Pearls Before Swine

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But its tropes will be extensively catalogued.

He asked me to ask you for a, uh, continuance.
What for?
He's traveling cross-country in diapers to kill someone.

A newspaper comic drawn by former lawyer Stephan Pastis about the lives of Rat, Pig, Zebra and Goat, anthropomorphic suburbanites operating freely in a human world just slightly off-plumb from our own. They are, naturally, a rat, a pig, a zebra, and a goat. The strip serves partly as a chronicle of their amusingly surreal adventures, partly as a satire of modern American society, partly as a meta-commentary on the state of the modern American comic strip (not surprisingly, it isn't impressed)...and partly—some suspect mostly—as an excuse to let off really, really awful puns.

Pig is a perpetually cheerful innocent who sails through life just barely aware enough to survive. His best friend and roomie Rat, a wannabe author, is a cynical, totally unrepentant Jerkass and Deadpan Snarker constantly on the lookout for a quick buck. Their neighbor Goat is much more intelligent and well-read than the other characters; thus his default expression tends to be "Why do I put up with these morons?"

Another neighbor, gentle, sensitive Zebra, was originally intended to be a one-shot character but was soon elevated to star status. He was originally determined to save his herd from becoming prey to lions, either through schemes to thwart them (such as dressing in costumes...unfortunately, they dressed up as gazelle) or attempts to communicate with them (but the lions tend to respond to his moving letters with "Yu taste gud!")

Later in the strip, crocodile fraternity Zeeba Zeeba Eata moved in next to Zebra, and their idiotic attempts to capture and eat him have become one of the most popular aspects of the strip. The crocs' horrible grammar is about the most offensive thing about them.

Peripheral characters include Pig's pet Guard Duck, who calls his master "Sir," patrols the neighborhood with a rocket launcher and occasionally declares war on Venezuela; Zebra's cat Snuffles, a truly evil little ball of cute fluff who among many other things hid the WMDs for Saddam Hussein; Pigita, Pig's sometime girlfriend - "sometime" because he takes romantic advice from Rat; Wee Bear, the strip's resident social issue obsessed male Soapbox Sadie; Farina, Pig's sister, who lives inside a plastic bubble and is the only person Rat ever loved; Junior, the young vegetarian crocodile; and Andy the creatively optimistic little dog across the way, who never fails to make the best of being chained up in his yard and forgotten.

Pastis himself makes frequent appearances in the strip, usually to announce/explain changes in the strip or be chewed out by Rat - or both.

Has a developing character sheet.


Tropes used in Pearls Before Swine include:

Goat: I've been waiting ten years to do that.

  • Cats Are Mean: Played very straight, possibly to the point of satire, with Snuffles, who has at times moonlighted as a Nigerian scammer, a mercenary and a spokesperson for Al Qaeda.
  • Character Filibuster: Goat's specialty... albeit frequently doomed in the face of Rat's pragmatism.
  • Characterization Marches On: Pastis acknowledged this in an arc where Rat starts selling "Beef Babies," and Pig decides to one-up him by selling "Tuna Babies." He admitted that he wrote the arc in 2001 before the characters were as defined, and ended up using this notably Out of Character moment for Pig when the arc finally printed in 2004.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Rat and Pig's roommate Leonard. Several other characters come and go, in part because Pastis simply runs out of good material for them. He acknowledged that this is why he got rid of Leonard.
    • Eventually, we get a strip in which Stephan phones Pig to tell him he's writing Leonard out of the strip, adding that "I'm a little busy right now, so I asked Rat to look into some scenarios that are final, yet dignified and respectful". Rat then comes in to announce that Leonard got his head stuck in the toilet and drowned.
  • Comically Small Bribe
  • Comic Trio: Rat is the Schemer, Pig is the follower, Goat is the "No Respect" Guy.
  • Completely Missing the Point: When taking a literature class, one of the crocodiles seems to think that the moral of The Great Gatsby is to drive carefully.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Parodied here.
  • Crapsack World: Played for laughs.
  • Creator Career Self-Deprecation: There's no shortage of jokes at the expense of cartoonists, comic strips, cartoon characters, and the comics industry. Even Pastis' own Author Avatar is basically a Butt Monkey for abuse from his own characters.
  • Crossover: Stewie Griffin of all people appears to deliver the trademark pun at the end of one particular Sunday strip.
    • Other Crossover victims include Cathy, Baby Blues, Get Fuzzy, The Family Circus, Sally Forth and Mutts.
    • On July 28, 2011 PBS crossed both ways with Dennis the Menace. The DTM strip took place in a comic book convention. After his father tells Dennis that Pastis "draws a famous comic strip", Dennis says, "But what does he do for a living?" The PBS strip had Pastis invite Dennis over to help make Pearls into a family friendly strip, only to find him pouring gas into Pastis's office saying "Hope you have insurance on this @+#$@#+ dump." As Pastis's office starts to go up in flames, Rat observes that Dennis "looks like he's past the slingshot phase".

Dennis the Menace: And Remember, Blame those @+#@;#+ Family Circus Kids!

    • In acknowledgment of the author of Cathy retiring, there was a one-week arc when Cathy's soul gets stuck in the Pearls Before Swine diner. Instead of going straight to Comic Strip Heaven, she eats...cheesecake.
    • Love Is... - here and on the next page.
  • Cute Shotaro Boy: Plaid, a young zebra thought to be Zebra's son, who debuted February 19, 2012 and appeared a few times the following week, before it was revealed at the end of the week Zebra has no son and it was a case of Mistaken Identity.
  • Dead Person Conversation
  • Death as Comedy: All the freaking time. Countless crocs have died off, and then there're Hy and Hy, the hyena brothers that operate a funeral home... just to get the dead animals that hyenas feed on.
  • Digging to China: Pig digs a hole to "Kukistan." This was originally going to be a literal dig to China, but he changed it to a fictional country to avoid offending anyone. Anyone not speaking Swedish, at least.
  • Dinner Order Flub: One strip had Guard Duck on a date with Maura, ordering "The chateaubriand, cooked medium well, and a glass of your finest pinot noir". Although the actual strip wasn't an example, Stephan Pastis said this about the strip in the Pearls Sells Out commentary:

"I really don't know what chateaubriand is. It just sounded like something fancy you'd order in an expensive restaurant. I'm hoping it is actually a type of food." (For the record, chateaubriand is a type of food. It's a kind of steak.)

Rat: What is true happiness?...How does a dumb pig like you answer a question like that?
Pig: I think happiness is finding an extra couple of french fries at the bottom of the bag.
Rat: ...Pig made sense. The apocalypse is upon us.

Rat: It's best to love your family as you would a Siberian Tiger - from a distance, preferably separated by bars.

Christmas Tree Girl: This is a nice place.
Rat: It is. Of niceness. Yes.
Christmas Tree Girl:You know...why do you get so nervous when you talk to me?
Rat: Beacause you keep staring into my eyes like you see straight into me and that worries me because it's not a nice place in there.

  • Horny Vikings: Subverted. "The Vikings" act more like preteen girls.
  • Hulk Speak: The male crocs.
    • The lions also used this in their letters to Zebra, although this was oddly dropped once they began actually appearing in person.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters:
  • Hurricane of Puns: The Sunday strips, famously, often consist of nothing more than long, elaborate setups for some Incredibly Lame Pun, usually delivered by one of the innocent characters to Rat, who usually then appears in the last panel insulting (or, in extreme cases threatening) Pastis. The reader comments the strip receives on comics.com often result in this as well.
  • Hyperspace Mallet: Rat once had a "Mallet o' Understanding" which he used on the other characters.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Zebra is pursued by two different sets of predators but still enjoys a good lobster.
  • Idea Bulb: Parodied. Rat pretends to come up with an idea when a real bulb burns out and he's all out.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Suspected by many of being Pastis' favorite type of gag. Frequently lampshaded.
    • Here's one.
    • Defied here, when Rat sees the pun coming and drops an anvil on Pastis before he can deliver the punchline.
  • Insistent Terminology: "(something) o' (something)"
  • Ironic Echo: In one arc, Pig's tiny ego gets physically stepped on by Rat's much larger ego, who says "I think I just stepped on a doody." Later on, Rat's ego withers to a minimal size after Farina dumps him; Pig steps on the shrunken ego and says, of course, "I think I just stepped on a doody."
  • Jerkass: Rat.
  • Kangaroo Pouch Ride: Rat's attempt to conserve energy.
  • Killer Rabbit: Guard Duck, especially in his earlier appearances.
    • Snuffles the cat, who was eventually found to be harboring terrorists.
  • Lampshade Hanging: All over the place, most notably whenever someone (usually Rat) calls out a particularly lame pun or plot device.
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: As it turns out the Fifth Doctor is The Runt At the End.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans, Oh My!
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Pearls Before Swine" comes from a passage in The Bible.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: a week of strips in which Rat is hired as the babysitter for the MacPherson family of Baby Blues, a decision the family ends up regretting by the end of the strip for obvious reasons. He makes Zoe (age 9) and Hammie (age 6) drive to a convenience store to buy him more beer, and the two accidentally run over Jeremy Duncan, the main character of Zits. (Both strips are partnerships involving author Jerry Scott, which is how Pastis got permission to pull it off.)
    • There were also a fair number of crossovers during the week of Blondie's 75th birthday party, involving Pig and Rat slumming with those other comic-strip characters who hadn't been invited. And when FoxTrot went to Sundays-only, members of the Fox family made a few cameos on weekdays, looking worse for wear from being "unemployed."
  • Matchlight Danger Revelation: Candlestick Abomination Revelation, anyway.
  • Medium Awareness: The characters are very conscious of living in a comic strip and play with its conventions constantly, at one point ending up with misprinted strips due to Rat's "feud with the layout guy," and at another experimenting with "panel-walking" along the tops of the segments (leading to hilariously tragic results over on The Family Circus). One strip was (deliberately) printed upside down, with Rat claiming he could see up Blondie's dress from there.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Danny Donkey, one of Rat's creations, hates people. All 6,000,000,000 of them.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Played for laughs at the conclusion of an arc that finds Rat in bed, planning to just stay there because he's tired of the world. Eventually Pig decides to join him. Before Rat can get Pig to leave and avert this trope...

Goat: Hi Rat the door was open so I.... ohhhhhhhhh myyyyyyyyyyyyy.
Pig: Oh my...
Rat: NO NO NO! NO 'OH MY'S! THIS IS NOT AN 'OH MY' SITUATION!!

"Now I lay me down to sleep.
Mow da zeebas down like sheep.
Give dem to me nice and dead.
Me no happy 'til me fed."

  • Pet the Dog: Every once in a while Rat is given one of these moments towards Pig. However, he is usually seen kicking the dog.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Guard Duck tends to become one of these when angered. Rat sort of fits this trope too, as does Dickie the Cockroach in Rat's comic strips.
  • The Pollyanna: Pig. Making him the perfect foil for Rat, of course. Though he occasionally mentions feeling like a total failure and desires to be somebody else.
  • Rage Against the Author: Rat once held the strip hostage to his demands, and as noted once led a general strike. More often he's just displaying generic hostility towards Pastis, usually due to the did-we-mention-they-are-really-bad puns.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The Vikings.
  • Really Gets Around: Farina, much to Rat's dismay.
  • Recursive Reality: Pig pokes himself in the eye by pointing to himself on Atlas' globe.
  • Refuge in Audacity: To quote from the first compilation: "It's not often that you can get the topics of cannibalism, marijuana, and the perils of jail life into one comic strip."
    • Once, Patis snuck four breast references into one strip...where Pig accidently had breast implants.
    • The 2004 Election series, oh so much. For example, Rat wants to bomb France, and at a baseball game, Pig kissed baseballs, and...threw babies.
  • Scandalgate: Gatesgaitgategate.
  • Self-Deprecation: Almost any strip with Pastis in it. Also used with Pig.
  • Serious Business: Never let your library books go overdue.
    • The strip often points out how people in real life consider comic strips to be Serious Business.
  • Show Within a Show: Rat's crudely-drawn "Danny Donkey" and "Elly Elephant" books, and his "Angry Bob" stories.
  • Shown Their Work: In a sense, anyway. Pastis frequently references species characteristics he learned about from watching Animal Planet.
  • Shrug of God: Quite often, most notably with describing the crocs' dialect.
  • Sign of the Apocalypse: Rat, when Pig Has A Point.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Cynical and proud of it.
    • With the occasional slide towards idealism, especially in Pig strips.
  • The Smart Guy: Goat, albeit nobody ever listens to him, least of all Rat.
    • Surprisingly Larry, who went on Jeopardy! and got every question right. He says that this is because he uses various educational channels to put himself to sleep, thus gaining knowledge unconsciously. Unfortunately for him, "zeeba" does not count as an answer on the last round. Which he put all his winnings on.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Pastis doesn't smoke in Real Life, but his Author Guest Spot avatar does, to make himself look more like a "degenerate loser" (or so he claims). According letters he receives advising him to stop smoking, it's not working.
  • Something Completely Different: The strip of December 28, 2003 dispenses with the characters, and the comedy, to show a television set from which a news report is airing about a bus bomb that went off in Jerusalem, killing six children. That one's also a Tear Jerker.
    • The strip from Memorial Day 2003 has a detailed rendering of Pig visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
    • A Sunday strip from Memorial Day 2006 shows various places (a living room, a wall, etc.), empty of characters and shrouded in darkness; the last panel features a caption reading, "A moment of silence in honor of the American men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan."
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Invoked when Rat and Pig sing along to the Trope Namer.
  • Sound Effect Bleep: In addition to the usual Sound Effect Bleep, the app has plenty of this. One video commentary is composed of roughly 3/4 of beeping.
  • El Spanish-O: Pig tries to write a love letter to Pigita, but was stuck on some ideas. Rat then suggests that Pig italicize the letter. Pig takes Rat's advice then starts writing -O after every word.
  • Species Surname: Hilariously lampshaded.

Pig: They call me Pig... because I'm a pig.

    • Also, Goat is said to be using a "stage name." His real name is Paris.
  • Sphere Eyes: The human characters and even some animal characters.
    • Also, most of the main animal characters would have these eyes when excited or surprised.
  • Spoof Aesop: At one point, Rat dies (the first of four times) and is notified by Saint Peter that he isn't allowed in Heaven due to his various misdeeds and selfishness. After he manages to be brought back to life, he concludes that death is... something to be avoided.
    • Or almost any of Rat's "Angry Bob" stories. For example, in one, Bob is reading a woman's magazine, only for a really beautiful woman to happen to stop and talk to him. Embarrassed to be seen reading it, he tries to eat it but chokes and dies, but then it turns out the woman in question was related to the publisher and would have been overjoyed to find out that men had started reading it. Rat's moral? "Always chew your food carefully."
  • Staying Alive: Pastis's approach to the frequent deaths of his characters. (In Pearls Sells Out, Pastis says he used to keep a list of the dead crocs, but once it got to 40, he gave up.)
  • Strawman Political: Rat is a Strawman Conservative.
  • Suicide as Comedy: Fans didn't react well to Alphonse The Depressed Porcupine.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: In one anthology, Pastis wrote that Pig "is rather easy to write for. He just needs to misunderstand everything said to him, and then when it's explained to him, he needs to misunderstand that too." The strip he referenced had this exchange:

Pig: If this player can win a World Series, he'll finally get the donkey off his back.
Rat: Monkey.
Pig: Get the donkey off his monkey... that's one strong monkey.

  • Symbol Swearing: All the #$@&!* time, usually from Rat.
    • As shown above, guest Dennis Mitchell symbol swore twice in one strip.
    • Averted when a character said the word "crappy". How did that went through?
  • Take That: Usually against "legacy" strips, the ones that have been going on for decades only because the writer has changed (Family Circus is probably the most frequent target). Garfield and Cathy are also prime targets, on grounds of just not being that funny anymore. Or possibly, y'know, ever. One notable arc showed the aforementioned family as so out of touch with modern America that they treated Osama Bin Laden as a house-guest. This would later get them sent to Guantanamo Bay.
    • Another strip featured a Slylock Fox parody with the following trivia question: "Which one of these comics was around when Hitler invaded Poland? a) Blondie, b) Barney Google, c) Prince Valiant, d) Mary Worth or e) All of the above? Answer: e)" Although the Slylock Fox parody was definitely more of a Shout-Out than a Take That, as Bob Weber not only gave his approval, but has used Rat and Pig in his own strip.
    • In yet another strip, Pastis reproduced a Jumble puzzle, with the final-word clue being, "What the comics are since Calvin and Hobbes ended." The answer: N-O L-A-U-G-H-I-N-G M-A-T-T-E-R.
    • On the other hand, there was a Sunday strip where Rat had a nightmare about all forms of entertainment closing down because nothing new has been made for at least fifty years. When he wakes up, Pig tries to cheer him up by giving him the newspaper's funny page section...with predictable results.
  • Take That, Critics!: Rat took a pointed jab at The Comics Curmudgeon, although given that it's Rat, and he claimed to be using it to slam Pastis himself, who knows what was actually being jabbed.
  • Team Rocket Wins: The Crocs finally knocked Zebra's wall down.
  • Ted Baxter: The Crocodile fraternity and Larry think they're excellent predators, but they're just morons
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Farina's bow.
  • This Trope Is Bleep: The Mad Libs strips from November 2010, and before them, this.
  • Title Drop: Saying it was lampshaded doesn't quite cover it. Think Groucho Marx and You Bet Your Life...
  • Too Dumb to Live: The crocodiles. Pretty much literally. This is taken Up to Eleven with Biff, who has to be chained up in Pastis' yard because he's literally too dumb to take care of himself
    • Averted once; Rat was playing the role of a pied piper, luring stupid people out to a lake to drown them. Obviously, the crocs were dumb enough to do this, but once Rat began to gloat about this, one of the crocs angrily pointed out "We can sweem." See it here.
  • True Art Is Angsty: Uh-huh! Stephan Pastis knows it! One set of episodes makes a Parody out of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, with Rat as Mister Rogers. First the trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe comes in, carrying the beer bottles that Rat likes so much. Then at the NOMB, Rat witnesses a Muslim terrorist puppet named Jihad Jerry pump King Friday XIII full of lead, and then tell Queen Sara Saturday to wear a burka, despite Rat urging Jerry to be as democratic as possible. Finally, Rat appears wearing a burka himself, explaining that JJ has taken over the show, but things will stay the same...only for a mooing camel to appear in place of the trolley. Pastis is just that kind of guy!
  • Tsundere: Pigita.
  • Unexplained Recovery: "Angry Bob un-died."
  • Unnamed Parent: All the known parents of Rat, Pig, and Goat, but averted with Junior's parents, Larry and Patty.
  • The Unintelligible: Snuffles the Cat.
  • The Un-Smile: Rat's smile causes himself to explode.
  • Unsound Effect: May 19, 2006 used "hula hula hula" to indicate Pig dancing the hula.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Rat.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Testicles are referred to as "Oompa Loompas."
  • Verbal Tic: The crocs, again. "Hullooooo, zeeba neighba!", "Peese shut mouf. Me no want lecture." Pastis says in one of his treasuries that "Peese shut mouf" is his favorite crocodile line.
  • What's a Henway?: Not quite as common as the puns, but you can find some.

Justin: I'm Justin... from Chicago.
Pig: So you just got here?
Justin: Actually, I've lived here for about six months now.

Rat: "It would have been shorter, but I included a paragraph about beer."