“Every spoof gives more power to the original.”
I absolutely love the comic strip, ‘Pearls Before Swine‘. Written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis, it chronicles the daily lives of anthropomorphic animals – primarily Pig, Rat, Zebra, Goat, along with a fraternity of crocodiles and other supporting animal and human characters, including a spoof on Pastis himself. Each character represents a personality and world view – naive Pig, narcissistic Rat, level-headed Goat, conniving crocodiles, hassled Zebra, and an unfunny cartoonist. The strip’s style is notable for it’s dark humor, spoofs of other comic strips, and incidences elaborated with puns. (If you’re looking for some pun fun, this is the strip to go to.)
I love Stephan Pastis’s self-deprecating sense of humor. He not only mocks other comic strips, but pokes fun at his own strip by featuring himself as a cartoonist who lacks a sense of humor – always at the receiving end of his characters who wonder how their strip is still running when the creator is not funny at all.
Very often in life we come across people who ridicule and mock others, who find humor in putting down other people, but are unable to take a joke on themselves. How many times have we interacted with individuals who pass snide comments or make fun of people and brush it off with a “just kidding” or “it was just a joke”, but immediately turn defensive when the tables turn on themselves? I have always believed one should laugh ‘with’ others, not ‘at’ others – include people in a joke and share in that laughter. And at the same time not take matters to heart or take oneself too seriously. It is a great skill to be able to laugh at or humorously critique oneself.
With the plethora of characters and various characteristics on display in the strip, Pearls Before Swine is a spoof on life itself and the myriad people and situations we encounter on a daily basis. Rat is condescending, self-centered and insensitive, and the one who frequently berates his creator on the poor quality of the strip. Pastis has often mentioned that the character of Rat is his own voice, and his cynicism is something he identifies with. Pig is kind but dim-witted, and Rat’s best friend and roommate. He talks to inanimate objects and misunderstands whatever is said to him, and after being explained what he missed, misunderstands the explanation as well. Goat is the intellectual and mediator, speaking on philosophy, politics and social issues, which no one cares to listen to. Zebra tries hard to mend ties with his predator neighbors, the crocs. He has lion neighbors as well, but they’re males and since male lions don’t hunt they share an awkward friendship. There’s also Duck who Pig brought home in place of a guard dog – a deluded bodyguard who sees himself as a soldier and the world as his battlefield. The human characters include Jeff the Cyclist – a spoof on arrogant athletes who look down on “lay people”, neighbor Bob – Rat and Pig’s neighbor, Comic Strip Censor – a man who finds everything offensive in the strip’s puns, and of course Stephan Pastis himself – who ridicules his own “lack of humor”.
Pastis’ self-deprecation makes Pearls Before Swine all the more hilarious and lovable. I came across this strip the other day and couldn’t stop laughing.
Humor Enhancing Drugs! Who would have thought?! I can think of many people who take themselves too seriously and could use some of that. And Rat’s criticism and Pig’s naivete, added to Pastis’ expression is just too funny. Maybe we all need to spoof ourselves sometimes – our quirks, shortcomings, talents, personalities – if we were comic characters, what would we look and behave like?
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