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Comic Strip: Pearls Before Swine
Clockwise from the top: Rat, Pig, Larry, Snuffles, Guard Duck, Zebra, Goat, and Stephan Pastis.

He asked me to ask you for a, uh, continuance.
What for?

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 Soap Box 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 include:

  • Affectionate Parody: Pastis often cameos characters from other comic strips, particularly Family Circus, subjecting them to Pearls' dark humor. Commentary in the anthologies reveals that he would let them know beforehand, and that Bil Keane asked for originals of some of the strips.
  • Alice and Bob: The lovebirds.
  • Amusing Injuries: Pig suffers these in the last panel of many strips, usually at Rat's hands.
    • Quite a few involving the Zeeba Zeeba Fraternity's futile zebra eating attempts.
  • Animal Jingoism: Partly subverted by Zebra's conciliatory attitude toward his predators...used in full when he gets shot down at every turn.
  • Animated Adaptation: There are animated versions of several strips by Ring Tales Animation.
  • The Annotated Edition: The treasury collections contain annotations from Pastis which try to elaborate on where ideas came from and detail reactions to the more controversial strips. And tell us which things he found impossible to draw.
  • Anvil on Head: Rat stopped a pun strip by bringing this trope upon Pastis.
  • April Fools' Day: Pearls did the same punchline involving a Ouija board as FoxTrot and Get Fuzzy.
  • Archive Binge: In-universe in this strip.
  • Art Shift: Went through one during the first week of June 2014. At the end, it was revealed that that the strips were the work of Bill Watterson, which is a very big deal.
  • Artistic License - Biology: Junior decides to become a vegetarian. Crocs can't digest plant matter. Of course, they also cannot speak or stand on their hind legs, so this is probably justified.
    • In one of the treasuries, Pastis makes a reference to Goat's antlers. Goats have horns, not antlers.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In the strip for 1-29-13, Larry the crocodile (who was thought to be dead) attends a memorial dinner for him. He told the guests that he was a ghost and that if they didn't give him food he'd haunt them forever.
  • Author Avatar: Libby was one for Bill Watterson.
  • Author Filibuster: When Pastis isn't punning on Sundays, he's using the extended format to really lash out at whatever bugs him.
  • Author Guest Spot: Pastis' Author Avatar.
  • Author's Saving Throw: invoked Lampshaded with a vengeance here.
  • Ax-Crazy: Guard Duck and Snuffles.
  • Babysitter from Hell:Rat. See the Massive Multiplayer Crossover entry below.
  • Badass Adorable: L'il Guard Duck.
  • Bad Humor Truck: One Sunday strip has Pig getting hit by an ice cream truck. Rat explains to Goat that this happens every Sunday, and that when Pig comes to he just tells him that he won the Super Bowl.
  • Beat Panel: Mostly when Rat realizes that he has made an Incredibly Lame Pun.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: In a strip where Goat convinced Rat to relax and stop worrying about everything, then whacked him on the head with a frying pan as soon as he dropped his guard.
    Goat: I've been waiting ten years to do that.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Guard Duck is made of this trope.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Pastis does not shy away from mocking Scott Adams, who helped popularize the strip. Similarly, Rat is never above mocking Pastis, his creator.
    • At one point, Scott Adams let Stephan Pastis draw a Dilbert strip. He drew the titular character dead in a coffin.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Some of the animal characters.
  • Black Comedy: And how; Pastis comments in his treasuries that even he underestimates just how "dark" his material is. He recounts the story of a telephone call between himself and fellow cartoonist Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy) about an idea for a strip wherein Pig falls in love with a doomed female pig at a slaughterhouse. Darby's side of the conversation was mostly long silences.
    • In another he tells a story about his family going for a hike at a ranch and being thrilled at finding a cow skull that still had some bloodstains on it. They ended up taking it home "Because that's the kind of family I have."
  • Break the Cutie: Pastis once said in a treasury that if a character expouses unbridled optimism and faith in humanity, something bad will inevitably happen to them.
  • Breaking Bad News Gently
  • Brick Joke: When Rat hijacked the strip while Pastis was on vacation, he mentioned that week's strips were supposed to be about Guard Duck and some cows. Guess what the arc was about a week later?
  • British Stuffiness: Goat, apparently. It's not referenced in the strip, but in the official animated shorts he has a British accent.
  • Butt Monkey: Pig.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Pig got kicked out of a pig brotherhood because he enjoys BLTs.
  • Catch Phrase: "You dumb pig." and "Hullooooo, zeeba neighba." Also, people tend to say "Please don't [do whatever Jerkass behavior you are engaged in]."
    Goat: Check Please.
  • 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.
  • Censored Title: The sixth treasury, Pearls Freaks The #%*# Out.
  • 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.
  • Check Please: Used constantly by Goat, as well as many of the diner's other patrons.
  • 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.
    • Angry Bob has been gone since 2009, and Elly Elephant and Danny Donkey are just barely still in the strip.
  • 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 that green is his favorite color.
  • 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.
  • Cross Over: Stewie Griffin appears to deliver the trademark pun at the end of one particular Sunday strip.
    • Other Cross Over victims include Cathy, Baby Blues, Get Fuzzy, The Family Circus, FoxTrot, Sally Forth and Mutts.
    • On July 28, 2011 PBS crossed both ways with Dennis the Menace (US). 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 all the cheesecake she can.
    • In the June 12, 2013 strip, Steve Dallas show's up as the lawyer to bail most of the gang out of jail (who were put in for various contrived reasons).
  • 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.)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Never let your library book go over ten days overdue.
  • The Ditz: Pig. He's so very sweet-natured about it, though, that his shallowness almost twists back around to depth.
    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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In one Story Arc, one of the crocs is jealous over the size of the other's tail.
  • A Dog Named Dog: Pig, Zebra, Rat and Goat, of course.
  • Dressed to Plunder: In one strip, a stereotypical pirate cries at the FBI's anti-piracy warnings. The same pirate is also seen running a dry-cleaning service. (He's not very good at it.)
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Played for laughs.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Someone will occasionally be worried when Pig makes a good point.
    • More like Jerkass Has A Point: Goat is also unnerved by how much sense Rat makes occasionally.
      Rat: It's best to love your family as you would a Siberian Tiger - from a distance, preferably separated by bars.
  • Ear Worm: invoked In one strip, Rat starts singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" just to get it stuck in everyone's head.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: Literally.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Initially, the crocs of Zeeba Zeeba Eata had a case of this, but they now pronounce their "R's" normarlly.
  • El Spanish O: Pig tries to write a love letter to Pigita, but is stuck for romantic ideas. Rat then suggests that Pig italicize the letter. Pig takes Rat's advice... and promptly starts adding -O to every word.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Everyone calls her Christmas Tree Girl.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Stephan Pastis has noted more than once that monkeys are comedy gold.
  • Expressive Hair: Pig's ears.
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop: In-universe. The children's books Rat writes usually have morals like "luck and timing are more important than hard work" and "if you can't improve yourself, make everyone else worse".
  • Fan Disservice: Larry the crocodile dressed as Alice.
  • Fantastic Racism: The croc-dad is prejudiced against amphibians.
  • Feghoot: Happens all the time.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Pig and Rat's basement
    Rat: I think I know why our air conditioning bill is so high.
  • First Law of Resurrection: Word of God confirms that characters can "un-die."
    • Lampshaded mightily in this comic, where Rat recovers from a decapitation by getting his head glued back on.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Seen in one arc in which Pastis decides he needs to kill off major characters to boost circulation...namely, himself and Rat. It's OK, though; turns out God is the head of their syndicate, and there are stuffed animal sales at stake.
  • Four Philosophy Ensemble: Pig - Optimist, Rat - Cynic, Goat - Realist, Zebra - Apathetic.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Pig (Sanguine), Rat (Choleric), Zebra (Melancholic), Goat (Phlegmatic).
  • Fourth Wall Mail Slot: Rat reads letters from readers on occasion. The letters are mostly fakes, although some are based on actual fanmail.
  • Fourth Wall Portrait: In answer to a fan question, Pig was once shown as an actual pig, with Rat saying he needed hours of "cartoon makeup" each day.
  • Funetik Aksent: The male crocs. Although it's not entirely clear what their accent is supposed to be. Creator Stephan Pastis says that he hears the crocs' standard opening line ("Hullo, zeeba neighba...leesten...") as Russian, but finds his own belief strange: "You wouldn't expect to find many crocodiles in Russia. Mostly, they're meant to sound dumb." Albeit, although Junior is a very smart little croc and thus speaks normally, he still refers to Zebra as "zeeba neighba."
    • This comic from February 2, 2011, may hold the answer....
  • Funny Animal
  • Furry Confusion: Maura the non-anthropomorphic duck. Oddly enough, she starts acting more humanlike later. There are also the recurring cameos by Chuckie the Non-Anthropomorphic Sheep, who for some bizarre reason stands on his hind legs.
  • Game Show Appearance: One of the crocs manages to get on Jeopardy! and amazingly does well due to subconsciously absorbing information from TV shows in his sleep. Unfortunately for him, they don't accept "Zeeba" as a final Jeopardy! response, which he put all his winnings on...
  • Garfunkel: Is now a verb!
  • The Ghost: For a considerable amount of time, despite constantly being referred to, lions were never shown in the strip. When Pastis learned to draw them, they started showing up.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: The crocs. Their half-witted schemes are much more apt to kill themselves than have any effect at all on Zebra.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Subverted; Rat has two devils.
  • Groin Attack: Rat punishes Pig's ignorance by belting him in "the Oompa Loompas."
  • Guest Strip: In June 2014, Pastis got Bill Watterson to draw the middle panel of a week of strips for him.
  • Happy Place: Pig has at least one, where it rains Gummy Bears.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Played with in this strip.
  • Heel Realization:
    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: Averted. "The Vikings" act more like preteen girls.
  • Hostile Strip Takeover: Rat hijacks the strip for a week while Pastis is on vacation, turning the strip into an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland parody in which he, as the Raterpillar, eats everyone in the strip and is about to move on to the characters in The Family Circus before Pastis intervenes.
  • Hulkspeak: 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 Bastards:
  • 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.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Guard Duck decides cattle are terrorists, because terrorists are cowards and "coward" starts with "cow".
  • Insistent Terminology: "(Something) o'(Something)"
  • Interspecies Romance: Elly Elephant dates humans.
    • Rat has also dated Farina, Pig's germophobe sister.
    • Pigita one went on a date with Donny the Dung Beetle, though he'd claimed he was a scarab. And also apparently slept with Tiger Woods.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The August 1, 2012 strip:
    Goat: Well, guys, I'm off. Today is my family's annual potato sack race. It's sort of a tradition.
    Pig: What's 'tradition'?
    Rat: Tradition is the reason for doing something you can no longer think of a reason for doing.
    Goat: I hate it when I agree with you.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Stephan Pastis appears to be this in Real Life.
  • 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.
  • Lopsided Dichotomy: In "Pearls Freaks The #%*# Out", one strip taking place in a supermarket had about three box-things lying on a shelf in the background. Pastis comments "Either the store had a huge run on that particular item, or a cartoonist I know got tired of drawing them.".
  • 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."
  • 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!!
  • Mood-Swinger: Pigita
  • Morally Ambiguous Ducktorate: Guard Duck.
  • Negative Continuity: In the treasuries, Pastis mentions that the Rule of Funny is much more important to him than continuity, leading to characters getting jobs that are never mentioned again, or a character's Unexplained Recovery. This last was lampshaded during a softball arc, in which Rat asked Pastis how a deceased character could be playing outfield: "Uh...he un-died."
    • Possibly also a nod at the Running Gag of Rat's "Angry Bob" series of novels, that always end with the titular character's horrible death just as he had found happiness, only for the next novel to begin with "Angry Bob un-died..." Pastis claims to want credit if "un-died" ever goes into the dictionary.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Rat.
  • No Fourth Wall: The characters are well aware that they live in a comic strip. Rat frequently uses it to lampshade a horrible pun or demonstrate his author's incompetence. It's also their excuse to frequently reference and/or include characters from other strips.
    • Another combination lampshade-hanging and fourth-wall destruction, with a dash of Shrug of God: When Zebra asks a croc what dialect they speak, the croc answers, "We ees speeking (white blob)." Cut to Pastis at his desk, saying, "Stupid Liquid Paper."
  • No Name Given: This has been the most common approach to the constant deaths of the crocodiles.
  • Noodle Incident: Pig once became enemies with a sea anemone.
  • Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: Done with Larry the Croc and his son.
    "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."
  • Obnoxious Snarker: Rat, who also often slides into Deadpan Snarker.
  • Odd Couple: Rat and Pig.
  • Odd Friendship: Rat and Pig, being a negative, cynical, mean Deadpan Snarker and a positive, friendly Wide-Eyed Idealist, respectively.
  • One Steve Limit: Subverted with its endless supply of "Bobs" in addition to Neighbor Bob and the fictitious Angry Bob. Pastis says he thinks the name's funny.
    • Larry was a common name for one-note characters before Larry the Crocodile was introduced. Zebra's doomed cousin Larry being an example.
  • One-Two Punchline: Used frequently, especially in pun-based strips.
  • Only Sane Man: Goat and (usually) Zebra.
  • Overly Preprepared Gag: A common feature of Sunday strips, usually setting up an Incredibly Lame Pun or Sublime Rhyme.
    • See this, for example.
  • Painting the Medium: The crocs' and lions' dialogue is rendered in mixed-case.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Exaggerated with the killer dolphins.
  • Person as Verb: When Rat tries to introduce the phrase "pulling a Pastis" into the lexicon:
  • Pet the Dog: Every once in a while Rat is given one of these moments towards Pig.
  • Pintsized 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.
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: Parodied in one strip. Rat was trying to win the election, but he couldn't come to a baseball event, so he sent Pig in his place to kiss a baby and throw a baseball out to the field. This cost Rat the election, because Pig kissed the baseball, and threw a baby out to the field!
  • The Pollyanna: Pig. Making him the perfect foil for Rat, of course.
  • 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.
  • Really Gets Around: Farina, much to Rat's dismay.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The Vikings.
  • 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, Pastis snuck four breast references into one strip...wherein Pig accidentally got 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.
  • Shameful Shrinking:An arc had Rat and Pig discussing the differences between their egos. Pig's ego was as tiny as a mouse, while Rat's ego was even bigger than any of the characters, showing that Rat has a Small Name, Big Ego. However, at the end of the arc, Pig's germophobic sister Fantina shows up and tells Rat that she's leaving him for Dilbert because he's a much better man than Rat. This causes Rat's ego to shrink down to the same size as Pig's ego, as Pig steps on it.
  • Shout-Out / Homage: Lampshades are often shown having the same zigzag pattern as Charlie Brown's trademark shirt from Peanuts. Pastis has said that this is an intentional tribute to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, whom he actually met and was able to show some of his early work to before Schulz' death. (In 2011, Pastis co-wrote the Direct-to-Video film Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown.)
  • Shown Their Work: In a sense, anyway. Pastis frequently references species characteristics he learned about from watching Animal Planet. Notably, the orca character attempts to fool his prey by covering the spots on his face, only to be caught when the seals are aware those aren't his eyes.
  • Show Within a Show: Rat's crudely-drawn "Danny Donkey" and "Elly Elephant" books, and his "Angry Bob" stories.
  • 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.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The Crocodile fraternity and Larry think they're excellent predators, but they're just morons
    • RAT
    • Played with in a Sunday strip in which Pig assumes a fellow dinner guest will be wowed by his basic Internet user skills: "Yeah... I'm the guy that writes that blog."
  • 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). Judging by the letters he receives advising him to stop smoking, it's not working.
  • The Social Darwinist: Rat tries to stop people he considers stupid from reproducing.
  • 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."
    • A strip referencing the Sandy Hook school shooting merely shows Rat and Pig staring solemnly up at a night sky, against which the names of the 20 young victims are written in stars.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Invoked when Rat and Pig sing along to the Trope Namer.
  • Sorry, Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs: Reccuring character Andy, who frequently tries to fulfill his dreams of seeing the world, despite being a dog on a chain attached to a stake in his owner's backyard.
  • Sound Effect Bleep: In addition to the usual Sound Effect Bleep, the Only The Pearls iPad app has plenty of this. One video commentary is composed of roughly 3/4 of beeping.
  • 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 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.)
    • In Pearls Falls Fast, he reveals the current tally of croc deaths (as of July 16, 2012) :636.
  • Strawman Political: Rat is a Strawman Conservative.
  • Subverted Kids Show: Mr. Rat's Neighborhood.
  • 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 get 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.
    • A series of strips in November 2011 had Rat crusading against "banjo fatalities". In the treasury Pearls Falls Fast, Pastis states "At the risk of offending some of you, I have to agree with Rat. I just can't stand the sound of banjos."
  • 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.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Female characters inevitably are distinguished solely by the little bow atop their heads.
  • 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 it, one of the crocs angrily pointed out "We can sweem." See it here.
  • True Art Is Angsty: invoked 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, which Rat makes sell oil at ridiculous prices. Pastis is just that kind of guy!
  • Tsundere: Pigita.
  • Undignified Death: Often used for comedic value.
  • Unexplained Recovery: "Angry Bob un-died."
    • In a strip where crocs try to kill Zebra by planting mine in the backyard, Larry steps into one of them and dies. The situation is quickly forgotten and never mentioned again.
  • The Unintelligible: Snuffles the Cat.
  • Unnamed Parent: All the known parents of Rat, Pig, and Goat, but averted with Junior's parents, Larry and Patty.
  • The Un-Smile: Rat's smile causes him to explode.
  • Unsound Effect: May 19, 2006 used "hula hula hula" to indicate Pig dancing the hula.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Rat.
  • Unusual Euphemism: As noted above, several references to being hit right in the "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.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Some of the Incredibly Lame Puns, including one of the earliest Sunday puns:
    • Possibly reaches apotheosis in a later Sunday strip:
  • 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.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Most of the crocodiles have the same bizarre accent.
  • Whip It Good: What happens when you take the title of a political discussion show at face value.
  • White Sheep: Junior
  • Who Even Needs a Brain?: The storyline where Pig's brain gets tired of him and takes off. It's implied that this has happened to a lot of people. ("Explains a lot, doesn't it?") Strangely enough, while Pig is dumb, his brain is quite smart and makes a living winning Jeopardy!.
  • Who's on First?: Done with letters of the alphabet.
    • In another strip, Rat bought two parrots to keep him company, "Anika" and "Peev" resulting in a lot of confusion when Rat tells Pig not to eat a donut because "It's one of my pet Peev's" (say that out loud).
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough: Pig, frequently.
    • In one strip, Rat points out how unnecessary a warning not to hit yourself in the head with a hammer is. Cue the crocodiles noticing the warning too late.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Almost word for word.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Because Stephan has a short memory.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Subverted; Larry and another croc did try to just shoot Zebra once. Unfortunately Larry, as usual, wound up killing the other crocodile instead. After that, they went back to their more outlandish plots.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Pig.
  • Windmill Political: Rat once ran a political campaign based on the dangers of rainbows.
  • World of Snark: Just about everyone save for Pig is snarky at every turn.
  • World's Shortest Book: In one strip, Rat writes a book about what men want. There is one single page with the word "SEX" in all caps.
    Rat: "It would have been shorter, but I included a paragraph about beer."
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Literally. Poor, poor little Andy.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: An entire storyline in which Rat teaches himself Yiddish specifically because it's a great language to insult people in. Even the crocs pick up on it.


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alternative title(s): Pearls Before Swine
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