I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream Because Puns Suck is the 19th collection of Pearls Before Swine comic strips, and boy, that’s some truth in advertising right there. If you’ve been following the work of cartoonist Stephan Pastis this far – and 19 is bit aways from the starting point – than you know that puns definitely suck. And yet, like many a failed presidential candidate, they persist. And picking up this collection lets persist right along with them, again and again.
Well, I guess it’s not the only Pearls book hogging up bookshelves this year, lest we forget the double-dipping fun of the last treasury, Pearls Hogs the Road. To find the last square collection you’d have to go way, way back to the final moments of last year – Stephan’s Web – so that’s a big plus right here. This means filling in all those obnoxious gaps in your ever-growing stash of comics in their original format (i.e. paper) as this collects every daily and Sunday funny between September 7th, 2015 through June 5th, 2016. And, unlike fellow syndicate mate Dilbert – these boxy Pearls Before Swine collections put the kibosh on reproducing the daily strips in full color as their web counterparts. B&W FTW!
Let’s talk about the book’s cover, a rather straightforward riff off Edvard Munch’s much parodied set of famed paintings, is presumably the work of one Donna Oatney. I say presumably because there isn’t much about her online to go on, apart from a respectable career with the publisher of this – and several other – comic strip-related goodness. If you read comics, these especially boxy comic strip collections, chances are pretty good you’ve seen her work. Nice to see Pastis giving her a much-deserved shout-out here.
So what to expect from yet another collection of anthropomorphic funnies? Pig, Rat, Goat, and Zebra – plus Larry the Crocodile – are all back and up to their usual misanthropic best. True to its name, this one really packs in the puns. Lots and lots of puns. You know, the kind of punning where a snarky cartoonist takes a phrase, quote, or memorable colloquialism (by Wheel of Fortune standards) and proceeds to commit as much sinning possible against grammar to ‘arrive’ at the punchline. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Pastis’ hit ratio is significantly better than most of his peers, so the odd stinker can be forgiven.
What’s new is pretty good, which is par for the course with this comic. New faces making their first appearance include the agoraphobic Timmy the Tortoise, Worrywarthog (name says it all), militant Lil’ Scout troops (forming an unholy alliance with Guard Duck), and even Neighbor Nancy and her grandkid-ducking grandparents.
Oddly, there’s noticeably less ridiculing of fellow comic strips (and their creators) here, which may strike longtime readers as odd. True, something resembling Charlie Brown does show up, but Pastis seems more enraged with things and ideas this go-around. Those deemed ripe for a good cartoon bashing are man buns, elitism, selfie sticks, spandex, and at least one knock on Star Wars (hint: it’s The Force Awakens). Hey, did I spot a hidden SPLORT! in there? Yes, that’s definitely a SPLORT!
While not severe, I was actually surprised to see so many sexual puns and double entendres slip through the censorship cracks. I’m genuinely curious why this is; could it be that changing tastes and demographics have made obscenity mores that’ve been around since the days of the Eisenhower administration finally obsolete? Or perhaps surviving newspapers are so desperate for readers they’ve decided to up their allowable humor to PG-13 levels of crass?
It’s not exactly smut, but I’m thinking the perpetually-outraged and censorious types have moved on to other things, like college campuses. You know what I’m talking about.
Also, a decent number of the Sunday strips focus Pastis’ wrath on hitting the politicos squarely in the in the ‘ole jibber-jabbers. I wouldn’t necessary call them political satire, at least not the in traditional sense. As a comic strip Pearls Before Swine isn’t built for that; it’s more outright mockery and shaming as an older, wiser Pastis handles things much better than earlier Pearls strips might’ve (or, heaven help us, those saccharine Get Fuzzy ones).
It’s not exactly a question whether you’ll be adding I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream Because Puns Suck to your growing Pearls Before Swine collection of square paper things; of course you will, because it’s the 19th such collection and it’d be a social faux paux to stop now (what would the neighbors think?).