Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Book Review: Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury

Stephan Pastis's comic strip Pearls Before Swine is not like other strips. The main characters have generic names. Strips deal with topics such as death, sex, and relationships. The cartoonist appears as a character in the strip from time to time and the strip is not afraid to viciously make fun of other strips and other cartoonists. This dark and subversive (but hilarious) comic strip isn't for everyone but fans and newcomers alike will find a lot to enjoy in Lion and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!, the second Pearls Before Swine treasury.

For those who have never encountered Pearls, the strip revolves around a group of anthropomorphic animals. The main characters are Rat and Pig. Rat and Pig are friends and roommates who are complete opposites. Rat may very well be the most self-centered character in all of comics. He engages in various schemes to make money, cares for no one but himself, and has a pretty pessimistic view of life. Pig is a kind soul who is eternally optimistic. However, he is also quite dumb and can misunderstand even the simplest of things.

Pig and Rat are friends with Goat and Zebra. Goat is the smartest character in the strip, an intellectual who tries to clarify things for the duo. Zebra is almost as optimistic as Pig but not nearly as dumb. He tries in vain to keep predators (mainly lions and crocodiles) from killing his kind through various diplomatic means.

The storylines that appear in this treasury give you an idea of this strip's unusual sense of humor. One set of strips has Rat opening a pizza parlor where women can turn in their husbands for a free pizza. Another chronicles Pig's ill-fated romance with Ms. Bootyworth, a bottle of pancake syrup. Rat attempts a takeover of the strip and makes Pastis give into his demands by spouting Cathy and Garfield punchlines. Pig visits a slaughterhouse and thinks it's a pig singles party. There are encounters with an agoraphobic turtle, a needy porcupine, and the introduction of the crocodile frat brothers of Zeeba Zeeba Eata who become Zebra's next door neighbors.

Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!, like its predecessor Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic, features annotations on some strips by creator Stephan Pastis. These comments make this treasury stand out from others of its kind. The comments feature anecdotes about the inspiration for certain strips (one strip was inspired by a fight he and his wife had), reader reaction to controversial strips, hidden references in the strip, and even things he doesn't like about certain strips (he called one of the slaughterhouse strips “overly dark”). In reading the annotations, you get the sense that Pastis has a deep respect for the art of cartooning and the comics page. You can tell that he loves what he does and has a blast doing it. This treasury also contains a section of unedited and unpublished strips that feature annotations explaining why they never made it to the newspapers.

All in all, this treasury is the perfect addition to any comic strip fan's collection. It's a good introduction to the world of Pearls Before Swine. It's also a good buy since it costs less than the total combined price of Nighthogs and The Ratvolution Will Not Be Televised, the books where the strips in Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! were first published. If your town's newspaper is not one of the more than 350 papers that Pearls Before Swine appears in, this is the way to read one of the best strips in the funny pages today.

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