The Old Becoming New Again – Stephan Pastis using old techniques for new jokes

In a generation that is fascinated by Marvel and DC comics being made into movies, there is an art that is coming out of the dark and it is in the form of a 3-4 panel comic strip in the daily newspapers. This satire comic has been criticized as being vulgar, cynical and being down right rude, but it is looking as though it is picking up in its popularity, running to 650 newspapers around the world (Pastis 1) and it is not going away any time soon (at least that is the hope). This comic is better known as Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis.

Elements in the visuals such as paneling, breaking down the fourth wall, censorship and so on are very much an old story. It has been done and it is still being done by authors everywhereHowever, Pearls Before Swine, Pastis does all of this in not only a joking manner but also in a manner that breaks the social normality of comic strips.

Many readers see that when Pastis breaks the fourth wall, that Pastis has no where to go with the joke and the only thing to do is to break the fourth wall and have one of his characters call him out for making such a bad joke. Many times it is his infamous character, Rat, that calls him out for it as see here:

pearls before swine 1
Copyright © 2015

It is not often that you see an artist not only insert themselves in the land of the comic but that they also become a reoccurring character throughout the strips life.  Pastis is as much a part of the character’s lives, as they are in his life. He is the creator behind the madness that is Pearls Before Swine, without him, there would not be a Rat to call him out.

Another thing Pastis does is mess with the idea of censorship. He has this ongoing joke with censorship and how there are these censorship police out to get characters that violate the censorship policy. With his censorship jokes he shows that we might have a said ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’ but there are rules on must abide by to have that said freedom.

Copyright © 2013
Copyright © 2013

This right here is a prime example of how even though what Goat said was fine in the sense that he is talking about a character with the name Hi, he still gets in trouble because of the different meanings and spellings of Hi. We as the readers know that he is mentioning the character, Hi, because of the speech bubble, but without that speech bubble, we would have to assume, like the comic police, that he means something else.

Pastis even does this without the police, by censoring it himself and having a little sign that goes along with it, as seen here:

Copyright © 2015
Copyright © 2015

These are just some examples of what Pastis is bringing back to the comic world. They are old ideas that we experience in everyday comic and graphic novel life, but they are brought to light in a newer way. Although the classics can never be replaced, and super heroes are the ‘in thing’ right now, I believe that Pastis’ upcoming popularity in the comic world is about to shed light on the old becoming new again.



Pastis, Stephan “Frequently Asked Questions.” Pearls Before Swine. WordPress. Blog. 6 September 2015.


  1 comment for “The Old Becoming New Again – Stephan Pastis using old techniques for new jokes

Comments are closed.