In one strip, it is shown they had spent a huge amount on Larry's education [2000 for his tuition fees] which he instead spent on a closet full of beer. Larry is (or at least was) a huge fan of the Wii and tried to encourage his son to drop out of school so he could play with him. He is also very childish, appearing when ever Simon says to do so, and is easily convinced to do stupid things such as when he stapled his head to a wall on a bet and shut off Zebra's water pipes in an attempt to force Zebra to drink from the fraternity's swamp, unaware that Zebra bought his water from Sparkletts. Sometimes he is shown not to care about his wife Patty because in one series of strips, Zebra kidnaps Patty for a peace proposal with Larry and he is shown happy because of this (although Zebra did return her). Larry was "eaten" by dolphins on January 18, 2013 and secretly escaped. He was later eaten by a shark on May 21, 2013. He was reincarnated as a crab and eaten by Zebra on May 22, 2013. He was reincarnated again as Jeffy from Family Circus on May 22, 2013 as well. He reappeared on May 4, 2014
Patty is a housewife with a bob haircut (originally an Afro, then a beehive) who loves both her husband (although she did once leave Larry because she thinks he's a failure because he has not killed Zebra) and son, although she is continually frustrated with her husband's failed attempts to kill Zebra – which more often than not, result in Larry being forced to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and purchase food, which he eats by himself in shame (although Patty does do some grocery shopping and Larry once stole a frozen zebra from a pair of male lions that also moved into the neighborhood, which he claimed to catch). Also she, like Junior, does not speak Croc-ese (although, she used to at the start on the strip). She claimed she cut her hair to better express herself, as she demonstrated in a strip where her beehive interfered with her speech bubble.
Junior is the most intelligent and perhaps most refined member of his family. He is a vegetarian who can't understand why his father constantly wants to kill Zebra, believes that crocodiles should wear clothes because being naked is undignified, and is friends with his neighbor. Despite all his faults, Junior loves his father as well as his mother, but infuriates them with one small action - his love for a zebra (specifically, Zebra's niece, of whom he dated). Surprisingly, despite her attitude, Patty is much more offended about this than Larry, considering it an embarrassment to her family and believing that simply grounding him will cause him to stop (although all it did was cause Junior to run away) However, it is expressed that Larry and Patty do not like Junior being a vegetarian, with Larry telling Zebra that Junior was "a big disappointment".
Stephan Pastis appears self-reflexively in the strip. He is often seen with Rat, who makes him the brunt of criticism about his artwork and jokes. Pastis also is subjected to Rat's odd whims from time to time, such as when Rat poured beer on one of his drawings and caused it to blur (an effect Pastis said he could only achieve on a computer) and stole all of his clothes. In the strip, Stephan expresses common sense, unlike Rat and some of the other characters. His character has also expressed his hate of being an attorney, which was his former career. As the strip went, his personal appearance on the strip changed. Stephan lives with his wife, Staci.
One of Pastis' memorable appearances in the strip was on Sunday, February 7, 2010, when he mourned his father-in-law, Rick Daniels, and received a hug from Pig, which reminded him of the love, acceptance and optimism Daniels had.
Mister Snuffles is Zebra's cat. Originally, he was adopted by the crocodiles on September 30, 2007 to kill Zebra because he was the cat at the shelter who scratched and bit the most, but the plan backfired and Snuffles grew to like Zebra. This has not stopped Mister Snuffles from getting into trouble, as he hid weapons of mass destruction for the Syrians and Iraqis, concealed Osama bin Laden in his kitty tree, used Zebra's credit card to binge purchase beer, fenced stolen property, ran an illegal booking operation, scalped tickets, and various other illegal doings. Guard Duck employed Mister Snuffles as his associate for a brief period, including a mission where the two were sent by Rat to invade Cuba (but mistakenly invaded Jamaica and were arrested for shooting a sheriff.)
A few strips shows a group of Lemmings [at most times, count is 4] on the edge of a cliff speaking out their purpose just before they are about to commit their mass suicide. The confessions and feelings spoken out during these gossips bring humour to the strip .They are usually on top of each other and had swore on an oath that each would jump once the suicide session is initiated by the topmost member [named Fred]. Apparently, he does not seem to be entirely faithful as shown in one strip where he opens up a parachute just after the jump.
These characters appear frequently
- Pigita - Pig's on and off girlfriend.
- Staci Pastis - Stephan's wife.
- Neighbor Bob - Rat, Pig, Gomer Goldfish, and Guard Duck's neighbor. He also has a wife, two kids (Jojo and Willy), and a dog (Fido). he also owns a flock of sheep.
- Jef - Pig's friend, a cyclist who often tries to lose weight. Was once Jeff, until he dropped one of the f's in his name to lose weight.
- Max and Zach - two lions that live next door to Zebra. They don't try to kill him because it's the FEMALE lions who do the hunting.
- Andy - a little chained up dog who is friends with Pig.
- Danny Donkey - one of Rat's story characters, who came to life after Rat made a prototype stuffed animal of him
- Henry Hippo - occasional boyfriend of Elly Elephant, usually a thoughtless oaf who ends up being stomped to death by Elly (only seen in Rat's Elly Elephant stories)
- Morty and Saul - two penguins that the crocs adopted thinking they were Oreos and then were taken to Animal Control due to a bad smell.
- Gomer Godfish - Pig's pet Goldfish who complains about being in a glass bowl.
- Comic Strip Censor - a man who will sometimes "block" a character before they say something inappropriate.
- Wee Bear - a little Bear who is friends with Pig and tries to solve government problems.
- Farina - Pig's Sister who is a Germaphobe so she lives in a plastic bubble. Rat has a Crush on her.
- Vikings Pig has two Viking figurines who, instead of fighting, they watch shows like oprah and ellen
- John and Jenifer - two seals that moved in to the neighborhood to be safe
- Alphonse - Pig's friend, a needy porcupine
- Pepito - Rat's very violent sock puppet
- Chuckie - a sheep who communicates by going "BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
- Bob - a antelope whose heard moved two blocks down from Zebra's house and tries to get the crocs to stop eating them
- Maura - Guard Duck's former girlfriend who left him to work for aflac
- Joy - Zebra's niece and Junior's girlfriend
- the Deaths - Pig and Rat's Grim Reaper neighbors. They are: a man in a hood (Mr.Death), a woman in a hood (Mrs.Death), and a dog in a hood
- Bombast Cable - Rat and Pig's cable company which Rat hates
- Dr. Smith - Pig's dentist who he is in love with
- Floyd - Rat's "favorite neighbor"
- Officer Potus - an elephant cop who tries to get Zebra to give the crocs his body parts
- Herd - Zebra's herd who he tries to protect
- Gary - the owner Joe's Roastery, a Starbucks-like cafe which Rat frequently works in
- Victor - a vegan who argues with Freddy and sometimes Jef
- Freddy - a "fruitarian" who argues with Victory and sometimes Jef
- Pig's Mom - Pig's mother who writes letters to him
- Crocodiles, Tigers, Lions, Hyenas, Vultures, Jaguars, and Cheetahs - all the animals that eat Zebra's herd out in the plains
- Walmartopialand Guns - a gun store which Rat keeps on trying to get a gun from so he can "pop his neighbor in the rear
- Hy and Hy - two hyenas that own a funeral service called Hy and Hy's funeral home. Secretly, they are trying to eat the dead bodies.
- Father Gus - Pig's friend, a authority of religion
- Mister Armadillo - a Armadillo, Rat and Pig's neighbor
- Mister Polar Bear - a polar bear who tries to eat the three penguins
- The Three Penguins - three penguins that live on a tiny island and try to avoid being eaten by Mister Polar Bear
- Cindy - a woman who Rat is a bad boyfriend to
- Mr. Lion- a lion that Zebra writes letters to
- Stephan's Mom - Stephan's Mom who hates him
- Neighbor Willy - a child that complains about studying
- Pigita's parents - unseen, very protective of Pigita. Pigita lives with them
- Christmas Tree Girl - a girl who works at a Christmas tree lot who Rat wants to ask out
- Freddy - Junior's friend, a frog who Larry hates because he's an amphibian
- Armando Armadillo - a armadillo that makes jokes about being run over
- Bookie Baby - Rat's bookie who is a baby
The strip is set in a fictional suburb. Locales include a brick wall, a beach, and the street.
The continuity of the strip is very loose, and Pastis even says that "sometimes characters get jobs once, and you never hear about it again." Many storylines are left with open endings, and sometimes continuity leaps are made, especially when characters die (he says they "un-die", a word which has been added to the Urban Dictionary due to Pastis creating it). Usually, relationships between characters are left unaltered. (Farina, who appears infrequently for long periods of time, has a relationship with Rat that usually picks up where it left off.)
Meaning of the title
The title Pearls Before Swine refers to the admonition "Neither cast ye your pearls before swine" that Jesus gave according to Matthew 7:6 in the Bible. According to Pastis, Rat, who considers himself a genius, casts his "pearls" of wisdom before Pig ("swine"), who is the only one naive enough to seriously listen. But in one strip Rat thought PBS stood for the title.
Artistically, Pearls is extremely simple. Most of the characters have either mouths represented by lines or no mouths at all, dot eyes, and stick limbs; those shown with lips are generally big and puffy in this area, and the lips are merely a visual cue that they are unintelligent or ignorant. However, characters do have mouths when yelling (similar to Dilbert), or in the crocodiles' case, open their mouths when yelling. 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.—Stephan Pastis
Pearls is also a meta-comic in that it often satirizes the comics medium, and allows its characters to break the fourth wall and either communicate directly with the author or with characters from other strips, which they often do. Pastis will often employ a shaggy dog story, using a great amount of dialogue to spin an elaborate yarn 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. Once, Rat sensed a bad pun coming, and stopped it with dropping an anvil on Pastis' head. A May 2015 strip had an elaborate buildup including Pig driving through town until he unintentionally quotes the song "American Pie". The strip ends with Rat confronting Pastis with a Morningstar, saying "Bye Bye Mr. Cartooning Guy". The characters also frequently acknowledge the fact that they are in a comic strip published in newspapers; 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 such events as smeared newsprint or beer affected the appearance of the strip or strips in which it seems as if the paginators had laid out the strip wrong. Other comic strips are often the butt of punchlines, and several cartoon characters from outside Pearls have appeared, most frequently the main cast of The Family Circus, and even in one circumstance, Stewie from Family Guy appeared in the strip on April 20, 2008, holding a candy cane, for a reference to the saying, "It's like taking candy from a baby." During that appearance, Stewie said two of his more famous phrases ("Touch it and you die, fat man" and "What the deuce are you staring at?") to Pig. The presence of the characters often affects the goings-on in the other strips, either directly (through their presence) or indirectly through setting or dialogue, such as when Rat replaced the words of a Family Circus comic with a quote from Benito Mussolini.
Pearls is notorious for its large amount of dark humor; topics such as death, depression and human suffering overall are common themes, and Pastis has recalled receiving complaints, including hate mail and occasionally death threats from people who have been offended by his strips. Pastis has mentioned in his treasuries that the cartoonists whom he mocks (a trademark characteristic of Pearls) often take the insults in good humor, even occasionally asking for an original strip.
Pearls often contains dark humor. Some of the strips have been seen as controversial or offensive, including the following:
Lou Gehrig's Disease strips
In an introduction on one of his books, Pastis wrote that the March 3, 2003 strip was hated by Lou Gehrig fans Pig thought it was a coincidence that Lou Gehrig would die of a disease that had the same name as himself, not knowing that the disease was named after Gehrig.
President Bush strip
The August 17, 2003 strip featured Rat writing a letter to then-president George W. Bush, telling him that if he is to bomb every country on Earth before leaving office, he must bomb three countries every month and bomb France more than once, if there's extra time. Goat warns Rat that if he sends the letter, the government will see him as a "whacko" and investigate him. However, in the last panel, Bush seems to accept Rat's plan to bomb three countries every month, saying, "Okay... October is Mexico, Canada, and Hawaii," unaware Hawaii is part of the United States. Pastis writes in Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! that many people were offended by the negative depiction of Bush and criticized the strip, while an apparently equal number of people appreciated the mockery and praised the strip.
The strip for November 9, 2003, featured a "'Pearls' Walk Through Alternative History." In it, the parents of musicians Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Miles Davis, and Paul McCartney are shown accepting medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to give to their children. In the final panel, Rat and Pig are shown at a record store, sighing because the only records available are those of Pat Boone. Pastis said many readers sent him emails both praising and criticizing the strip.
From March 1–5, 2004, Rat's old friend Satan comes to visit him and Pig for the weekend as a houseguest. Rat and Satan go to a seafood restaurant where Satan orders the sole, causing the waiter to run away screaming in terror. The reason for Satan's vacation is that the streets in Hell are being renovated by "Good's Carpentry Service" owned by a man named Thomas Good, who is using a special kind of cement made by the ten Chin brothers, thus creating the pun "The road to hell is paved with Good and Ten Chins". Pastis notes[where?] that his cartoonist friend Darby Conley consider another strip in the series, where a tailor named Stuttering Bob is fitting Satan for a new suit and says "Da da devil is in da da tails", to be the worst he has ever done and that it has become an in-joke code between them to refer to bad strips.
The July 2, 2004, strip showed Rat introducing his friend Bennie to Goat. Rat explains that Bennie is physically attracted to both men and women. Goat says that this means that he is bisexual, but Rat says that Bennie is attracted to both sexes only because he is lonely. Because Bennie does not choose to be attracted to be both sexes, Rat does not consider him to be a bisexual and instead calls him "desperasexual." Many readers were offended by what they perceived as the strip's assertion that a bisexual chooses to be attracted to both sexes, taking it as a comment on the political aspects of homosexuality, though Pastis has denied any political meaning one way or the other.
Family Circus Meet Osama Bin Laden
In the week of June 27, 2005, Pastis ran a series of strips involving the whereabouts of terrorist Osama Bin Laden. The strips portrayed Bin Laden living as an exchange student with the family from the comic The Family Circus. Osama is seen at the dinner table ending grace with "Death to America" instead of "Amen", teaching Billy, Jeffy and Dolly to call their father "The Great Satan" and place a fatwa upon his head, and forcing the mother to wear a burqa. Eventually Osama is caught when government agents follow Billy's dotted lines back to the house. Despite their naiveté about Bin Laden's activities (Daddy is confused when Osama wants to burn a presidential effigy, remarking that "it looks nothing like Eisenhower"), the family is arrested for sheltering and harboring a fugitive and sent to Guantanamo Bay prison. Pastis remarked[where?] that despite the many complaints received, the series is one of his most popular and favorites that he's ever done.
The Midget strip
On November 15, 2005, a farcical strip in which Pastis pretended to be on hiatus ran. In his stead, Rat "wrote the comic" that day, promising to avoid any offensive material. In the strip Rat decides to throw a midget off a pier to see how much distance he could get. The strip ends with Stephen Pastis asking his wife why angry short people are holding signs on their lawn. Despite the general idea of Pastis attempting to parody his history of offensive comic strips, an angry letter ran in an Oklahoma newspaper (The Stillwater Newspress), outraged that it was supposed to be considered humorous that someone would propose throwing a midget off a pier. Pearls Before Swine was canceled from the paper a few weeks later.
Rat the Babysitter
In a series from March 20–25, 2006, Rat was hired to babysit Zoe and Hammie from the family-geared, tyke-focusing strip Baby Blues. Instead of responsibly watching the children, Rat began to drink from a beer hat and do tequila shots. He then forced Zoe and Hammie to go to the liquor store to get him more alcohol. On the way to the liquor store, Hammie ran over Jeremy from the comic Zits, instantly killing him and then crashing the car into a gas pump causing a massive fire. Rat then left baby Wren alone so that he could catch a movie, causing the infant to nearly be attacked by the Crocodiles, who were ultimately killed by Wren, who was portrayed as a "street-smart" and swearing character capable of talking. The series caused quite a fervor, and Pastis claims it to be one of his most upsetting comics. Angry letters were also sent to Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, the creators of Baby Blues, for letting Pastis use their characters. According to Pastis, "mixing kids and alcohol and having Rat babysit while drunk just threw some uptight readers over the edge. Many of them responded like I had actually endangered real kids, making no allowance for the fact that the Baby Blues kids are pen and ink. In the next Monday's Baby Blues strip, Rick drew a beat-up crocodile on the floor of the kids' living room, proving to everyone that Rick and Jerry knew about this in advance. I think that quieted down some of the outrage toward me."
Washing machine strip
On September 26, 2006, alternate strips were provided to newspapers due to that day's strip involving Pig playing in a washing machine. Concurrent news involved the Jimella Tunstall case, in which her children were allegedly murdered by a friend and hidden from the authorities in a washing machine. Despite the fact that Pastis works 10 months ahead of time, the majority of readers did not know this, so many papers and websites that syndicated the strip ran the alternate strips instead.
Atatürk the Llama strips
Two Pearls Before Swine strips (January 9 and 10, 2007), which showed a llama named Atatürk, caused the Turkish ambassador to the United States to send a letter to George W. Bush, demanding an apology. In these strips, Atatürk is a United Nations diplomat, whose form of diplomacy is to spit on other diplomats. Many readers of Turkish descent were offended, seeing it as a mockery of former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Their interpretation of the strip was supported by the fact that Pastis is of Greek descent, and Greece and Turkey have historically been enemies. Pastis denied that the strip was mocking Mustafa Atatürk, saying that he knew almost nothing about Atatürk and used the name simply because he liked the sound of it. He received angry, hate-filled emails (some of which contained death threats), and even received a letter from the Turkish Ambassador to the United States demanding an apology. Pastis calls it the single biggest controversy he has ever experienced in the history of Pearls.
The comic strip with the uncensored F-word
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2014)|
An editor at a large Midwestern newspaper thought he saw the F-word uncensored in the August 11, 2009 strip. Instead of calling Pastis to ask if it really was there, he called a local TV station, and the news that night did a piece on Pastis saying that he had inserted the F-word in his comic. They even censored the offending panel. Pastis called the editor himself and they argued about whether or not the word really was there. Pastis' theory is that newspapers tend to shrink the comics, so the word "#rock" melded with the other words surrounding it to form the F-word, but Pastis didn't put it there intentionally.
Jef The Cyclist
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2014)|
On February, 8th, 2012, a strip with a previously introduced character named Jef, a cyclist, and apparently one of Pig's friends, appeared in a strip where he was portrayed as a rude, arrogant man. The controversy wasn't for the portrayal of the cyclist, but for Rat's line in the last panel, "And that's why I try to run them over." Pastis didn't know he had stumbled upon the most sensitive subject in the world of cycling, drivers who try to scare cyclists by purposefully trying to run them off the road. In "Pearls Falls Fast," Pastis tells that he believes that this strip caused the most anger since the "Atatürk the Llama" strips.
Almost the entire month of December 2003 caused controversy to Pearls. Here are some of the strips from that month:
Jerusalem Bus strip
On December 28, 2003, the Pearls Before Swine strip shows a television set on which a news program is being aired. The news program describes a bus that exploded that day in Jerusalem. The announcer talks about the humanity of the children who died in the explosion, emphasizing small characteristics of their lives that show them as normal children. The announcer strays off topic while attempting to convey that the children have similarities to the people watching the news program. In the final panel, however, the announcer reminds those watching the program that the children are now dead. The strip is sad and sympathetic, in that it laments the loss of the children, and unusual in that it does not attempt to be funny and shows none of the strip's regular characters. Pastis says that some readers were angry because it (apparently) showed only Israel's side of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. However, he also says that many more readers loved the strip. In all, the strip prompted around 2,500 emails to Pastis. Pastis said that while readers who wrote to him were almost unanimously supportive, letters written to editors were more "50/50", with the other half expressing concern over the topic being addressed in a humorous part of the paper. The aforementioned strip is unique in that not only do none of the strip's characters (Rat, Pig, etc..) appear, but also in that no characters of any sort (including the TV anchorperson) can be seen.
"You stupid fairy!"
On December 30, 2003, in a series where Pig was teaching his plastic army men toys not to fight, Rat called him a "stupid fairy." Pastis thought the word was simply another word for "sissy", not realizing that "fairy" is often a slang term for a homosexual man. United Feature Syndicate requested that Pastis replace the word "fairy" with "sissy", but the two later agreed to send out both the original strip with the word "fairy" and another with the word "sissy" and the subscribing papers could choose which one they decided to run. One newspaper did not get the alternate strip on time and instead ran a blank space in the comics where Pearls was supposed to be.
In an interview on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch that aired 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.
Cartoonist Darby Conley, creator of Get Fuzzy, helped teach Pastis the technical aspects of cartooning. The two remain friends, sometimes poking fun at each other in their strips. In Pearls Blows Up, Stephan says that he replaces some of the usual squiggle-marks indicating swear words with a poorly drawn picture of Darby Conley's head. In a Get Fuzzy strip, Rob asks Satchel if an annoying lawyer named Stephan called. Satchel has a Pearls book next to him. Conley also drew Pastis in his strip twice during a week where the two cartoonists decided to play a prank on their syndicate by having Conley copy and paste Get Fuzzy characters over Pearls strips. In the story Conley accidentally receives some unpublished Pearls Before Swine comics in the mail and decides to use them after running late with his strips. Later Pastis calls up Conley wanting to talk about how his strips are similar to his that week. First Conley pretends not to speak English and later he tells Conley to call him back but blocks his number. Pastis said that the prank fooled readers of both Get Fuzzy and Pearls, with fans of his strip writing to him saying that "some jerk" (Conley) was ripping him off.
There are more than a dozen Pearls Before Swine books, mostly collections of strips published during a specific nine to ten-month period.
Pearls Before Swine won National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2003 and 2006, with nominations in 2002 and 2008 as well. Pastis was one of the society's nominees for "Cartoonist of the Year" for 2008,  2009,  2010,  2011, and 2012. Pearls Before Swine also won the 2015 Reuben award for best newspaper comic strip.
- The Crass Menagerie. p. 32.
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- 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".
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- "2010 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 22, 2011. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- "2011 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 17, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
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- St. Petersburg [Florida] Times (December 13, 2005): "Exactly What Ees That Zeeba-Eating Accent?", by Chase Squires
- Pearls Before Swine site