I've always dug Stephan Pastis and his very popular comic strip "Pearls Before Swine," so while in the process of writing my Pow! book for John Wiley and Sons (out in February...but you guys know all that by now), I reached out to his syndicate for the rights to reprint a very telling Sunday panel of his in said book. I spoke to a very accommodating United Media, we did the deal in about a week for a price I can afford, and everyone's happy.
So, the scene shifts to me over last weekend as I stealthily stake out my favorite bookstores to dream up with innovative ways to market the Pow! book, and as I slink through the Humor section, I run face-forward into a shelf of Pastis's "Pearls" treasuries. Seeing this as some sort of divine intervention and good karma, I pick up his most recent, "The Crass Menagerie."
Some cartoonists are best consumed in eye-dropper intervals (hence the standard daily dose, or weekly, in the case of Berkeley Breathed), and the onslaught of a compendium of their work can be overwhelming. It's just the opposite with Pastis and Pearls, where his brilliance and sense of adventure seem to be best appreciated in bulk as the outlandish story lines and characters bounce against each other and develop. (An added bonus is the DVD-like commentary by the artist on most of the strips, which gives insight into the thought process, unveils inside secrets and characters, and showcases Pastis's wicked, self-deprecating sense of humor.)
Best of all, I've seem to have found a kindred spirit. Pastis Surprises his readers by daringly toying with convention, not an easy feat on the very conservative comics pages. He has his characters inhabit other strips (like "The Family Circus," "Cathy" and "Baby Blues"), kill other characters while there (like Jeremy from "Zits"), and gets Dali-esque by running his strip upside down, sideways and even perpendicular, with equally convention-bending results (my favorite line of the upside down-strip is when Rat says: "Right now, it appears I'm looking up Blondie's dress.") As Pastis himself says in the book:
"I think every now and then it's a
good idea to Surprise readers with strips that don't match the normal tone of the comic. I believe that switching up tone every now and then helps keep the strip from becoming predictable."
So here's what I think--I may be partial after enjoying his book so much, but this guy has got to go further than the perfunctory books, mugs and t-shirts. If a British noodle snack can become a musical (see Tuesday's post), then so can Rat, Pig, Goat Zebra and the Fraternity of Crocodiles.