Pearls Before Swine

The Crass Menagerie

The Crass Menagerie cover

The Crass Menagerie is the latest collection of Pearls Before Swine strips, reprinting the strips that ran from January 2005 to August 2006.

I don't read a lot of newspaper comic strips these days. Generally, they're way too middle-of-the-road — perfect for the irate grammas who actually write complaint letters to their local paper, but far too dull to attract my attention. My need for daily comics can be sated by any number of webcomics (and I read about 50 of those at last count).

But I still read a handful of newspaper comics, and Pearls Before Swine is one of them. It's a weird choice, because at first glance it looks like the sort of strip I'd hate. A lot of the humor comes from the writing, with the panels used for timing purposes only. The art is perfunctory and workmanlike and rarely stretches out of its comfort zone. So why do I keep reading it?

Because occasionally creator Stephan Pastis does something totally hilarious.

Every once in a while he'll throw some brilliant wordplay at us, such as the introduction of pig's anemone enemey, Ann O'Meade. Or he'll introduce some new characters who resonate immediately, the less-than-manly toy vikings. Or he'll freely take good-natured pot shots at some of the dinosaurs squatting on the comics page, like Family Circus or Blondie. Some of these strips are in the book, and if they don't raise a chuckle from you, you have a heart of stone.

The Crass Menagerie p. 77

The Crass Menagerie p. 77

One of the other things I like about Pearls Before Swine collections are the creator commentary that runs alongside the strips. For these strips from June 2005, where Osama Bin Laden joins the cast of Family Circus, the commentary is invaluable. It helps to know what thoughts were running through his head, that Bil Keane was cool with it, why the Family Circus homages look dated, and so forth.

But the overall presentation of the commentary is terrible. The type is probably a hair too large and feels amateurish rather than profesisonaly typeset. And the placement of the comments directly beneath the strips deprive them of room to breathe. They'd be much better running below all the strips, in a much smaller typeface.

Still, that's a minor gripe about an otherwise very enjoyable collection. The Crass Menagerie is still well worth purchasing for any fan of modern comic strips.

A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.

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