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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 11/19/2010

SHOUT-OUT OF THE DAY: Why 'Pearls' tips its (backward) cap to 'Cul de Sac'

By Michael Cavna

pearlscul.gif (click here for enlarged image)


The comics pages aren't unlike a sports team, in that only a couple of superstars are required to spark a wider sense of excitement, daily devotion and -- with an eye on the bottom line -- a healthy flow of fandom at the turnstiles.

Berkeley Breathed has told Comic Riffs that he believes "Calvin and Hobbes" is the last comic strip that will enjoy a mass audience and be a common pop-cultural touchstone. In a word: a "superstar." Bill Watterson's beloved strip, of course, ended its magical adventures in the '90s, an era when the comics pages still crackled not only with the work of Breathed and "The Far Side's" Gary Larson, but also such then-new strips as "Dilbert," "Zits" and "The Boondocks." Superstars abounded, sales thrived and many newspaper editors still believed in the powerful lure of an abundant comics page.

Now, more than a decade on, flagging comics fans ask me with alarming frequency: Where are the true comic superstars of today? To which I often reply: Just because newer comics no longer rack up client sales in the thousands doesn't mean they aren't creative superstars. Then I promptly point them to a "Cul de Sac" or "Pearls Before Swine" strip, because nothing argues the case stronger than producing inspired evidence.

Comic Riffs recently spoke with "Pearls Before Swine" creator Stephan Pastis, and we particularly agreed on two things: (1) The ability of Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" to remain so vital after 40 years is a Cal Ripken-esque achievement that is perhaps unmatched in its longevity (speaking of superstars who could elevate his teammates' game, too); and (2) By all rights, Richard Thompson's sublime "Cul de Sac" should enjoy a four-digit client list (as do "Garfield" and "Beetle Bailey" and "Peanuts") instead of appearing in several hundred newspapers. Such is the injustice of the era.

And when it comes to "superstar" strips launched since in this millennium, I'd include "Pearls Before Swine" in that company.

So it's especially a breath of fresh air to see that today's "Pearls" -- rather than taking playful jabs at "Family Circus" or the newly retired "Cathy" (though we gleefully enjoy those strips, too) -- tips its (baseball) cap to Thompson in a sincerely sporting move. Pastis's self-deprecation, in fact, only elevates the classiness of the act.

(Given our recent conversation with Pastis, Comic Riffs also wishes we could shamelessly claim some credit for his "Cul de Sac" bouquet -- but then we know better: The ever-industrious Pastis is known to work nearly a year ahead on his dailies.)

In the world of daily newspaper comics, of course, behemoth commercial superstars might be as much a thing of the past as the '90s dynasty of the New York Yankees. But Comic Riffs applauds shout-outs between today's creative superstars, who still have the power to stir a devoted fan base.


By Michael Cavna  | November 19, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip, The Riffs  | Tags:  Cul de Sac, Pearls Before Swine, Richard Thompson, Stephan Pastis  
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Comments

I think the next big superstar is "DeFlocked" consistently hilarious! And what better name for a seriously warped sheep than "Mamet".

Posted by: 2old2readcomics | November 20, 2010 2:07 AM | Report abuse

Based on my lifelong observations, the Yankees will be champions again, and great comic writers will find their way to the top of whatever media touches the most people.

That said, I sure miss Pogo.

Posted by: owl-hoo | November 20, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

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