The last collection of Pearls Before Swine strips, Rat’s Wars, was the first in the comic’s long run to feature a Star Wars parody – decades after the original film and countless imitators and charlatans beat creator Stephan Pastis to the punch. Lest he miss out again, Breaking Stephan, the comic’s 15th collection of daily/Sunday strips that ran between September 2012 through June 2013, has a cover that pays crass homage to AMC’s ground-breaking drama about meth making and distribution.
Always a great jumping off point for a comic strip, and from a best-selling children’s book author, no less! Nevermind there’s nary a mention of said program to be found inside. Hey, grab the zeitgeist while you can, I always say.
The misadventures of Pig, Rat, Zebra and Company continues unabated within its 128 pages of daily and Sunday (colored) funnies fun. That Pearls is entering its second decade with this many fresh, original material is pretty astonishing on its own, but it’s clear that Pastis retains a deep love for what he’s doing and isn’t shy from pushing the comic strip envelope – especially when you consider what little remains of the traditional newspaper market adheres to a morality code from a bygone era.
Also consider for a moment that it’s becoming less and less likely that you’ll actually read ‘new’ Pearls Before Swine comics (or pretty much anything) as they appear in paper-form in the future. Digital or otherwise, it’s hard to beat having them collected in said format when paperback books are so darn tasty.
And what would a collection of new-ish Pearls strips be without a few new characters ripe for exploitation and a healthy helping of death, death, death? Mixing it up with the series’ regulars are new instant favorites like the endless supply of suicidal lemmings, carnivorous dolphins (with a taste for crockydiles), bookie babies, etc. You get the picture, but try not to fall in love with any of them just yet as they may not survive long enough to make an impression.
There’s Armando Armadillo, who actually gets a name (let’s see if he sticks around longer than his roadkill kin), as does Bennie the black bear with a taste for ladies footwear, who’s actually one of the book’s two characters flirting with transvestism (I won’t spoil the other one). Let’s just say you’d never see stuff like this in Garfield. Blondie, maybe.
The rest is standard Pearls Before Swine, meaning Pastis clobbers you over the head with as many puns as he can fit into the panels, and then some. The main crew do their best to keep things fresh and as comically surreal as possible. Sadly, there’s still no new Danny Donkey strip here, but Elly Elephant nearly makes up for it.
There’s also less focus on Pastis attacking his fellow cartoonists this time around, excepting The Family Circus’ Jeffy, of course, but why pick on the wounded?
One standout is a particularly sweet series features Andy the dog, who finally manages to break free from his chained existence to visit his ailing father in the hospital. True, it’s not quite up to the level of Snoopy’s Daisy Hill Puppy Farm or Calvin’s parents recovering from a break-in, but still pretty deep stuff for Pearls and among the closest the strip’s ever been to actual sentimentality.
Breaking Stephan, the fifteenth collection of Pearls Before Swine comics, doesn’t reinvent the wheel, break any new ground, cure cancer, etc. No, it’s none of those things and all the better for it. It’s just a very, very funny collection of daily and colorized Sunday strips built around the central conceit that a comic strip should make you laugh, and laugh often. Fifteen books in and there’s still gas in the tank – mission accomplished.