A consequence of the Pearls Before Swine comic collections going from the double/triple dip collections/Treasuries to just single “Treasuries” is that diehard fans have to wait a little longer to get their dose of puns and anthropomorphic animal hijinks. Starting with last year’s Pearls Goes Hollywood Stephan Pastis’ comic strip – which incidentally celebrates its 20th anniversary this December – this paper-saving, cost-savings trend continues with Pearls Awaits the Tide, the strip’s 12th Treasury of funnies.
Which, of course, means you can continue adding to your ever-expanding library of similarly printed comic strip collections, ensuring the economy keeps chugging along. Unless you want to, you know, read them for free online. You can always do that. You probably already do. When the next recession hits, blame yourselves.
The smaller Pearls collections may have ceased, but the comic cataloging continues here as both daily and Sunday comics published between October 1, 2018 through March 29, 2020 have been collected in one convenient, horizontally-shaped place. Given its 2021 publication date (and the, ahem, events that have overtaken our lives since) 2018 almost seems like a lifetime ago, but that means you’ll have nearly 250 packed pages of puns, pigs, and pablum to gloss over. Even after twenty years, some things never change.
One thing that hasn’t changed are Stephan Pastis’ irreverent introductions, which (again) often deal with the strip but not always. This Treasury actually contains two; one intro sharing a story about a stolen hearse (and possible body), and a bonus outro where he talks about winning his very first Reuben Award in 2019. We even get a nice photo of Pastis and his long-suffering (in comic form) wife, Staci. At least it’s something – even Scott Adams’ stopped doing these for his Dilbert collections.
Another welcome feature Pastis retains throughout is his colorful and sometimes educational commentary under many of the strips, some more relevant to the actual strip than others. I’ve always enjoyed seeing cartoonists doing this and enjoy it still. You’ll learn facts and trivia you didn’t know, and even get a behind-the-scenes look at how the magic happens, including a surprise ‘fan’ letter from Vermont’s own Senator Patrick Lehey and how a certain coffee shop in California has original Pearls strips on its walls. Good, important stuff right there, and glad to have it!
Two examples where the commentary helps is when he explains two wildly different things: Jay Z’s hit single “99 Problems” and Diogenes, aka Diogenes the Cynic. Few strips could include references to both Young Hov and the lantern-carrying philosopher, true diversity you certainly would never see in Garfield.
Let’s not forget that front cover, which again keeps the mix-matching of cartoon and cartoonist alive and well, this time with the Pearls crew – and creator Pastis – enjoying a day at the beach. By “enjoying” I mean being buried up to the neck in sand while a girthy-bellied fellow looks on with morbid curiosity. Like the spectator, you can’t look away.
The bulk of the actual strips are par for the course in Pearls Before Swine land, which means endless puns and pokes at the state of the culture (but not necessarily the culture itself). Pig, Rat, Goat, and the rest of the menagerie continue to blitz their way through life’s struggles and situational moments requiring puns and clever wordplay. The world-crushing pandemic has yet to fully hit this universe, though its impending impact can still be felt here. Thankfully, we get one last collection before the $#!+ really hits the fan.
New characters are sparse, though Franz the Punning Professor of Music and Time Lady seem like duds at this point. Oh well, at least there’s a healthy number of Guard Duck strips and Jef the Cyclist gets ramrodded enough.
Three topics occupying the most, some might say excessively, amount of space are three clearly near and dear to Pastis’ heart: journalism, local press, and social media. While it’s hard to argue with the sentiments expressed, these strips (of which there are many) come off as superficially preachy at times, clashing with Pearls Before Swine’s cynically bipolar nature, like a token donation to charity instead of actually helping.
Pastis’ commentary never forgets to remind you how “popular” a particular strip was with such-and-such group, which isn’t a good look; never explain a joke and never pat yourself on the back too much.
But on the whole the strip remains as irreverent and funny as ever. Other mentionables include a nice tribute to the late Anthony Bourdain, a nod to Pearls Before Swine daily calendars, and more nods still to Pastis’ own series of children’s books (and Disney+ movie) Timmy Failure and his polar bear friend Total. There’s no plug quite like a self-referential plug.
Most poignant is the touching and heartfelt tribute Pastis gives to his late dog, Edee, and what it was like to lose her to cancer. Anyone who has loved a pet can understand the pain and anguish saying goodbye to these dear creatures means, and Edee sounded like a very good dog, indeed.
Where most comic strips have resigned themselves to regurgitating the past and waiting out the clock (which is certainly ticking on newspaper funnies) Pearls Before Swine still feels like it’s fighting the good fight. Pearls Awaits the Tide is the 12th treasury of them, collecting years of new daily and Sunday strips in over 200+ pages in one horizontal paper package. It’s also the perfect 20th anniversary present to those who appreciate what cartoonist Stephan Pastis is still doing when so many others have faded away. Preachy moments aside, you really can’t ask for more at this point.