April 29, 2005

BOOKS: Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic (Stephan Pastis, 2004)

A collection of Pastis' Pearls Before Swine comics, covering roughly the first 18 months of the strip. There's a short introduction, detailing how the strip evolved, and Pastis includes brief comments under many of the strips, a nice idea which I'd like to see other cartoonists adopt in their own collections.

The artwork is fairly primitive -- many of Pastis' comments poke fun at his inability to master the art of perspective -- but it's appealing. The characters aren't particularly complex, either, but they're nicely defined types -- Pig is naive and a bit gullible; Rat is cynical and scheming; Goat is the would-be intellectual of the group.

And then there's Zebra. Poor Zebra, who is the subject of a running gag about his attempts to make peace with the predators who keep killing off his fellow zebras. One Sunday strip, for example, shows Zebra writing a long letter to the lions: "We zebras have taken it upon ourselves to examine our own possible fault in this [relationship]....We invite you to examine your own motives in this and reflect thoughtfully upon why it is you feel compelled to kill." The lions' response, in full: "YOU TASTE GUD."

What I love most about Pastis is his utter shamelessness in pursuit of a groan-inducing joke. If a Monday or Tuesday strip are a bit disappointing, you know it's because he's building up to an especially bad pun or sight gag on Friday.

Pearls Before Swine isn't the world's most sophisticated humor, but it makes me laugh, and that's all I really need from a comic strip.

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