For the past week I have been reading one of the collections of the American comic strip “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis. I knew of its existence for a while – it has been published in Portugal (but not in the UK) which helped. But browsing one of the earlier books a few years ago didn’t draw me into it. Also, it isn’t syndicated by the comics’ page I subscribe. Then about two years ago I came across the parody Stephen Pastis made of Bill Amend’s semi-retirement from my favourite “Foxtrot” and found it quite funny. Yet, it took me quite a while before I bought a book.
The strip is quite unusual – it often breaks the fourth wall (its creator is occasional a character), the drawing is extremely poor (working better for some characters than others) and it has a VERY peculiar sense of humour. The drawing style in particular was the big turn-off for me, as the characters seem to have hardly any expression. Yet, I would say its style of humour is what makes or break it, since according to the comments in the collection I have, it seems to gather frequent complaints from newspaper readers in the US (when first published) which is probably a good thing.
All of the strip’s main characters are animals – there is Rat, Pig (which is a bit naïve and often scorned by Rat, hence the title of the strip), Goat, Zebra, and some hilarious crocodiles. Whilst the first two are in fact the leading characters, when they are together they also produce what I found to be the least funny strips. My favourites by a mile (or two, or three…) are the crocs and their plans to kill and eat Zebra. And I don’t think I am alone here. Stupid, frustrated, idiotic, unable to catch Zebra (who outsmarts them without effort) and with a tendency to turn against each other quickly, they are the strip to me. They simply steal the show.
I am not sure if the best thing to do with this strip is to recommend it to someone. It needs to be found, because what makes it work for me is surely not the same that will make it work for someone else. I ordered a second collection (mine covered the years 2005/6, this one should 2003/4) so I’ve been caught.
You can read one month's worth of strips here.
For the record, the image is from another book - I just liked it better. This is the one I read.