Pearls Before Swine is an American comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis, who was formerly a lawyer in San Francisco, California. It chronicles the daily lives of four anthropomorphic animals, Pig, Rat, Zebra, and Goat, as well as a number of supporting characters. Pastis has said each character represents an aspect of his own personality and world view.[1] 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, showed it to his own fans.[2]

United Feature launched the strip in newspapers beginning December 31, 2001, in The Washington Post.[3] On January 7, 2002, it began running in Over 9,000 papers.[4] As of September 2011, the strip was appearing in 650 newspapers worldwide.[5]

The strip has become somewhat controversial due to its use of adult humor, mock profanity, violence, drinking and drug references and a few references to Middle-Eastern terrorism.



Prior to creating Pearls Before Swine, Pastis worked as a lawyer in California.[6] In law school, he became so bored during classes, he started to doodle a rat, eventually casting it in a non-syndicated comic strip he called Rat. The title character of Rat would later become one of the main characters in "Pearls Before Swine." The "Pearls" character of Pig also came from a failed strip called The Infirm, about a struggling lawyer.

In 1999, he submitted Pearls Before Swine to syndicates. Several expressed interest and about three accepted it,[7] but they could not convince their sales staff that it was marketable. However, Amy Lago, an editor at United Media, saw the strip's potential and launched it on the United Media website in November 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.[6]

Comic strip influences

Pearls' style and humor are inspired by several comic strips, chief among them being Peanuts, Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County and The Far Side. Pastis regularly puts tributes to them in his strip. When asked in an interview about whether his profession as an attorney inspired the humor in the comic, Stephan said, "I was very unhappy as a lawyer, and humor is a reaction to and defense against unhappiness. Also, the law inspired me because if you dislike what you’re doing to the extent that I did, it gives you the impetus to get out."[8] Pastis also regularly parodies comics he finds stale or unfunny, including Cathy, The Family Circus and Garfield (although in the case of The Family Circus, Pastis actually is a fan). The relentless and merciless riffing on classic comics (i.e. a series where Osama bin Laden comes to live with the Family Circus, causing the parents, Billy, Jeffy, Dolly and PJ to be sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp) has earned Pastis the disdain of many comic artists, which Pastis referenced in a later storyline where the Pearls cast is not invited to the 75th anniversary crossover party of Blondie.[citation needed]

Stephan Pastis has also mentioned that the incongruity between the cute characters and the dark themes surrounding them is a source of humor in the strip.[9]


Pearls Before Swine's logo

Main characters


Main article: Rat

at is a narcissistic, misanthropic rat, and is an antihero. He frequently breaks the fourth wall, as well as being aware of his implementation as a fictional comic strip character. Because of this, Rat is often critical of the comic strip's style and artwork as well as the other characters in the strip and many other living things.


Main article: Pig

Pig is the character that receives the most abuse from Rat. He is kind by nature, but very naïve.[5][8] Pig's jokes generally involve his incompetence and not knowing his true surroundings. His on-again-off-again girlfriend, Pigita, is driven insane by his naïveté, but she can never bear to dump him. Pastis says that Pig has a habit of talking to inanimate objects such as food, stop lights, bait, and various other things. His dimness is often exhibited in the strip.


Main article: Goat

An intellectual goat who interacts sparingly with the other characters, Goat usually appears whenever there is a small issue dealing with a character or a conflict to be mediated.[5] Goat has an equally hard time dealing with Pig's incompetence and Rat's cruelty and occasional ignorance. Goat maintains an internet 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.


Main article: Zebra

Zebra, also known as "zeeba neighba" (zebra neighbor) by the 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. Pastis has also stated that the only goal of Zebra is to avoid being killed by his crocodile neighbors.[5]

Guard Duck

Main article: Guard Duck

Guard Duck is, as his name implies, the "guard duck" for Pig and Rat's home,[5] and still lives with them despite often taking on different occupations. Pig has described him as "very sensitive and having an anger management problem". He's known for a short cousin and a bloody steak. He has gone to several anger management seminars, but he leaves with more issues than he had before.


Main article: Crocodiles

The Fraternity of Crocodiles are the main antagonists of the strip, described by Pastis as "inept and inarticulate neighbours" of Zebra[5] and while they are indeed on very poor terms with all five main characters (with the possible occasional exception of Rat), they are usually involved in various attempts to kill and eat Zebra, all of which fail. 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). They have very bad grammar, and also have an expanded and a slightly smaller font size.

Stephan Pastis

Main article: Stephan Pastis (character)

Stephan Pastis appears self-reflexively in the strip. He is often seen with Rat, who makes him the brunt of criticism about his artwork and jokes. Pastis also is subjected to Rat's odd whims from time to time, such as when Rat poured beer on one of his drawings and caused it to blur (an effect Pastis said he could only achieve on Photoshop) and stole all of his clothes. In the strip, Stephan expresses common sense, unlike Rat and some of the other characters. His character has also expressed his hate of being an attorney, which was his former career. As the strip went, his personal appearance on the strip changed.


Main article: Snuffles

Snuffles is Zebra's cat. Originally, he was adopted by the crocodiles on September 30, 2007 to kill Zebra because he was the cat at the shelter who scratched and bit the most, but the plan backfired and Snuffles grew to like Zebra.


The strip is set in a fictional suburb within or around Albany, California, where Pastis currently lives (at least two strips have stated that the characters live in "Albany"). Every house appears to have siding on it. There is one brick wall, a beach, and the street which is usually littered with the same soda/beer can. Stephan says in a treasury that the can is the only piece of trash he knows how to draw. He then later exercises trash-drawing by adding a banana peel and crumpled up paper in another strip. Many episodes involve the characters drinking or otherwise sitting in a tavern, often with Rat or Pig responding to others' conversational openings with goofy responses which repel any women they are trying to pick up.

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, especially when characters die and subsequently re-appear (he says they "un-die").[citation needed] 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 according to Matthew 7:6 in the Bible. According to Pastis, Rat, who considers himself a genius, casts his "pearls" of wisdom before Pig ("swine"), who is the only one naive enough to seriously listen. Another interpretation is that the title is a joke itself, in that Stephan jokes that his strip is god-like, and the readers are simpletons who cannot understand it.


Artistically, Pearls is extremely simple. Most of the characters have either mouths represented by lines or no mouths at all, dot eyes, and stick limbs; those shown with lips are generally big and puffy in this area, and the lips are merely a visual cue that they are unintelligent or ignorant. However, characters do have mouths when yelling (similar to Dilbert), or in the crocodiles' case, open their mouths when yelling. 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.[10]
—Stephan Pastis

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. Pastis will often employ a shaggy dog story, using a great amount of dialogue to spin an elaborate yarn often resolved with a character's unforeseen death or near death. A variation known as a feghoot builds to an intentionally bad pun in the penultimate panel, with the final panel's showing the cartoon version of Pastis as the target of criticism, hostility, or even physical violence from the characters, usually Rat. Once, Rat sensed a bad pun coming, and stopped it with dropping an anvil on Pastis' head. The characters also 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, and other strips have had such events as smeared newsprint or beer affected the appearance of the strip or strips in which it seems as if the paginators had laid out the strip wrong. Other comic strips are often the butt of punchlines, and several cartoon characters from outside Pearls have appeared, most frequently the main cast of The Family Circus, and even in one circumstance, Stewie from Family Guy appeared in the strip on April 20th of 2008, holding a candy cane, for a reference to the saying, "It's like taking candy from a baby." During that appearance, Stewie said two of his more famous phrases ("Touch it and you die, fat man" and "What the deuce are you staring at?") to Pig. The presence of the characters often affects the goings-on in the other strips, either directly (through their presence) or indirectly through setting or dialogue, such as when Rat replaced the words of a Family Circus comic with a quote from Benito Mussolini.

Pearls is notorious for its large amount of dark humor; topics such as death, depression and human suffering overall are common themes, and Pastis has recalled receiving complaints, including hate mail and occasionally death threats from people who have been offended by his strips; two strips that portrayed a llama United Nations diplomat named "Ataturk" who spits on other diplomats, prompted a letter to then-President George W. Bush from the Turkish Ambassador to the United States demanding an apology, seeing it as a mockery of former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Pastis has mentioned in his treasuries that the cartoonists whom he mocks (a trademark characteristic of Pearls) often take the insults in good humor, even occasionally asking for an original strip.

Controversial strips

As written above, Pearls often contains dark humor. Some of the strips have been seen as controversial or offensive. Such strips include the following:

Satanic visit

From March 1–5, 2004, Rat's old friend Satan comes to visit him and Pig for the weekend as a houseguest. Rat and Satan go to a seafood restaurant where Satan orders the sole, causing the waiter to run away screaming in terror. The reason for Satan's vacation is that the streets in Hell are being renovated by "Good's Carpentry Service" owned by Mr. Good, and the Chin brothers (of which there are ten), causing the pun that the "road to hell is paved with Good and Ten Chins". The strip caused some outcry amongst the religious right.

President Bush strip

On August 17, 2003, the Pearls Before Swine strip featured Rat writing a letter to then-president George W. Bush. In this letter, Rat tells Bush that if he is to bomb every country on earth before leaving office, he must bomb three countries every month and bomb France more than once, if there's extra time. Goat warns Rat that if he sends the letter, the government will see him as a "whacko" and investigate him. However, in the last panel, Bush seems to accept Rat's plan to bomb three countries every month, saying, "Okay... October is Mexico, Canada, and Hawaii," apparently not realizing that Hawaii is part of the United States. Pastis writes in his treasury that many people were offended by the negative depiction of Bush and criticized the strip, while an apparently equal number of people appreciated the mockery and praised the strip.[11] (Other real-life figures have been portrayed this way in Pearls, albeit not as directly.)

ADHD strip

The Pearls Before Swine strip for November 9, 2003 featured a "'Pearls' Walk Through Alternative History." In this alternative history, the parents of musicians Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Miles Davis, and Paul McCartney are shown accepting medication for ADHD to give to their children. In the final panel, Rat and Pig are shown at a record store. They're sighing because the only records available are those of Pat Boone. The inference to be drawn is that the medication that the three musicians took as children prevented them from producing the music that (in true history) they would go on to produce as adults.[11] The strip's message, that ADHD is a source of creativity and uniqueness, has some supporters. Some people believe that some of the characteristics of ADHD are positive, such as creativity, courage, a broad worldview, energy, versatility, and an enjoyable disposition.[12] According to Pastis, many readers sent him e-mail concerning the strip, some of which criticized the strip, and some of which praised the strip.[11]

"Desperasexual" strip

On July 2, 2004, Pearls Before Swine showed Rat introducing his friend Bennie to Goat. Rat explains that Bennie is physically attracted to both men and women. Goat says that this means that he is a bisexual, but Rat says that Bennie is attracted to both sexes only because he is lonely. Because Bennie does not choose to be attracted to be both sexes, Rat does not consider him to be a bisexual and instead calls him a "desperasexual." Many readers were offended by what they perceived as the strip's assertion that a bisexual chooses to be attracted to both sexes, taking as a comment on the political aspects of homosexuality,[11] though Pastis has denied any political meaning one way or the other.

Rat the Babysitter

In a series from March 20–25, 2006, Rat was hired to babysit Zoe and Hammie from the family-geared, tyke-focusing strip Baby Blues. Instead of responsibly watching the children, Rat began to drink from a beer hat and do tequila shots. He then forced Zoe and Hammie to go to the liquor store to get him more alcohol. On the way to the liquor store, Hammie ran over Jeremy from the comic Zits, instantly killing him and then crashing the car into a gas pump causing a massive explosion. Rat then left baby Wren alone so that he could catch a movie, causing the infant to nearly be attacked by the Crocodiles, who were ultimately killed by Wren, who was portrayed as a "street-smart" and swearing character capable of talking. The series caused quite a fervor, and Pastis claims it to be one of his most upsetting comics. Angry letters were also sent to Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, the creators of Baby Blues, for letting Pastis use their characters. According to Pastis, "mixing kids and alcohol and having Rat babysit while drunk just threw some uptight readers over the edge. Many of them responded like I had actually endangered real kids, making no allowance for the fact that the Baby Blues kids are pen and ink. In the next Monday's Baby Blues strip, Rick drew a beat-up crocodile on the floor of the kids' living room, proving to everyone that Rick and Jerry knew about this in advance. I think that quieted down some of the outrage toward me."[13]

The Midget strip

On November 15, 2005, a farcical strip in which Pastis pretended to be on hiatus ran.[14] In his stead, Rat "wrote the comic" that day. In the strip Rat decides to throw a midget off a pier to see how much distance he could get. Despite the general idea of Pastis attempting to parody his history of offensive comic strips, an angry letter ran in an Oklahoma newspaper (The Stillwater Newspress), outraged that it was supposed to be considered humorous that someone would propose throwing a midget off a pier. Pearls Before Swine was canceled from the paper a few weeks later.

Ataturk the Llama strips

As is written above, two Pearls Before Swine strips (January 9 and 10, 2007), which showed a llama named Atatürk, caused the Turkish ambassador to the United States to send a letter to George W. Bush, demanding an apology. In these strips, Atatürk is a United Nations diplomat, whose form of diplomacy is to spit on other diplomats. Many readers of Turkish descent were offended, seeing it as a mockery of former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Their interpretation of the strip was supported by the fact that Pastis is of Greek descent, and Greece and Turkey have historically been enemies. Pastis denied that the strip was mocking Mustafa Atatürk, saying that he knew almost nothing about Atatürk and used the name simply because he liked the sound of it.[15] He received angry, hate-filled emails (some of which contained death threats). Pastis calls it the single biggest controversy he has ever experienced in the history of Pearls.[15]

Lou Gehrig's Disease strips

In an introduction on one of his books, Stephan Pastis wrote that one "Pearls" strip was hated by Lou Gehrig fans because in one strip (March 3, 2003), Pig thought it was a coincidence that Lou Gehrig would die of a disease that had the same name as himself, not knowing that the disease was named after Gehrig.

Controversial month

Almost the entire month of December 2003 caused controversy to Pearls. Here are some of the controversial strips on that month.

Jerusalem Bus strip

On December 28, 2003, the Pearls Before Swine strip shows a television set on which a news program is being aired. The news program describes a bus that exploded that day in Jerusalem. The announcer talks about the humanity of the children who died in the explosion, emphasizing small characteristics of their lives that show them as normal children. The announcer strays off topic while attempting to convey that the children have similarities to the people watching the news program. In the final panel, however, the announcer reminds those watching the program that the children are now dead. The strip is sad and sympathetic, in that it laments the loss of the children, and unusual in that it does not attempt to be funny and shows none of the strip's regular characters. Pastis says that some readers were angry because it (apparently) showed only Israel's side of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. However, he also says that many more readers loved the strip. In all, the strip prompted around 2,500 emails to Pastis.[11] Pastis said that while readers who wrote to him were almost unanimously supportive, letters written to editors were more "50/50", with the other half expressing concern over the topic being addressed in a humorous part of the paper. The aforementioned strip is unique in that not only do none of the strip's characters (Rat, Pig, etc..) appear, but also in that no characters of any sort (including the TV anchorperson) can be seen.

"You damned fairy!"

On December 30, 2003, Rat called Pig a "stupid fairy" in a strip, but "fairy" is often a slang term for a gay person (Pastis thought it meant "sissy", itself a pejorative term for gender non-conforming boys). His syndicate thought "fairy" would cause controversy and requested an alternative with "sissy". One newspaper couldn't get the alternate strip on time and instead ran a blank space in the comics where Pearls was supposed to be.

Washing machine strip

On September 26, 2006, 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.

Family Circus Meet Osama Bin Laden

In the week of June 27, 2005 Pastis ran a series of comics involving the whereabouts of infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden. The strips portrayed Bin Laden living as an exchange student with the family from comic The Family Circus. Osama is seen at the dinner table ending grace with "Death to America" instead of "Amen", and teaching Billy, Jeffy and Dolly to call their father "The Great Satan." Eventually Osama is caught when government agents follow Jeffy's dotted lines back to the house. Despite their naivete about Bin Laden's activities (Daddy is confused when Osama burns a presidential effigy, remarking that "it looks nothing like Eisenhower"), the family is taken to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Pastis remarked that despite the many complaints received, the series is one of his most popular and and one of his own favorites of all of Pearls.

Other media

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.

In 2009, a line of Pearls plush dolls was released by Aurora World, Inc.,[16] featuring four characters (Rat, Pig, Zebra and Croc) from the comic, to which Pastis jokingly said he would use for reference when unsure how to draw the characters.[17]

On October 20, 2010, RingTales launched their series of animated "Pearls" strips on Babelgum. Pastis has since begun to release these cartoons on YouTube.

Technical aspects

Cartoonist Darby Conley, creator of Get Fuzzy, helped teach Pastis the technical aspects of cartooning.[18] The two remain friends, sometimes poking fun at each other in their strips. In Pearls Blows Up, Stephan says that he replaces some of the usual squiggle-marks indicating swear words with a poorly drawn picture of Darby Conley's head. In a Get Fuzzy strip, Rob asks Satchel if an annoying lawyer named Stephan called. Satchel has a Pearls book next to him. Conley also drew Pastis in his strip twice during a week where the two cartoonists decided to play a prank on their syndicate by having Conley copy and paste Get Fuzzy characters over Pearls strips.


Main article: List of Pearls Before Swine books

There are more than a dozen Pearls Before Swine books, mostly collections of cartoons published during a specific nine to ten-month period.


Pearls Before Swine won the National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2003 and 2006,[19] with nominations in 2002 and 2008 as well.[20] Pastis was one of the society's nominees for "Cartoonist of the Year" for 2008, [21] 2009, [22] 2010, [23] 2011,[24] and 2012.[25]


  1. "Swine Connoisseur: The Stephan Pastis Interview," Hogan's Alley #16, 2009
  2. The News & Observer (November 24, 2006): "Stephan Pastis: Pearls Before Swine", by Matt Ehlers[dead link]
  3. 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".
  4. "''This Little Piggy Stayed Home'' (March 2004): "Product Detail"". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 "About « Pearls Before Swine". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pastis, Steven (2003). Pearls Before Swine: BLTs Taste So Darn Good. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 7–8. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  7. "Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls Before Swine". Phi Kappa Phi Forum. 2004.
  8. 8.0 8.1 November 6, 2006 in Attorney Career Success Stories (November 6, 2006). "Interview: Stephan Pastis: Attorney Turned Cartoonist". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  9. "Artist Interview: "Stephan Pastis: Animal Attitude"". Crescent Blues. Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  10. ""Forum Interview with Stephan Pastis, Creator of Pearls Before Swine" (Summer 2004)". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Pastis, Stephan. Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2006.
  12. "The Good Side of ADHD." Vaxa. Web. Mar 7, 2010.<>.
  13. The Crass Menagerie ISBN 0-7407-7100-0
  14. "Pearls Before Swine Comic". United Media. November 15, 2009. Retrieved 2013-04-20.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Pastis, Stephan (2009). Pearls Sells Out. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 77.
  16. "Pearls Before Swine at Aurora". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  17. Cavna, Michael (March 25, 2009). "Plush 'Pearls' Toys? Indeed-What a Croc!". Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  18. Leopold, Todd (May 4, 2006). "A Rat, a Pig and Some Really Dumb Crocodiles: Stephan Pastis dives deep for his 'Pearls Before Swine' strip". CNN.
  19. "Division awards". National Cartoonists Society. Retrieved 2010-11-22.
  20. Caitlin Johnson (April 4, 2011). "'Pearls Before Swine' creator Stephan Pastis to visit Dallas area". Dallas Morning News.
  21. "This Year's Nominees". National Cartoonists Society. March 15, 2009. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  22. "2009 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 23, 2010. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  23. "2010 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 22, 2011. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  24. "2011 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 17, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  25. "2012 NCS Cartoonist of the Year Nominees Announced". National Cartoonists Society. February 21, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-20.

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors). Smallwikipedialogo.png
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.