Ego, pride, and acute body odor – all things cartoon character Rat might say about his creator and syndicated cartoonist/author Stephan Pastis, after taking a gander at the cover for King of the Comics, the 16th collection of Pearls Before Swine daily and Sunday comic strips. Of course, these are things Pastis – who long ago crossed over the fourth wall (most like smashed it to smithereens) by turning himself into one of the strip’s best – and Rat’s most frequent foil. Pastis seems to love dated references, and for this voyage we’ve got Titanic, complete with barf bag, elephants, lemming drops. See? I can pun with the best of them, too.
King of the Comics, as with the last collection, Breaking Stephan, and all Pearls collections, is so thoroughly indexed and cataloged that it makes my job that much easier. As a longtime and somewhat obsessed fan myself (it’s true) I love this, if only because it makes hunting down the individual strips for reference less a chore. Collected here are a nice cross-section of daily and Sunday strips that originally ran between June 3, 2013 through March 2, 2014, so if you insist on reposting them from the internet have the work is already done for you lazy-types.
Pastis usually includes a brief non-sequitur opening to help pad out the blank pages, and I’m not talking about the comic strip. This time around we’ve got a pleasant anecdote about the “king of comics” meeting with Jim Davis, creator of Garfield – and possible leader of a murderous group of jealous cartoonists who wouldn’t mind seeing him sleep with the fishes.
This is the paragraph where I usually give those readers unfamiliar with the Pearls Before Swine comic strip a quick debriefing so – in the unlikely event this is their first exposure to what many have called the funniest strip out there – they’re not totally kerfuffled. Much like Garfield-creator Jim Davis’ U.S. Acres, here’s a strip that follows a group of anthropomorphic animals with mono names like Pig, Rat, Goat, etc, just trying to make their way in an ever-changing world. And lots and lots and lots of puns. Heck, the strip is practically 90% puns, but most of them hit the target so we’re all good.
And unlike the aforementioned U.S. Acres, however, Pearls is howlingly funny. And it’s actually still around. Acres, to its credit, did have a pretty decent syndicated animated series, so take that, Pastis.
So what can fans and newbies expect here? Apart from the puns (which never end), new to the crowd are the hapless penguins (and hungry polar bear), the vigilante deer who seek revenge on hunters (“by rebuking them sharply”), the buffoonish cartoon censors, and even Australian Santa, quite possibly the most disgusting character in Pearls history. Comic strip nerds finally get to see what happened to beloved characters Calvin and Hobbes, but be careful what you ask for: Calvin hocking bootleg C&H merchandise, Hobbes demagoguing on Fox News probably weren’t top guesses. Also, eagle-eyed fans will smile at the (too) brief guests from Cyanide and Happiness and Bloom County’s Steve Dallas.
Multi-strip stories include Rat opening his own theme park, Beerland, complete with inebriated George Washington in tow. The suicidal lemmings return, as do both Danny Donkey and Elly Elephant, thank goodness, each representing their polar opposite views on existence (such difference in methods, yet the same results), mockery of Patrick McDonnell (Mutts) and his Shelter Story series, and, of course, Cathy Guisewite’s hapless heroine; poor girl just can’t catch a break.
So there we have it, folks, yet another collection of Pearls Before Swine strips awaits in King of the Comics, a series that’s somehow, against all odds, managed to reach a whopping sixteen collections of funnies yet remain as fresh and funny as ever. It helps to love what you do, no doubt, and cartoonist Stephan Pastis clearly loves what he does here. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m pretty sure he’ll keep loving what he does as long as we keep buying these things. Sounds about right.