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Pearls Goes Hollywood (2020)
Book Reviews

Pearls Goes Hollywood (2020)

The 11th Pearls Before Swine Treasury does away with collecting previous collections, double-dipping only on the puns.

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Pearls Goes Hollywood marks something of a sea change for cartoonist Stephan Pastis and his long-running Pearls Before Swine comic strip. While officially under the “treasury” banner, it’s the first such collection that’s not actually a “collection” as we’ve come to know and love these past few decades. You know, those uniformly square paperbacks reprints of your favorite newspaper comic’s best selection of recent strips, tailor-made for comic enthusiasts who need their comic strip fix.

If you’re reading a review of a collection of newspaper comic strips, you’ve probably got a nice little collection of your own. Don’t judge – you know you do.

But these collections came at a price – literally. For decades publishers that reprint newspaper comic strips have actually been reprinting their reprints as “treasuries”, combining the strip’s previous two “collections” into a single, larger volume. Better publishers have typically tried to lessen the double-dipping pain by adding in lots of bonus content to ease the financial pain, but the fact remains that double-dipping is still double-dipping.

Comics (or cartoonists) with a little more pull have tried to buck this trend by introducing their own format-busting versions of the standard collections, which usually means huge horizontal monsters that aren’t compatible with most normal-sized bookshelves. Yes, having larger editions of artistically impressive comic strips is wonderful, but these can make collecting and cataloging them a logistical nightmare. Just you try having a neat bookshelf with those things dangling over the edges. I’m looking at you, oversized Mutts, Bloom County, and even those older Calvin ‘n Hobbes books. Love you guys, but still.

Frankly, I’ve always found this dual-publishing system frustratingly satisfying. Satisfying because it meant not having two wait two years to get my comic fix, yet frustrating because I also knew it meant double-dipping to rebuy the same content twice. True, early comic Treasuries would try to spice the deal by including (at the time revolutionary) color Sundays, additional commentary by the cartoonist, and in some cases bizarre collectibles like paper dolls or even paper records (Billy and the Boingers Bootleg, in case you’re wondering).

But Stephan Pastis has always been pretty consistent with these goodies, even in standard Pearls collections, which lessened the sting of buying (and rebuying) the same comics again and again. I was always curious about when this practice would finally end, which means not only the end of an era, but it also means I can’t double-dip my reviews anymore, like I did with the last treasury, Pearls Takes a Wrong Turn. The struggle is real.

As such, Pearls Goes Hollywood is perhaps the most valued-packed collection of Pearls Before Swine comics yet, including all black ‘n white and colorized Sunday strips originally published in newspaper and online form between March 12th, 2017 and September 30th, 2018, every comic labeled with its original publication date. That’s over 200+ pages of (relatively) fresh funnies for a (relatively) paltry sum, which sounds like an even greater bargain when you consider you don’t need to purchase two prior collections anymore.

So what about the actual, you know, comics? As this is the 11th Pearls Before Swine treasury I’ll assume you’ve got at least a passing interest in the long-running comic strip that stars a host of mononymed animals and their struggles through the daily grind, vacillating between cynicism and sympathy. Do you like puns? I sure hope you like puns, because you’ll be getting lots of puns here. In the land of Pearls a Rat can be President, a Pig can love bacon, and the creator himself can be the punchline for nearly every joke.

Given the publication dates for many of these strips you shouldn’t be surprised to see direct – and indirect – allusions to a certain orange-tinged US President, though thankfully what passes for political humor elsewhere is wisely kept to a minimum here. All too often artists seem to forget that people seek refuge away from political nonsense, not to stew and marinate in it.

Every other Pearls treasury has featured considered bonus content, and that’s true here. Apart from Pastis’ running commentary on every page, we get another gloriously Photoshopped cover showing a cowboyed-up Stephan Pastis (once again) imperiled by his creations, but there’s also a fun glossy tearaway poster for a fake movie, “El Desperado de Santa Rosa”, which looks better than most of the garbage the real Hollywood puts out.

Just don’t tear it out – because then it wouldn’t be so collectible. One suggestion for the sequel: I’m not sure real cowboys wore Old Navy short sleeves under their leathery garb. Giddy-up has never been so trendy.

But there’s more! If you’re one of the millions of subscribers to the Disney+ streaming service you’ve no doubt been blasted with ads for their adaptation of Pastis’ other literary creation, the Timmy Failure young readers series. It’s a lot like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only the title character speaks with a preternatural vocabulary and has an imaginary polar bear buddy. Pastis dishes how he worked with Oscar-winning writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, Spotlight) to bring Timmy’s live-action adventures to screens everywhere.

Pearls Goes Hollywood may be the 11th treasury of Pearls Before Swine comics, but it’s the first that does away with combining two preceding square-shaped collections to deliver its dose of comic goodness to fans who still prefer paper. Given the state of newspaper comics (and newspapers in general), it had to happen sooner or later, but at least there’s enough value-packed extras here to make you forget how much money you’ll save by longer having to double-dip to collect them all. There are few comic strips out there willing to offer so much for so little, so better cherish them while you can. Treasure them, actually. Did I pun that right, Pastis?

About the Author: Trent McGee