Mencken once wrote that “democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” How appropriate that I’m Only In This For Me, the 17th collection of daily and Sunday Pearls Before Swine comic strips, arrives right smack dab in the middle of what promises to be one of the most contentious – and hilarious – political seasons in years. Considering the general apathy that most Americans seem to carry for their political system in non-election years, the dubious options on the plate may not be election we need, but it’s certainly the one we deserve. Good and hard.
As we’ve come to expect from every Pearls collection thus far, I’m Only In This For Me packs comics that originally ran in both paper and online form between March 3rd through December 6th, all from the year 2014. I know this because it says it right there among the usual copyright info and other legalese, making my job that much easier. It’s pretty rare that a comic collection actually tells you this; so rare that only Pearls Before Swine collections do it. This speaks volumes about the strip, and its creator, actually.
If you’re unfamiliar with Pearls Before Swine – yet are still contemplating buying a collection of it – here’s your primer. Cartoonist (and best-selling author of the Timmy Failure books, the press notes remind us) Stephan Pastis presents a comic strip where apathy meets surrealism, often at the same time. Nothing is off limits, apart from the frustrating limitations of newspaper censorship (which is often a running gag on its own) as Pastis takes on any and everything under the sun to spread the anthropomorphic gloom and doom.
Pastis, who often inserts himself into the fray as foil, joins his main menagerie of characters Pig, Rat, Goat, Zebra, as well as the hungry – and hapless – neighborhood Crocs as they mingle and pun their way to comic zaniness. Did I mention the puns?
Surprisingly, there’s little in the way of ‘new’ characters to the Pearls pantheon in this collection, though Carbono the pro-global warming shark is definitely the best of the newbies (the less said about Sloth Man, the better). Recent favorites the suicidal lemmings return, as does Danny Donkey, the misanthropic alcoholic donkey. Pastor Porcupine and a less-than-subtle jab at B.C. creator Johnny Hart’s born-again revivalism, via a Wheel of Fortune parody, are among a handful of open snark directed at fundamentalism (there’s also some light violence against nuns, as well as some light violence by nuns to balance things out). Considering the immolating cover to Pearls Get Sacrificed, are we really surprised?
The bulk of strips collected here are fairly status quo for Pearls fans to dig into, which means lots of puns, puns, puns. Highlight series include finally delivering the long-awaited Breaking Bad parody the cover of Breaking Stephan, the 15th Pearls collection, promised yet never delivered when “doctor” Rat accidently tests his blood and discovers he’s dying. Credit Pastis for finding just the right balance between meth-making drama and family newspaper audiences to make it work, but he nailed it.
But the biggest surprise in this collection are the trio of three new comic strips drawn by none other than Bill Watterson, which marked the legendary cartoonist’s return to the comics page for the first time since closing out Calvin ‘n Hobbes back in December 1995. I honestly thought that these strips wouldn’t make any collection, let alone a standard one like this, but here they are in all their glory.
The strips were actually created to benefit Team Cul de Sac, a charity working with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to raise funds (and awareness, of course) to help fight Parkinson’s Disease. Its formation came after cartoonist/illustrator Richard Thompson, creator of the brilliant, and short-lived, strip Cul de Sac decided to put the skills and goodwill of cartoonists to good use after his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in 2009.
That Pearls Before Swine became the catalyst for this brilliant pairing is appropriate, as Stephan Pastis was one of several cartoonists who stepped in to help illustrate Thompson’s strip when his Parkinson’s become too crippling for him to continue.
The three Pearls/Watterson strips were eventually sold at auction, netting over $74,000 for the cause. Cartoonists working with cartoonists to help fight a terrible disease? It truly is a magical world, after all.
I’m Only In This For Me keeps the Pearls Before Swine cash-cow mooing along just fine, so there’s little reason not to add this to your already impressive collection of comic collections – which is probably pretty sizable by this point. Plus, you’re also getting copies of the first “new” comic strips by Bill Watterson in over twenty years, so that’s a pretty cool bonus. As Rat might opine: if you’re uneducated about the world and how it works, stay far, far away from the polling booth this year. Thanks.