Pearls Before Swine

Here's a pleasant surprise — Andrews McMeel sent me review copies of Stephan Pastis's two new Pearls Before Swine books in the mail.

Macho Macho Animals

Macho Macho Animals cover

Macho Macho Animals is the sixth Pearls Before Swine collection, reprinting strips for late 2006 and early 2007, including some of my favorite PBS strips, the ones where the newly unemployed FoxTrot characters drop by for a visit. (The collection also features a series of strips with some disturbingly grownup Family Circus characters.)

Macho Macho Animals p. 94

Macho Macho Animals p. 94

I think these strips tend to highlight one of the appeals of Pearls Before Swine — the effortless way in which Pastis is able to break the fourth wall. Metatextual humor like this is very, very hard to pull off. Frequently, cartoonists substitute it for actual humor, or because they think it somehow makes them "transgressive" or "edgy" (never mind the fact that the wall-breaking has been around since the days of the ancient Athens).

And yet, Pastis makes it look effortless. Perhaps one of the reasons is that he rarely draws attention to the mechanisms of comic production — characters don't break out of their panels, trip over copyright notices or stab each other to death with word balloons. When characters wander in from other comic strips, or Rat and Pig heckle Pastis at his drawing table, it feels natural rather and organic rather than constructed and artificial.

So, more fun stuff from Stephan Pastis, and a collection well worth adding to your strip library next to The Crass Menagerie.

Da Crockydile Book o' Frendsheep

Da Crockydile Book o' Frendsheep cover

I've never been a big fan of the "gift book" format.1 The content is usualliy repurposed from existing sources, there's rarely enough content to satisfy an avid reader, and for the same price you can usually get a much more substantive "regular" book o' the same material.

Apparently Stephan Pastis is not quite sold on the gift book format either. Da Crockydile Book o' Frendsheep is almost presented as a parody of gift books. The introduction positions the book as a blatant cash grab by the crocodiles of Zeeba Zeeba Eta. The strips included in the book frequently have nothing to do with the theme of friendship except for a new caption scrawled beneath the punchline panel. And, of course, you couldn't ask for a bigger mismatch between theme and character — the crocodiles are ruthless, cunning, and so viciously self-absorbed that the mere concept of "frendsheep" is beyond their understanding.

The format is interesting, though — the first two panels of each strip run on the left-hand page, and the punchline runs at a larger size on the right-hand page. A caption is added under the punchline that ostensibly ties back into the theme of friendship.

Da Crockydile Book o' Frendsheep interiors

It's an interesting attempt to repurpose the existing material, but it doesn't quite work. The punchline panels don't quite work as single panels, and the increased size just seems to make the punchline feel more obvious.

Overall, Da Crockydile Book o' Frendsheep collection is a cut above the average gift book but still eminently ignorable.

Complimentary copies for these reviews were provided by the publisher.

  1. An exception: Comic Book Guy's Book of Pop Culture. Now there's a fun gift book.

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