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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 10/19/2009

Should 'Pearls' be cast before swine? Time to Defend That 'Toon

By Michael Cavna

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE: Oh, Rat leaves his mark all right. (UFS)Enlarge Comic

Now that cartoonist Stephan Pastis is out of the country and otherwise preoccupied, haha -- something about visiting troops in the Persian Gulf and whatnot -- the coast is clear for us to make like crocs and eye his "PEARLS BEFORE SWINE" like so much "zeeba" meat.

"Pearls," of course, is the poorly drawn "Dilbert" derivative that often relies on self-reflexive gags that break the fourth wall. Or at least that's how Pastis HIMSELF has described his strip to Comic Riffs. I, of course, would claim that Pastis is off the mark and that his self-deprecating characterization fails to note that "Pearls" has become, like so many great strips, also derivative of "Get Fuzzy."

No, no, of course we jest. We "keeed" the Zeebas because "Pearls" is one of the few true breakout strips of the past decade. And it just plain makes us laugh. Pastis, the guy who would doodle the nascent Rat during class at UCLA law school, studied "Dilbert" and got career boosts from Scott Adams and "Get Fuzzy's" Darby Conley, but "Pearls" evolved into entirely its own creation, positively rippling with unique "voice" and comedic confidence. Now, as I've written often in this space, I find it to be one of the most consistently witty comics on the page.

That said, I realize Rat and Pig and Pigita, Goat and Guard Duck, Larry and the Lions aren't for everyone, in their sarcastic approach to getting yer ha-ha's out. As Pastis recounts in his newest book, "Pearls Sells Out," for instance, there are at least 2,500 people who are none too pleased with his attempts at Turkish llama humor.

So what do you think, 'Riffs readers? If you're not a Rathead or Larry lover, feel free to Impugn That Toon. (That means you, Mr. Turkish ambassador, sir.) Otherwise, now's the time to Defend. That. Toon.

By Michael Cavna  | October 19, 2009; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Defend That 'Toon, The Comic Strip  
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"Pearls" is the only comic I bother to read anymore.

Posted by: RedBirdie | October 19, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Now you are just reaching. PBS is one of the few original and still funny strips in the paper. Your example does ring a little phony. The self-deprecating humor works best with the bad puns though.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 19, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Yep, you're reaching. Pearls is one of the consistantly funny strips around and is one of the few ones that I would actually pay to read. I have to admit that I hate the Larry and the crocs strips, but I will suffer them to get Pig. Pig is one of the few characters in toonland to capture my heart.

Posted by: elyrest | October 19, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

What a boring and tedious toon, it's not even clever. Keep it on line if you must but don't waste ink on it.

Posted by: StaffyOwner | October 19, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, I would rather get rid of your feature rather than PBS. PBS a funny, original strip and you're just a blogger.

Posted by: patrick24 | October 19, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Pearls Before Swine is, by far, my favorite comic. Most others, I can take them or leave them, but I must have my daily dose of PBS!

Posted by: Cmvramirez | October 19, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"Pearls" is poor drawn and tritely written. I mean do you really need to read past the first panel to know what the punch line is??

Dump it at your earliest opportunity.

Posted by: kcghost | October 19, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

PBS, eh? Too bad it's gonna be associated with educational television in my mind.

I like Pearls, but I would not pay for his book. Yeah, I bought Peanuts stuff back in-the-day. Curse you, Red Baron!

Posted by: MSchafer | October 19, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Pastis is a genius! I've been reading comics for many years and PBS is one of the few that still makes me LOL! It would be a crime to get rid of it!

Posted by: norskmissy | October 19, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Although I realize that today's "Keep or Toss" question was a softball that was meanttossed out of almost entirely positive comments, I fear that even raising herein strictly as an academic question the dropping of this strip may cause it to become a legitimate possibility, in the perception of the WaPo editors who of course don't read the comics themselves.

Elsewhere in the meta-comics, yesterday's "My Cage" may hit uncomfortably close to home for many Riffsters:
As in the case of today's poll, this strip shows that one should never ask a question to which you may wish you don't hear the answer.

Posted by: seismic-2 | October 19, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

PBS is by far my favorite comic (with 2nd place going to Brewster Rockit). These are generally the only 2 strips that will make me litterally lol.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | October 19, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Er, that comment got fouled up in the editing. It should read, "a softball that was tossed out in order to solicit a host of almost entirely favorable comments". Sorry about the deletion.

Posted by: seismic-2 | October 19, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Pearls is withhout a doubt the most clever strip carried by The Post. It is first, and often the only, thing I look for each morning. I even emailed Steve Pastis--the only time I have ever contacted a comic artist--to compliment him on his strip and ask what Congressional District Rat represented. Keep Pearls and do us all a second big favor by making the comics readable without a magnifing glass.

Posted by: MrAardvark | October 19, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

This is easily one of the best comics out right now. Top 5 without a doubt. Its not going anywhere anytime soon...

Posted by: jessecline | October 19, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Cul De Sac, Pearls, Lio, Pooch Cafe (RIP) are the best comics of this generation.

Posted by: greasypores | October 19, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

My favorite comic, hands down. Sarcastic, witty, and those horrible, horrible puns make my day every time. My office door is riddled with PBS clippings. Don't even think about not carrying this strip!

Posted by: AmberGale | October 19, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

BADLY DRAWN? Don't be ridiculous. All you have to do is look at one of the strips where Pastis introduces characters from another comic. He can do "Family Circus" as well as Jeffy Keane can.

Posted by: Theophylact | October 19, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I love PBS except the Crocs. I can't stand the crocs. But I love Rat, Pig, Goat, the Guard Duck (and Maura) and the rest. But the crocs need to go.

Posted by: mdem929 | October 19, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

PBS does not frequently make me LOL, yet I really enjoy it. Patis is at his best when he "breaks the fourth wall," so to speak (eg pulling in characters from other strips, poking fun at himself.) He is clever and never settles into a storyline or style rut for very long. I think PBS is definitely worth keeping around.

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | October 19, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Keep the crocs. Muzzle the rat occasionally.
Keep Dilbert and show Cul de Sac on a daily basis.
Why did Walt Kelly have to die?

Posted by: Amanita1 | October 19, 2009 6:43 PM | Report abuse

It's nice to see a good healthy debate get going as soon as the blog gets back to the paper comics. I don't think "Pearls" should be anywhere near the "kill" zone, crocs nowithstanding. The epithet "poorly drawn" would seem to be an intentional lighting rod, especially when it is compared to truely junk drawing (such as "Dennis the Menace" or "The Knight Life") that are still in print.

Posted by: kilby | October 19, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Pogo, the crocs could perhaps be compared with the "bunny rabbit" strips that Walt Kelly drew as replacements on days that he expected some papers to censor the normal Pogo strip. I can't imagine any artists today (not even Pastis) doubling their workload just to keep nervous editors happy.

Posted by: kilby | October 19, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

When talking about Pastis' art, one thing is true: he has improved tremendously since he started. It looks very simplistic of course, but he has refined the style quite a bit.

I've purchased every treasury and what's stunning is how different the artwork looks from Year One (when all the characters were reduced to talking behind the brick fence or staring out on the seashore) to Now (when there's much more action and expression from all the characters).

Posted by: goldpress | October 19, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

I must say, I like "Pearls," but I think its seldom as cutting or witty as it thinks it's being. Maybe his editors keep the venom down, but for a strip which stakes a lot of its identity in trying to create something postmodern, intellectual, and bleak, it's pretty accessible most of the time, and kind of low on real ideas or creative inspiration (I mean, are you really going to try and tell me minimalism and breaking the 4th wall are new to the comics page? Not by a long shot.)

I mean, keep it, by all means; its consistent and funny. But I hope Stephen Pastis is meaner in real life than you would guess by his strip. Otherwise, it seems more hype than substance.

Posted by: jaberwoc | October 19, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

But the Crocs young'un is quite nice, and if you were married to Larry you would have a bad hair day every day, too. Crocs never give up, which is a virtue in many circles, and a good example for all. Especially Cubs and Nats fans.

Posted by: george_g_98001 | October 19, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Keep PBS--refreshingly odd and some nice characters (and good art).....except for the guard duck (over the top). Humor in any medium goes too far when it tries too hard, and the duck and inclusion of Pastis himself seem that way. Pastis should back off using himself as a regular--that smacks of self-aggrandizement whatever the joke. Good strip overall.

Posted by: GLomzx | October 19, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

You are loved, Pig. You are loved, Pig.

Posted by: MrsMoose | October 19, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

This must be one of those things writers do when thay don't have anything. PBS is funny, unlike Get Fuzzy, and it's comprehensible, unlike Get Fuzzy. Far better than a lot of other things that haven't been put to a vote.

Posted by: olddog1 | October 20, 2009 5:34 AM | Report abuse

Pearls is one of my favorites--ranking #1 right beside Mutts. How can anyone not love the crocodiles? Especially Door Stop Man?

Posted by: marylynch643 | October 20, 2009 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Keep it - it's the only comic I even read anymore. In a strange way, it almost fills the hole that the lack of new Calvin and Hobbes left in my heart.

Posted by: starbuck13 | October 20, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

C aouple of weeks ago, "Cul de Sac" was the strip on the "defend that comic" list. So I went to it, and have kept going to it to read it.

Guess what: It has alternated between two entries, both run for days at a time, rather than having a new strip every day.

What gives? Or perhaps I should ask, "what DOESN'T give?"

Posted by: cmcintyr | October 20, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Love Pearls. Every time I need a day-brightener, I recall the Sunday strip where Pig happily told the cop, "I have a controlled sub stance!" LOL each time.

Posted by: Alex7171 | October 20, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

dump Pearls Before Swine, NOW! Between that and Lio, don't know which I like the least, it is a tossup. Can you dump both?

Posted by: ZeldaJane | October 20, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Pearls is a gem; it's the one strip that my kids & I love unabashedly (*especially* the Zeeba/Croc strips!). Like other commenters, I've emailed Stephan, and he always replies (politely and appreciatively, I might add). And his blog (when you read the comic online there's a link to it) is highly recommended as well, although the humor (and language) is definitely more adult-oriented. Mutts, Dilbert and Doonesbury are my only other must-reads these days.

Posted by: FanSinceLombardi | October 20, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to cast it off.
You think it relies on self-reflective gags that break the fourth wall? Not even!
Pastis spends more of his time taking cheap shots at all the other comics, and he can barely contain the strip to his own characters and structure as it is. So instead of trying to say anything about his own work, he jabs at everyone else's, a person can almost hear him saying "I'm the only comic worth reading because I'm saying this." Never mind that all those other strips at least put some effort into drawing - comics used to be noted for that. News flash for Pastis - being brash and unpredictable is not the same as saying something clever or significant. Even if you can't say anything that is, at least try to work with your own creation.

Posted by: WillCraig16 | October 20, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Pearls is one of a very few strips that make me laugh out loud. It has caused many a strange look from my fellow Metro riders from my snorting and giggling. While today's strip only made me chuckle usually it is more of a belly laugh - witness the recent series of Rat's Cool Wall vs the Pig & Goat's Nerd Wall - God that's hilarious!

To paraphrase a character from the best animated cartoon series - Pearls Before Swine: Best. Comic Strip. Ever.

Posted by: dre7861 | October 20, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I love this strip - especially when it goes after lame, should have retired long ago strips like Family Circus. Keep the laffs coming, Pastis!

Posted by: Section416akatheAlps | October 20, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

To new Cul de Sac enthusiast cmcintyr, we should be very grateful to the more traveled reader who pointed out that CdS runs daily at:

Why WP slights Richard Thompson remains a mystery.

Posted by: Amanita1 | October 20, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

First I read Pickles, Lio, PBS ( and I love the crocs), and then Cul de Sac. Where oh where is Richard Thompson? Nothing new for a long time.
Pastis is not always laugh out loud. Just clever and original.Keep!

Posted by: Mandy6 | October 20, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure why I've never bothered to read this strip before, but thanks to all the raves above, I just went and checked out the last two weeks' worth.

Well, it only goes to show that you can something new every day. It may not be Dilbert level, but it beats nearly everything else you've got. Don't even THINK about losing this gem.

Posted by: andym108 | October 21, 2009 7:05 AM | Report abuse

I hate most of the new cartoons--Frazz, Get Fuzzy, Agnes, Candorville, Prickly City, Watch Your Head--and never read 'em. Ugh and a half. The only comic I didn't used to read was Zippy. Now there are over a dozen of these turkeys taking up valuable space and shrinking the good ones to miniscule unreadable point size.

Pearls before Swine and Cul de Sac are notable exceptions. They are terrific--and amuse my whole family ranging in age from teen to 62! Keep them up and dump the losers.

Posted by: commonsense101 | October 21, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I am a huge fan of PBS, and unlike some other readers, particularly enjoy the crocs. Along with a handful of others (Frazz, One Big Happy, Pickles, and a few more) it makes the comics section worth reading. PBS is one of the best comic strips since Boondocks, IMHO. I hope WaPo isn't seriously thinking about getting rid of it.

Posted by: kroshka | October 22, 2009 12:55 AM | Report abuse

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