Pearls Before Swine (comics)

Pearls Before Swine (comics)

Infobox Comic strip
title=Pearls Before Swine

caption= The four main "Pearls Before Swine" Characters.From top to bottom: Rat, Zebra, Pig, Goat.
creator=Stephan Pastis
syndicate=United Feature Syndicate
publisher= Andrews McMeel Publishing
first=December 30, 2001 ("Orlando Sentinel")
December 31, 2001 ("The Washington Post")
January 7, 2002

"Pearls Before Swine" is an American comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis, formerly a lawyer in San Francisco, California. It is Pastis' fifth attempt to syndicate a comic strip, the first four including "Rat", "The Infirm", and "Bradbury Road". It chronicles the daily lives of four anthropomorphic animals, Pig, Rat, Zebra, and Goat. Although created in 1997, it was not published until 2000, when United Feature Syndicate ran it on its website. Its popularity rose after "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams, a fan of the strip, spread the word to his own fans. [ "The News & Observer" (November 24, 2006): "Stephan Pastis: "Pearls Before Swine", by Matt Ehlers] ]

United Feature launched the strip in newspapers beginning December 31, 2001, in "The Washington Post". [Pastis, Stephan, "Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2004; ISBN 0-7407-4807-6), p.5: "Pearls" was supposed to launch in newspapers on January 7, 2002. But just prior to the launch, the "Washington Post" bought the strip and wanted to start running it a week early. Thus, this week of strips [dated beginning 12/31] was quickly put together just for the "Post", and this [12/31] strip became the first "Pearls" strip, published in exactly one paper".] On January 7, 2002, it began running in approximately 150 papers. [ "This Little Piggy Stayed Home" (March 2004): "Product Detail"] ] As of early 2007, the strip appears in more than 400 newspapers worldwide. [ "Concord Monitor" (January 16, 2007): "Artist says he likes his humor dark", by Allison Steele] ]

The beginning of "Pearls"

Prior to his work as a comic strip writer, Stephen Pastis, creator of "Pearls before Swine", worked as a lawyer in California. As noted in the first treasury book, the beginning of "Pearls Before Swine" was not the first strip, but the creation of the non-syndicated comic "Rat." Pastis created "Rat" in his law school days. He tried to get the comic syndicated but failed. He then took the character "Rat" and put him in "Pearls." He also created another strip known as "The Infirm" about a struggling lawyer. He attempted to have that comic strip syndicated but it was rejected by the syndicates. There was a pig character in "The Infirm" which he took and put in the strip "Pearls Before Swine".

In 1999 he submitted "Pearls before Swine" to syndicates. Several syndicates expressed interest in the strip, but could not convince their sales staff that it was marketable. However, Amy Lago, an editor at United Media, expressed interest in the strip and launched it on the United Media website in November of 2000 to see what kind of response it would generate. When Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and supporter of the strip, told his fans about "Pearls before Swine", interest skyrocketed and the strip was taken to print. Aiding Pastis in the artistic elements of the strip was Darby Conley, creator of the comic strip Get Fuzzy.cite book|last=Pastis|first=Steven|title=Pearls Before Swine: BLTs Taste So Darn Good|publisher=Andrews McMeel Publishing|date=2003|pages=7-8|isbn=0740734377|url=|accessdate=2008-09-27]

According to Pastis, "Pearls" was supposed to launch on January 7, 2002. However, "The Washington Post" had bought the strip and needed strips for a week before. Therefore, Pastis drew a week of strips strictly for "Post" readers (in addition to a Sunday strip he drew for the "Orlando Sentinel" which later ran again on December 22, 2002), and the strip's unofficial start date was December 30, 2001.


Stephan Pastis says Pearls is influenced by "Peanuts", "Dilbert", "Get Fuzzy", "The Far Side" and many others. In an interview with the Roanoke, Virginia-based newspaper "The Roanoke Times" that his three favorite comics growing up were "Calvin and Hobbes", "Bloom County", and "The Far Side", saying he liked "The Far Side" best. He also states in his first treasury collection, "Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic", that an artist wanting to learn how to write a good comic strip needs to study Dilbert.Fact|date=September 2008

Main Characters


Rat (debut: December 30, 2001) is a megalomaniacal rat, and is the strip's main protagonist (albeit an anti-hero). He is frequently critical of the strip's style and artwork as well as the other characters in the strip and all living things. Often self-employed, most of his businesses involve either punishing or defrauding people for their ignorance, much in the same vein as Dogbert, though with a darker humor. Rat lives with Pig in a house somewhere in Albany, California.

Rat is the most insensitive character in the strip, except when it comes to his love for Pig's sister Farina; he also seems to feel some genuine friendship toward Pig himself, although this hardly gives Pig any immunity from Rat's insults. Rat's interactions with others are typically sarcastic, condescending, selfish, insulting and sometimes violent, particularly when dealing with what he considers to be exceptionally annoying people (i.e. virtually everyone) and their habits. Rat frequently breaks the fourth wall to berate his creator on his joke writing, artwork, or the general content of the strip itself, once even threatening him with a baseball bat in the June 15, 2008 strip. He is the author of two book series; The Adventures of Angry Bob and, for children, Danny Donkey, and writes the comic Dickie the Cockroach You Love To Love. In The Adventures of Angry Bob, the protagonist is Angry Bob and he is, of course, always angry. Because he is angry he tries to cheer himself up and almost always has some degree of success, only to suffer a quick death at the end of the story. At the beginning of every Angry Bob story, Bob is brought back to life, usually "undying". In Danny Donkey, a series of children's books, Danny is a protagonist who makes bad morals for the stories, for instance, "If you can't make yourself better, make those around you worse." Rat has a superhero-alter identity, Ego-Man, but he only is the protector of himself, making him a very selfish superhero.

Rat has died several times, the first time coming when he was killed off for a week after his body exploded following an attempt by him to smile, despite a few instances where he was smiling before (once in an attempt by Pastis to suck up to the "San Francisco Chronicle", which had just started running "Pearls" and once after he and Pig were high off of [] ). In the July 10, 2008, strip, he again died abruptly (again, he had been smiling; this time it was over the abrupt death of his creator the day before); Rat was near death once before after he got hit by a car because Pig failed to direct him across a street safely and spent 11 days "combing toes" (according to Pig).


Naïve Pig (debut: December 30, 2001) is childlike and dim, but also well-meaning and kind, all of which leads to constant ridicule by his housemate Rat. Pig's jokes generally involve his incompetence and not knowing his true surroundings. Pig has a short-tempered girlfriend named Pigita. Pastis says that Pig is the easiest character to write for: "He just has to misunderstand everything that he hears, then when it's explained to him, he has to misunderstand that too." Pig has a habit of talking to inanimate objects such as food, stop lights, bait and various other things (although since, in the "Pearls" universe, the objects talk back, this is not as odd as it might otherwise be). His dimness is often exhibited in the strip. For instance, he once went to a Halloween party as a hostage and could not see, causing him to fail miserably at charades. Pig's least appropriate characteristic is his love of pork products; He likes bacon, ham, hot dogs, and so on, making him a cannibal, although he appears to misunderstand this. He is also sometimes able to tell which member of his family has been made into the food product.


Zebra (debut: February 4, 2002), also known as "zeeba neighba" (zebra neighbor) by the comically stupid Fraternity of Crocodiles next-door (Zeeba Zeeba Eata), is a zebra who is often seen trying to patch up relations between his herd back home and its predators, lions and hyenas. His troubles include various encounters with the Fraternity of Crocodiles. He also serves as a less-irritable version of Goat, and is also the only character Goat can put up with.

Because Stephan Pastis used to not be able to draw lions, these particular predators were not shown in the strip until [ May 31, 2007] , when two were shown moving next door to Zebra, on the opposite side from the crocodiles. They are the second-most mentioned predators, behind the crocodiles. Prior to their appearance Zebra has been seen corresponding with them via letter, attempting to give them more culture than just eating zebras and establish a friendship between their species. Instead, the lions' replies are always terse and stupid responses, often featuring them taking his advice the wrong way by eating a zebra. The lions remain the only predators capable of instilling fear in Zebra; the crocodiles just induce frustration due to their complete incompetence. Zebra's lion neighbors, however, are male lions, which do not hunt, and they seem to like Zebra, often giving him advice on how to avoid their wives, who actually would hunt him down if given the chance. The lions tend to speak like surfers, constantly calling Zebra "dude".

Hyenas are the third type of predator that plague Zebra's herd. Before 2008, they had only appeared in the strip twice: once, a series in which Zebra was an online advice columnist for other zebras; the second appearance was a single Sunday strip in September 2007 as new neighbors of Zebra. Starting on [ February 25, 2008] , a strip was published featuring the hyenas as operators of a funeral home.

One time, Larry sent a cat to Zebra, but in the first years, the cat was harmless to Zebra. However, inearly winter 2008, Zebra was arrested by the FBI because of the cat's terrorist activities, although Snuffles loves Zebra,and he didn't mean to put his owner mistakenly in jail. In one strip, he was revealed to be a big fan of Peanuts, which the crocs attempted to exploit, without success.


An intellectual goat who interacts sparingly with the other characters, Goat (debut: January 12, 2002) usually appears whenever there is a small issue dealing with a character or a conflict to be mediated. Goat has an equally hard time dealing with Pig's incompetence and Rat's cruelty and occasional ignorance. Goat maintains a blog that, as Rat likes to point out, receives no hits. Goat in turn tends to criticize Rat's forays into writing, often telling him not to write them at all. In early strips, Goat had a beard; he first appeared without it in the [ March 31, 2004] strip. He is smart and knows how to solve problems well.

In a few strips, he is seen telling Rat and Pig about various philosophical, political, and social issues. However, Rat and Pig don't pay attention, and usually start talking about something else, like baseball or the television show The Apprentice.

Goat dislikes conversing with the other characters at all; he much prefers reading books. However, it seems that he most tolerates talking to Zebra; he is least tolerant when talking to Rat (although he tends to be just as equally hostile towards Pig). Goat's real name is revealed as Paris in the [ September 21, 2007] strip, and it claims that "Goat" is his stage name.

The Fraternity of Crocodiles

The Fraternity of Crocodiles are the main antagonists and villains of the strip, and while they are indeed on very poor terms with all four main characters (with the possible exception of Rat), they are usually involved in various attempts to kill and eat Zebra, all of which fail due to their stupidity. The fraternity name is "Zeeba Zeeba Eata" (although one of them called it "Zeta, Zeta, Epsilon" in their first appearance in a botched attempt to fool Zebra). The male crocodiles, when talking, are often saying words in the phonetical style, such as "goowoo" (guru), "nome" (gnome), "meester" (mister), "mouf" (mouth), "peese" (please), "mebbe" (maybe), "valeenteen" (valentine), "woomun" (woman), "becuss" (because), "keel" (kill), "gud" (good), "beeg" (big), "televeesion" (television), "juss" (just), and "stoopid" (stupid), and say "me" instead of "I', refer themselves as "crockydiles", and uses improper grammar/grammatical errors (e.g. "What matter you, Meester Sad Girly Face?"). The Fraternity also writes this way (i.e., a valentine sent to Zebra reading "Hapy valeentine day, zeeba neighba! Me keel yu ded, Me eet yu hed"). They also speak in an unusual font: their dialogue is shown in crude, lower-cased letters (sometimes shown in capitals when they yell, scream or talk loudly) which is also used for the lions, toy vikings and the Killer Whale. They often begin with their catch phrase "Hullooo, zeeba neighbah! Leesten...". The female crocodiles, Billy, and various "Smart Guy" crocodiles speak normally.

The crocodiles are dimwitted and poor hunters (they believe they are hunting prey when they catch plastic flamingos, garden gnomes or carved tofu cows) who usually need to go to the Safeway supermarket or order fast food to eat (one ordered pizza every night for seven straight weeks). Rat has often taken advantage of this (Including by selling them tomato seeds that he claims will produce Zebras). Their inability to catch prey is looked upon with shame by other crocodiles, especially their wives, girlfriends and mothers. The main crocodile in the strip is "Larry". Other crocs include Bill, Bob, Floyd, Rick, Jerry, Willie, Jojo, Jimmy, Ted, and Vern, most of whom have died at some point. Larry usually works with Bob, another crocodile, or any others of his friends. Larry is known as the Zebra's arch nemesis.

In September 2007, the crocs finally did catch Zebra; Jeffy from The Family Circus jumped into the crocs swamp, thinking it was a swimming pool, Zebra jumped in to save him, and the crocs got them both. Jeffy persuaded the crocs to release him (Zebra commented "I always liked Billy better") and Duck scared the crocs away with a rocket launcher.

While Pastis had depicted various crocodiles in the strip as early as February 2004, these crocs were relatively competent and spoke normal English in a normal typeface. "Da Brudderhood of Zeeba Zeeba Eeta" (to quote the title of Pastis' fifth book) were not introduced until January 3, 2005; they have since become the collective fifth "main character" of the strip.


Larry, his beehive-sporting wife Patty, and son Billy (also called "Junior"), are the most-frequently-depicted family of crocodiles in the strip.

Billy is far more intelligent than his father and he is also a pacifist and a vegetarian. At one point, Billy started dating Zebra's niece, a young female zebra named Joy. His dad doesn't yet understand the concept of going out with food and when he sees the two kissing he thinks Billy is killing Joy in a very weird way. However, on December 2006, Billy ran away to live with Zebra and Joy forever. Patty blames Larry for all of the mess, and they have Stumpy, a crocodile, wear a zebra suit in order to catch Zebra and Joy.

Larry also buys Kentucky Fried Chicken, and tries to impress his wife by crossing the brand-name off the bucket and writing "zeeba meat" on instead. Patty is not fooled by this, and one time was so angered that she and Billy left the house; after changing her mind, she called the event a "lie".

Patty is Larry's second wife; he was married in a previous strip to a female crocodile named Frieda who spoke the same way as the Fraternity of Crocodiles. She made a one-off appearance in a strip where Larry was lamenting to Zebra how Frieda didn't respect him because he couldn't catch prey. Frieda told him that it wasn't true, that she "NEVAH respekk" (never respect) him. She was never seen again.


Duck is the "guardduck" for Pig and Rat's home, and still lives with them despite often taking on different occupations. Pig has described him as "very sensitive and ha [ving] an anger management problem". He's known for a short temper and a violent streak.

His first appearance was [ March 14, 2005] , when Pig bought him due to the fact that a proper Guard Dog was too expensive. Pig's neighbors frequently laugh at the Guard Duck, but the neighbors usually then get beat up or blown up by a rocket launcher.

Originally, Duck was nothing but a violent duck with anger management problems, but he eventually transformed into a duck associated with the army, seeing the world as his battlefield. He has occasionally referenced the Vietnam War and war movies such as "Apocalypse Now".

In the treasury "The Crass Menagerie", Stephan Pastis remarks that the Guard Duck has become so popular that he's become a sixth main character ( after Rat, Pig, Zebra, Goat, and the crocs). Fact|date=July 2008

Recurring characters

*Stephan Pastis (debut: June 1, 2003) — Pastis appears self-reflexively in several strips as the cartoonist of the strip, usually exhibiting ambiguous feelings toward his characters (and an exasperation with Rat in particular, who gives it back to Pastis in return especially when things don't go his way). On one occasion, Rat had him briefly change the name of the strip to "Worship the Rat". He is often seen smoking, although Pastis has mentioned in his books that he does not smoke and has no idea why he drew himself that way to begin with (though Rat and Guard Duck are often featured smoking as well). In "The Crass Menagerie" he says that he's gotten criticism for his smoking, as people seem to believe he's glamorizing smoking (Pastis claims he's doing the exact opposite). On the week of July 7, 2008, the cartoon Pastis announced that he would be killing off one of "Pearls"'s characters in order to "stay competitive" with other strips. That Wednesday (July 9), the cartoon Pastis [ was found dead] .
*Staci Pastis (debut: [ May 22, 2003] ) — Stephan's wife.
*Pigita (debut: August 19, 2002) — Pig's on-and-off girlfriend, known for her wild mood swings. According to the strip published on [ September 6, 2007] , Pig and Pigita have been together for seven years. Although, the strip also mentions that Pig and Pigita have never kissed (saying that they're "taking it slow").
*Farina (debut: August 18, 2002) — Pig's germophobic sister who lives in a bubble, although that doesn't prevent her from dating characters from many comic strips. Rat had dated her years before, and remains in love with her, though he denies it. She has a habit of telling Rat he is not manly enough. After her debut, Pastis removed her from the strip for two years, and when he brought her back he had to do a complete reintroduction (from "Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!"). Farina doesn't appear often in the strip, and as such Pastis is forced to reintroduce her every time she appears (from "The Crass Menagerie"; Pastis said in "Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic" that part of the reason why he doesn't draw her as often is because she is the only character who requires a drafting compass to draw and he usually cuts himself using it).
*Snuffles the Cat: Zebra's cat, who occupies his time committing crimes and running scams.
* Angry Bob: An imaginary character who is the subject of Rat's stories. Bob almost always dies tragically in the end.
* Danny Donkey: Another character who is written about by Rat.


The strip is set in a fictional suburb within or around Albany, California, where Pastis currently lives. Every house appears to have siding on it.

The continuity of the strip is very loose, and Pastis even says that "sometimes characters get jobs once, and you never hear about it again." Many storylines are left with open endings, and sometimes continuity leaps are made (frequently characters presumed to be dead will come back to life). Usually, relationships between characters are left unaltered. (Farina, who appears infrequently for long periods of time, has a relationship with Rat that usually picks up where it left off.)

Meaning of the title

The title "Pearls Before Swine" refers to the admonition "Neither cast ye your pearls before swine" that Jesus gave to Peter according to Matthew 7:6 in the Bible.


Much of the humor focuses on the incompetence of Rat and Pig.

Artistically, "Pearls" is extremely simplistic. Most of the characters have no mouths, dot eyes, and stick limbs; those with lips are unintelligent. Pastis stated, "People say that they like my strip's simplicity, but I'm doing the best I can to just to get up to that level. I'm not dumbing the art down." [ [ "Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls Before Swine" (Summer 2004)] ]

"Pearls Before Swine" has proven controversial, largely due to its dark humor. Despite the simple drawing style, topics such as politics, murder, suicide, and depression are common themes. Stephan Pastis has often been sent hate mail from people who have either been offended or are opposed to the themes that he uses, ranging from nuns (angered that he mentioned a nun getting an enema) to bisexuals (angered that a friend of Rat's who dated both sexes out of loneliness was called a "desperasexual"). The jokes themselves are often based on puns and wordplay. Pastis also employs the format of the Shaggy dog story, particularly with Sunday strips, relying on a great amount of text to spin an elaborate yarn that is ultimately resolved with an unforeseen and abrupt ending (such as the character's random death, or an intentionally bad pun, which is sometimes identified as such by the characters).

"Pearls" is also a meta-comic in that it often satirizes the comics medium, and allows its characters to break the fourth wall and either communicate directly with the author or with characters from other strips, which they often do. Alternatively, the characters frequently acknowledge the fact that they are in a comic strip published in newspapers; the strip published on [ January 14, 2008] had a "roof fish" sitting on top of the panel fishing for the characters.

"Pearls" comics only sometimes contain a continuity, where one storyline will carry on through about a week of comics before moving on to a new storyline. Continuity will often be breached, for instance, characters who are dead will sometimes come back to life. More often however, comics will be stand alone, such as when Rat sold Pig for 10 million dollars. In the next strip both were back to normal, Rat still being poor and Pig still with him.


Most cartoonists work six to eight weeks ahead of schedule. Pastis, however, has said that he is up to ten months ahead of his deadlines. As a result, unreleased strips may converge with current events in a way that requires the strip's syndicate to hold back or modify them so as not to cause offense with the public; United Feature Syndicate, which publishes "Pearls Before Swine", re-runs older strips when this happens, and has done so on two occasions:

* From October 24 to November 6, 2002, Rat runs for the office of mayor, against opposition who turns out to be dead; in his first treasury, Pastis explains that the storyline was based upon Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, who posthumously defeated John Ashcroft for his Senate seat in 2000. However, on the second day of the series, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash. To avoid giving the impression that Pastis was making fun of the recently deceased, a majority of newspapers replaced the two-week series with earlier strips.
* On September 26, 2006, such alternate strips were provided to newspapers due to that day's strip involving Pig playing in a washing machine. Concurrent news involved the Jimella Tunstall case, in which her children were allegedly murdered by a friend and hidden from the authorities in a washing machine. Many papers and websites that syndicated the strip ran the alternate strips instead.


In an interview on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch that aired February 7, 2008, Pastis mentioned that he had been approached by producers about an animated TV series based on "Pearls."

Technical aspects

Cartoonist Darby Conley, creator of "Get Fuzzy", helped teach Pastis the technical aspects of cartooning. [cite news |url= |work=CNN |first=Todd |last=Leopold |date=2006-05-04 |title=A Rat, a Pig and Some Really Dumb Crocodiles: Stephan Pastis dives deep for his 'Pearls Before Swine' strip ] The two remain friends, sometimes poking fun at each other in their strips.



* National Cartoonist Society Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2002 - Nominee
* National Cartoonist Society Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2003 - Nominee
* National Cartoonist Society Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2004 - Winner
* National Cartoonist Society Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2007 - Winner



* [ "Pearls Before Swine"] at
* [ "St. Petersburg [Florida] Times" (December 13, 2005): "Exactly What Ees that Zeeba-Eating Accent?", by Chase Squires]
* [ "Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls Before Swine" (Summer 2004)]

External links

* [ "Pearls Before Swine"] at

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