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Comic Strip / Pearls Before Swine

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Clockwise from the top: Rat, Pig, Larry, Snuffles, Guard Duck, Zebra, Goat, and Stephan Pastis.

Pig: I'm sorry, Your Honor, I'm Rat's co-counsel, Pig... He asked me to ask you for a... uh... continuance?
Judge: What for?
Pig: He's traveling cross-country in diapers to kill someone.

An American Comic Strip drawn by former lawyer Stephan Pastis about the lives of Rat, Pig, Zebra, and Goat, anthropomorphic Civilized Animal 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 include:

  • Aborted Arc: Subverted with the storyline where Rat and Pig meet beer can aliens, who Rat winds up angering. Another storyline where Pig and Guard Duck go to outer space is interrupted by Rat pointing out to Stephan Pastis that the previous storyline was unfinished. Thus, Stephan decides to end both storylines by having Pig and Guard Duck come across the beer can aliens, who promptly throw oxygen tanks at them, which is convenient since Pig and Guard Duck previously did not have oxygen with them.
    Rat: Tell me they don't pay you for this.
  • 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.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: In a strip that takes place on “No Punctuation Day”, Pig invites his Uncle Joe over to play basketball. He says “Shoot Uncle Joe” and Rat shows us why punctuation is so important.
  • Amoral Attorney: When the crocodiles decided to use legal force to eat Zebra, they hired Rat for a lawyer.
  • 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: Zebra has a conciliatory attitude toward his predators, but gets shot down at every turn.
  • Animal Stereotypes: Rat is willing to backstab his own friends for profit and money (such as putting up Pig for sale on eBay and betting Zebra's life to the crocs on a baseball game) as while Pig is a fat glutton.
  • 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 leaving to drop an anvil on Stephan's head after the first panel.
  • 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 Evolution: While Pearls was always on the "simplistic" side, there's definitely a noticeable evolution in the strip's art style. In addition to the character designs becoming rounder and softer (while still stick figures), they began showing more facial expressions, and even varied poses when a joke calls for it. Far cry from the first couple of years of the strip.
    • Also, Stephan Pastis the character. Initially, every time he appeared in the strip he always had a different design. Once it became apparent that he's now a recurring character, he finally settled on a consistent look.
  • 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. Pastis called this the cartoonist equivalent of getting "a glimpse of Bigfoot."
  • 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.
    • It's ironic that Pastis portrays crocodiles as stupid, given crocodilians are among the smartest of reptiles, capable of learning more quickly than dogs. Then again, the comic has plenty of smarter crocs, like Junior, so he may not have been far off.
    • In one of the treasuries, Pastis makes a reference to Goat's antlers. Goats have horns, not antlers.
    • The hyenas that appear in the comic perpetrate the misconception that hyenas are scavengers. It would have worked if they were striped hyenas or brown hyenas, but they are drawn as resembling the better-known spotted hyenas.
    • Another strip describes caimans as "little alligators". The black caiman is even larger than the American alligator.
    • In one of the treasuries, Stephan mentions that he got letters informing him that orcas do not eat krill. He snarks in the book that they also don't drive cars or enter drive-thrus. (Strip: March 1st, 2006.)
  • Asian Cleaver Fever: Pig goes to a restaurant to see a chef swing his knives around. Pig loses an ear. The second time, he loses his other ear.
  • 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. And Pastis for himself, obviously.
  • 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.
  • Backhanded Apology: Discussed in one strip, where Rat says he's going to start apologizing to people he insults by saying "I'm sorry that you were offended."
    Pig: Is that a real apology?
    Rat: No, that's what's so great. It allows me to retain the impact of the original insult while tacking on the implied bonus insult of, "You are an oversensitive ninny."
  • 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.
  • Balloonacy: Pig uses a bundle of balloons to float over the world during the COVID-19 Pandemic. He lies to Rat over the phone that he's at the store buying groceries, only to see Rat floating in front of him, also employing the use of balloons.
  • Batter Up!: Rat is frequently seen with a bat, either preparing to whack Stephan with it after a bad pun, or whacking other characters with it for various reasons.
  • Beat Panel: Mostly when Rat realizes that he has made an Accidental Pun.
  • Berserk Button: Do not call Rat when he's watching The Real World.
  • 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.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: Bigfoot appears in this strip. Rat points out that it's rare seeing him in the comics page.
  • 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.
    • He also mocked John Glynn, a president of the syndicate that distributes Pearls, a few times in the strip.
  • 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."
  • Bowdlerize: Considering how unusually dark and adult its sense of humor is for a newspaper comic strip, several strips either had to be edited before being published or nixed entirely. Most of the original/rejected strips are included in the treasuries.
    • To give one example, a strip originally containing the term "banana hammock" was changed to say "man thong" by the time it showed up in newspapers to avoid referring to male genitalia. Pastis notes here how bizarre it is to censor the word "banana."
  • Brainy Pig: In a strip, Rat attempts to invoke this trope when a butcher tries to charge him for Pig, claiming he's a "thinking pig", not an "eating pig". It doesn't work.
  • 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: Rat claimed this was possible via a pogo stick.
  • 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?
    • A June 2014 strip had Rat inform a visiting reverend that he'd stopped attending church because he felt guilty for taking money from the collection basket. Several months later, when Rat's trying to convince the church to canonize him as a saint for letting a woman with one item cut in front of him at the grocery checkout line, he attempts to bribe Goat into supporting his cause with money taken from the church basket.
    • One strip has Pig revealing to Rat that when everything in his life is just too much to deal with, he dons a sombrero and shakes maracas. Two days later, when Pigita catches Pig with a female sheep who has a crush on Pig and freaks out, Pig and the sheep don sombreros and start shaking maracas.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: "You dumb pig." and "Hullooooo, zeeba neighba." Also, people tend to say "Please don't [do whatever Jerkass behavior you are engaged in]."
    • "Peese shut mouf."
  • 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, Elly Elephant and Danny Donkey are just barely still in the strip.
    • Pastis has admitted that Andy rarely appears anymore because every time he does he gets complaints from PETA, and other various animal's rights groups due to him being a dog chained to a stake. To the point that Pastis said he's considering giving up on the character completely regardless of what fans he has.
    • John and Jennifer Seal (the two characters Orca Whale was always trying to catch and eat), haven't been seen in the strip since 2006.
  • Clapper Gag: Combined with Dead TV Remote Gag. Rat hooks the TV up to the clapper so they can turn it off easily without the remote. It gets set off when Pig slaps his knee whilst laughing.
  • Comically Small Bribe
  • Comic Trio: Rat is the Schemer, Pig is the follower, Goat is the No-Respect Guy.
  • Cone of Shame: Pig has to wear one after going to a veterinarian to do something about a scratch.
    "I think my nerd quotient just skyrocketed."
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Parodied here.
  • Countrystan: Pig dug a hole to "Kukistan". Unfortunately the natives wanted to eat Pig for dinner. In the first strip of the story arc, characters comment to each other that Kukistan doesn't exist because the editors felt that digging to the actual country mentioned would offend their central Asian readers. As a result, the strip was digitally altered.
  • 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.
    • Pastis used to be a lawyer, and he frequently makes fun of them as well.
  • Crossover:
    • Stewie Griffin 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, 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 shows up as the lawyer to bail most of the gang out of jail (who were put in for various contrived reasons).
  • Dead Person Conversation
  • Deal with the Devil: The Crocodiles once made a literal one in order to get Zebra. Unfortunately, due to them not bothering to read the print when signing over their souls, all they ended up with was a stick of gum and a lifetime in Hell instead.
  • 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.
    Rat: What are you doing?
    Pig: Digging a hole to Kukistan.
    Rat: There's no such country.
    Pig: I know...see, when Stephan originally drew this week's strips, he named an actual country, but his editors told him that if he did that, the people from that country would get mad and complain, so he had to alter all of the strips on the computer. On a positive note, the originals should be worth a bundle.
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • Dodgy Toupee: According to one strip, Ted Koppel wears one that's actually a rodent. Pig claims that he saw a small, pinkish hand emerge from said toupee and wave hello.
  • 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. However, a 2007 strip reveals that "Goat" is just a stage name... his real name is "Paris".
  • Drench Celebration: One strip had Rat doing this to Pig after the latter won a game of dominoes.
  • 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.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: This strips the first time that a crocodile appeared in it. Unlike the crocs of Zeeba Zeeba Eata, the crocodile has Black Bead Eyes like the other main animal characters in the strip.
  • Ear Worm:
    • In one strip, Rat starts singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" just to get it stuck in everyone's head. Pig starts to dismiss the idea as the silliest thing he's ever heard and begins singing the song before finishing his sentence.
    • The 5/23/21 strip begins with "READER ADVISORY: The content of this strip will be disturbing to some readers." Pig heard something terrible that ruined his whole day. Rat and Goat ask him to tell them about it, so he sings the Kars 4 Kids jingle, causing Goat to give a Big "NO!", Rat to fall on his knees, and Pastis to appear and apologize to the readers.
  • Easily Forgiven: When Guard Duck's girlfriend Maura finally comes back after previously leaving Guard Duck to fly south for the winter, he goes into a rant about how he shall never forgive her. Then she kisses him and all is forgiven.
  • 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.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Naturally occurs when Rat becomes a lawyer.
  • Exact Words:
    • When Rat and Pig go on vacation, Rat gets into an argument with the hotel clerk because he wanted a room by the ocean and the clerk was going to give them a room next to the parking lot. Long story short, Rat and Pig get a room by the ocean... as Rat finds out the hard way when he walks out the door and promptly falls into the ocean.
    • In this strip, Rat and Pig play chess. Pig doesn't know how to play, so Rat explains it to him - according to him, Pig wears a handkerchief over his eyes and tries to capture Rat's king. Pig asks if Rat wears a mask, too, to which Rat says yes - only for Rat to wear a handkerchief as a bandanna, not over his eyes, and thus he winds up winning.
    • This Christmas-themed strip has one of the Crocs writing a letter to Santa, saying "You know what me want... black and white. Four legs. Two beeg ears. Super stoopid." Of course, he's referring to a zebra. Santa brings him a black and white television.
  • Express Lane Limit: Taken to its logical conclusion when Rat flips out on a customer for coming through the express lane with a box of 575 corn flakes.
    Pig: And the manager fired you?
    Rat: Yeah, and I was like, "Duuude, I did not write the rules", and he's like, "Dude, that is not how the 'ten items or less' lane works."
  • Expressive Hair: Pig's ears.
  • Fan Disservice: Larry the crocodile dressed as Alice.
  • Fantastic Racism: The croc-dad is prejudiced against amphibians.
  • Feghoot: Happens all the time.
  • Fictional Accent: The dimwitted crocodile neighbors have a pidgin accent ("Hullo zeeba neighba", "Peese shut mouf", etc.) that intentionally doesn't resemble any real-life accent.
  • Fictional Country: One week of strips has Pig digging a hole to Kukistan. Interestingly, Rat points out on Day 1 that Kukistan isn't a real country, and Pig explains how Executive Meddling forced Pastis to redraw the strips after he had originally used a real country. (In the originals, Pig is digging a hole to China.)
  • 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.
  • Flash In The Pan Fad: In the January 22, 2016 strip, Rat buys the Smartphone 6, which just came out that very day. Then the store announces that the Smartphone 7 ("All new features! Faster! Bigger!") is coming out tomorrow.
    Rat: Tech companies are evil.
  • 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.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Cleverly subverted in this strip. It initially seems as though Pig and Rat are doing this, and as a result the neighbor who answers the door doesn't give them any candy. Then it's revealed that "Pig" was actually Rat dressed like Pig and "Rat" was actually Pig dressed like Rat.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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: The main cast are and anthropomorphic pig, rat, goat, and zebra.
  • Fun with Alphabet Soup: Pig gets a bowl that says "no one likes you" in the December 29, 2007 strip. This trope's nature as pareidolia is discussed as a play on Pig's Cosmic Plaything status.
  • 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. One storyline reveals that Goat and his mother are the only members of his family that are anthropomorphic - the others are just normal goats.
  • Furry Reminder: Rat once tried to drown the crocs as part of his Pied Piper act... but of course, they're very good swimmers, so it doesn't work.
  • 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.
  • Green Gators: The crocs have set up a frat house next to regular character Zebra, with an eye toward making a meal of him. All the crocs are green, and often Too Dumb to Live, which is why after many years, Zebra is still alive and well. The crocs? Not so much.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: The crocs. Their half-witted schemes are much more apt to kill themselves than have any effect at all on Zebra.
  • Gone Horribly Right: One series of strips involved an elephant police officer named "Potus" attempting to help work out the issues between Zebra and the Crocs. Pastis named the character "Potus" after learning that POTUS is an acronym standing for "President of the United States", and wanted to see if any readers would pick up on the acronym. People did, but this led some fans to believe the series of strips was a metaphor for the US involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, which Pastis had never intended.
  • 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.
  • Hard Truth 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".
  • 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.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: Played for laughs. At one point in an arc where the crocs decide to become ninjas, Larry's wife Patty accidentally bleaches his ninja costume, turning it white. Naturally, this makes it a lot harder for him to be stealthy in the dark.
  • Hollywood Chameleon: Exaggerated with Pig's friend Leon the chameleon.
  • 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.
  • 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 Bastards:
  • Hurricane of Puns: The Sunday strips, famously, often consist of nothing more than long, elaborate setups for some 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 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.
    • This strip has Rat mocking blogs and Goat for having one, then proceeds to head home and update his own blog.
  • Idea Bulb: Parodied. Rat pretends to come up with an idea when a real bulb burns out and he's all out.
  • Ignoring by Singing: Larry does this when his wife and son are singing "Happy Birthday" to him on his birthday in the hopes that it'll prevent him from getting older.
  • Informed Species: This strip hangs a Lampshade Hanging on the fact that Pig doesn't look all that much like real pig. According to Rat, his cute appearance is the result of two hours of "cartoon pig make-up" being applied every morning. Before he puts it on, he looks much more like a real pig.
  • Insane Troll Logic:
    • Guard Duck decides cattle are terrorists, because terrorists are cowards and "coward" starts with "cow".
    • In this strip, Pig decides that watermelons make you fat because they're heavy.
  • Insistent Terminology: "(Something) o'(Something)"
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Elly Elephant dates humans.
    • Rat has dated Farina, Pig's germophobe sister. He also frequently hits on human women, though it rarely works out.
    • Wee Bear has once gone out with a crab.
    • One storyline has Larry the crocodile's son falling in love with Zebra's niece. When he tries to tell his father this, well...
      Junior: Dad... I'm afraid you don't understand... I want to date a zebra.
      Larry: HAHAHA... dat gud one! Uhh... me want date... uh... CHEEKEN LEG! HAHAAHA... (to a chicken leg that he's holding) Does you want see movie, pretty cheeken leg?? What? What dat? You alreddy going movies wid mash potato? Oh well... dat okay... me see what ham sandwich is doing.
      (Larry falls out of his chair laughing)
      Junior: (to Zebra's niece) This may take awhile.
    • Pigita one went on a date with Donny the Dung Beetle, though he'd claimed he was a scarab. She also briefly dated Snuffles. And also apparently slept with Tiger Woods.
    • One storyline has a sheep named Sweet Fanny falling in love with Pig. They wind up getting married, but she gets flattened by Potus the Elephant after he falls off of Zebra's roof.
  • 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." The next strip, Rat's ego withers to a minimal size after Farina dumps him for Ziggy; Pig steps on the shrunken ego and says, of course, "I think I just stepped on a doody."
    • An earlier arc had Rat's comic strip creation Dickie the Cockroach come to life and perform his trademark action of tying up and gagging people who say or do stupid things to Cathy. When Rat tries to get Dickie to release her by pointing out how people are going to react when they see this, there's a Gilligan Cut to a couple at their kitchen table stating that "this is the best Cathy I've seen in twenty-five years." Several weeks later, when Rat comes Back from the Dead after his head exploded from smiling, and is upset that nobody's happy that he's back, he encounters an unhappy Dickie. Cut to a tied up and gagged Rat sitting with Cathy at her kitchen table as she reads the comics section: "This is the best Pearls Before Swine I've seen in two years."
  • Jerkass: Rat. Larry's wife Patty is pretty unpleasant too.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: Larry in the 2007 Christmas storyline. Thanks to Junior, Zebra and his family are invited over for Christmas dinner. Naturally, Larry despises the idea of having zebras around at Christmas, but he seizes the opportunity to eat Junior's zebra girlfriend's uncle. After knocking him out, he attempts to drag him onto the barbecue, but can't because he's too heavy, so he just settles for eating his left leg. He gets no comeuppance for this; the storyline just ends with him singing a cheery song about how he ate the uncle's leg.
  • Killer Rabbit: Guard Duck, especially in his earlier appearances.
    • Snuffles the cat, who was eventually found to be harboring terrorists.
    • The Killer Dolphins, who murdered several crocs and almost killed Larry...until the Killer Whale got them.
  • Lampshade Hanging: All over the place, most notably whenever someone (usually Rat) calls out a particularly lame pun or plot device.
  • Language Fluency Reveal: When Rat becomes a pet psychic and uses it to his advantage by straight-up lying to the pets' owners about what they're thinking for his own gain, a parrot named Pepe winds up exposing his being a fraud, implying that Pepe had been pretending to not be able to talk intelligently.
    "Pepe can talk and Pepe says you're an unmitigated fraud."
  • 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.
  • Living Toys: Rat made a Danny Donkey stuffed figure that came to life and robs a liquor store. Police surround Rat and Pig's house and Rat tries ratting Danny out to the police. However, Danny reverts back to his cute, adorable toy self — and so Rat tells the police Pig did it.
  • Local Hangout: The unnamed bar/diner the main characters frequent.
  • 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.".
  • Mall Santa: Parodied when Rat and Pig accidentally end up with the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh and take him to the mall dressed as Santa.
    Rat: Go ahead, kid...tell Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh what you want for next Christmas.
  • 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 (basically just them and Opus). 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."
  • Mattress-Tag Gag: One strip starring the lemmings has one of the group rip the tag off of a mattress after hearing that before jumping from Lemmings' Leap, they should do something they've always wanted to do.
  • 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.
  • Me's a Crowd: One storyline has Rat cloning himself. However, the clones are much nicer than Rat, which annoys him, so he decides to send them all to one of the Crocs as "feeder mice". Then they show up to take his place at the coffee shop where he works - apparently, just because they're nice doesn't mean they can't beat up a crocodile who wants to eat them.
  • 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...
  • Mood-Swinger: Pigita.
  • Mood Whiplash: Occurred in 2007. The April 28th strip was the touching conclusion to a heartwrenching storyline involving Junior the crocodile and Zebra's niece. The April 29th strip was about Rat writing a story in which Danny Donkey throws a lawyer off a cliff. Lampshaded by Stephan Pastis in the commentary of the treasury where these strips appear, Pearls Sells Out:
    "One day after being so touchy, I decide to throw a lawyer off a cliff. So much for the touchy-feely stuff."
  • Motherhood Is Superior: Possibly deconstructed in one episode where Pig is talking to Goat about his neighbour. His neighbour had married this one woman, and everything was great...until the wife had two kids. Then the wife and the kids, who love each other, started treating him like a non-entity. The neighbour has come to the conclusion that she was only using him to get some kids. Goat tries to point out that there is more than one side of a story, and Pig agrees. Then the last panel shows the neighbour was right. The kids and wife are sitting on him, he gets milkshake on his head, and one of the kids says "I spilled milkshake on the couch again, Mommy." She simply says, "That's okay. I was thinking of trading this one in, anyway."
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: When one of the crocs becomes a Mexican wrestler to intimidate Zebra, another croc gives him a fierce wrestling name - "Donde Esta El Queso De Mi Padre"... which as Zebra points out translates to "Where Is My Father's Cheese".
    Mexican Wrestler Croc: Dat not dat fierce.
  • 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.
  • Never My Fault:
    • When Rat breaks Pig's coffee mug by bumping it with his elbow, he decides to pin the blame on gravity.
    • One storyline has Junior running away to Zebra's house because Patty grounded him just because he asked if his zebra girlfriend could join them for Christmas dinner. When Patty finds out, she angrily blames Larry for not eating Zebra, even though Junior's running away was entirely her fault.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Rat.
  • No Focus on Humans: Stephan Pastis's Author Avatar is the only human main character in this comic strip. However, one-shot human characters appear quite often.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Would you believe that this could be used as a punchline in a not-gruesome way? Pastis did it in this Sunday strip.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In this strip, Rat consults the Wise Ass on the Hill about how to rid themselves of "the pandemic that plagues us". Rat was talking about the COVID-19 Pandemic, but until he namedropped it, the Wise Ass thought he was talking about the pandemic of stupidity.
  • 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. Examples include Zebra's doomed cousin Larry and Larry the drunk stock-picking monkey.
  • One-Two Punchline: Used frequently, especially in pun-based strips.
  • Only Sane Man: Goat and (usually) Zebra.
  • Orphaned Setup: In the November 21st, 2010 strip, Rat asks Pig where he was and gets the answer "Talking to my friends Mr. Choo and Mr. Whyte. They're both members of the British Parliament and they just finished voting 'aye' on a bill." At this point, Rat leaves to grab a sword to use to drop an anvil on Stephan's head, before returning to Pig and saying he was cutting yet another pun strip short before it could begin. What exactly the joke would've been is left as an exercise for the reader - unless you own the Treasury, in which Stephan revealed in commentary for the strip that it would've been a play on the phrase "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes".
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Pastis admitted in the commentary for Pearls Blows Up that it wasn't really in-character for the usually not very aggressive Zebra to kidnap Larry's wife (so that Larry will leave him alone).
  • Out of Order: Happens occasionally. Pastis would hold on to certain strips for later, mostly due to content or because he thought the jokes were weak. Sometimes those strips would run years after they were drawn (usually on Saturdays or holidays, when fewer people read comics), which leads to the art style clashing due to Art Evolution.
  • Overly Pre-Prepared Gag: A common feature of Sunday strips, usually setting up a 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.
  • Parody Product Placement: One strip had Larry secretly eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in the closet because he's too lazy to catch a zebra. Pastis said in the Pearls Sells Out commentary that people ask him if he's paid by companies to mention their products. He says no, and that he's never been approached.
  • 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.
  • Plane Awful Flight: Rat finds that the complimentary food and drinks have been reduced to one peanut and one ice cube to lick (for the entire plane to share). And the guy who licked the ice cube before Rat has a cold.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • On January 2005, Zebra called the police on the crocodiles for threatening to eat him. The police don't do anything because A). it's not illegal for crocodiles to hunt natural prey - even going as far as to defend the crocodiles using Darwinist philosophy and B). zebras don't have equal rights like humans do.
    • On September 2006, Starbicks Coffee seized Pig and Rat's house to set up a new coffee shop. Rat threatens to call the cops, claiming that they're right next block. The Starbicks guy replies, "Look out your window". Pig sees Starbicks also assimilated the police station. One of the Starbicks guys gives an Evil Grin to Rat, before kicking him and Pig out. Starbicks gets busy serving customers, Rat is sulking and Pig is wondering if they'll still be allowed to sleep in there.
  • 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.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: When Rat becomes a pet psychic and uses it to his advantage by straight-up lying to the pets' owners about what they're thinking for his own gain, a parrot named Pepe winds up exposing him being a fraud.
    "Pepe can talk and Pepe says you're an unmitigated fraud."
  • Precision F-Strike: The 15th July 2010 strip features Pig's sole directnote  use of Symbol Swearing as a Take That! against British Petroleumnote . He even said that he's "never said a bad word in the strip before".
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Rat in one storyline. When he thinks that the dryer is taking his socks and decides to pound the bejeepers out of it, Pig tells Rat the dryer is just a machine and can't think... when, actually, it can. Then when the washer overflows, he says that the washer must have overflowed on purpose, to which Pig calls him paranoid... only for it to turn out that, indeed, the washer DID overflow on purpose (so that it and the dryer can have their very own Jacuzzi). THEN, after the blender explodes when he's trying to make a milkshake, he becomes convinced that the appliances are conspiring against him. Pig doesn't believe him, but it turns out Rat's right about that too.
    • This strip has Rat believing that the two eighty-year-olds in the house across the street are closet psychopaths secretly planning his murder because they obsess over their front lawn. Goat doesn't believe Rat, but as it turns out, they are indeed planning Rat's murder.
    • It seems to be a Running Gag, as [[ Rat believes the birds that keep crapping on his car are "some freaky bird fraternity turning their bird-dropping skill into some warped frat game". Zebra says that he's being a little paranoid... but wouldn't you know it, it turns out Rat is right.
    • Rat is this again in a 2008 storyline in which a butterfly flies into his and Pig's house. He says that he doesn't want a butterfly in his house because "I have valuable stuff in here", but Pig just laughs and says that the butterfly's not a kleptomaniac. Gilligan Cut to the butterfly stealing Rat's iPod. Then it steals the TV. And then Pig's car.
  • Punctuation Changes the Meaning: In a 2017 comic, it's "No Punctuation Day", and Pig declares, "Terrific who needs punctuation" before turning to his uncle Joe (who's holding a basketball) and saying, "Shoot Uncle Joe". Rat does the predictable.
  • Pungeon Master: 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.
  • Punny Name: One storyline shows us what happens at a "sign convention", which is attended by the figures seen on bathroom signs. One is named John, and another is named Hedda. Get it?
  • Push Polling: Rat takes a job as a pollster. Of course, being Rat, he skews the questions, asking ones like "Do you support the mayor, or do you agree with all the people who say he's a bigtime poophead?" Later, when asked to be more neutral, he does ask seemingly neutral questions... such as "Do you support the current economic policies?" to three homeless people.
  • 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.
    • Goes even further in the treasuries, in which many of Pastis' comments highlight his lack of artistic talent.
  • 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 Ziggy 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.)
    • Several of his strips also use the style of some of his favorite strips, like The Far Side, as an homage to them.
    • Garfield Minus Garfield gets a direct Shout Out.
    • The second panel of the Dennis the Menace (US) Double Crossover mentioned above was drawn smaller than the other two to imitate DTM's one panel format, with Dennis's lines written under the panel instead of in a speech bubble.
    • Pearls is replaced briefly with Cyanide and Happiness here.
    • Several strips reference the ending of The Sopranos, usually in the form of someone about to reveal what would've happened after the Smash to Black, only for something to prematurely end the strip.
    • This strip has Pig talking to Rat about The Karate Kid. Apparently, Andy has watched it too.
    • The cover of nearly every Pearls book (and sometimes the title) is a parody of something in pop culture, including Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Glass Menagerie, and Nighthawks. A full list can be found here.
  • 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.
  • Silly Prayer: One is said by Larry the Croc when he tucks his son into bed.
    Larry: Now me lay me down to sleep. Mow dem zeebas down like sheep. Give dem to me nice and dead. Me no happy 'til me fed.
  • Silly Simian: Stephan Pastis has noted more than once that monkeys are comedy gold.
  • Sign of the Apocalypse: Rat, when Pig says something that makes sense.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Pig on one side, Rat on the other.
  • 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.
  • Smart Jerk and Nice Moron: Rat and Pig, respectively. Granted, Rat is not that smart. But he does outrank Pig in the intellect department, and—more importantly for the trope—treats Pig as the dumb one who needs his guidance.
  • 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."
    • One Lemming had this, having over three thousand profile pictures on Facebook, and a spotlight wherever he went.
  • Smoking Is Not 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 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 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."
    • One of his Danny Donkey books has a group of Environmental Activists ask him to cut down on drinking beer, recycle, and he can help save the world. Danny replies, "Why? When the world is so full of lies and greed, why save it?". The Activists are awed by his speech and change the Save the World rally to a Destroy the World rally.
  • 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.
  • Stick-Figure Comic: Rat, Pig, Goat, Zebra, and the Crocs are drawn as stick figures.
  • Stock Animal Diet: Subverted in this strip. Pig meets an anteater who as it turns out doesn't eat ants.
  • Straw Character:
    • Rat is a Strawman Conservative.
    • Stephan Pastis seems to have issues with bicyclists, who are consistently portrayed as insufferably arrogant and self-righteous. The only kind of people who are portrayed as even more insufferable, are vegans.
  • Subverted Kids' Show: Mr. Rat's Neighborhood.
  • Suicide as Comedy: Fans didn't react well to Alphonse The Depressed Porcupine.
    • In particular, anti-suicide groups didn't react well.
    • The Lemmings are usually this, although often subverted or played with. And yes, Pastis is aware the mass suicide is a myth — one Lemming brought this up, but one leaped anyway as he had his headphones in.
  • Suicide Dare: In one set of episodes, Rat takes a job as a late night radio show host, which means that he gets to listen to people call in to say that they've been abducted by aliens and things like that. One such person calls from his truck to say that aliens took his brain. Rat responds by saying that the aliens took his brain because he's a smart fellow, that they'll want the rest of his organs for military use and he must not let that happen. The caller panics and asks what should he do. Rat tells him to drive off a cliff. The caller does it, and lets out an "AAAaaahhh" as he falls. One staff member points out that the F.C.C. frowns on killing listeners and Rat says "Rules rules rules." This one is Played for Laughs.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: As real as it gets in this comic. When a missing sock harasses a woman in a bar, he naturally gets challenged by the woman's partner, prompting them to fight in the alley. During the fight, the sock accidentally kills the guy, and for that he is arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: When Larry helps his son with a biology assignment to find and catalog twenty different bird species by watching for birds in the yard, he describes the first one he sees as having two wings and a lot of feathers. After being asked to be more specific, he adds that it has a head.
  • 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?
  • Taken for Granite: Played with when Zebra sees a croc statue.
    Croc: Hulloo, zeeba neighba. How you like statue? Ees called "Meemorial to Bob".
    Zebra: Who's Bob?
    Croc: Bob is a crocodile who ees close to death.
    Zebra: What's he dying of?
    Croc: Ceement.
    Statue: Can't...breeve.
  • Take That!: Usually against "legacy" strips, the ones that have been going on for decades only because the writer has changed (The 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 (1930), 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."
    • Unsurprisingly, other strips will take potshots against Pearls from time to time. One of the most subtle examples was La Cucaracha. In a response to the strip where Rat wrote a letter to a comic syndicate saying strips appealing to minority groups aren't funny, La Cucaracha did a Sunday strip a couple months later that features the main characters getting a similar letter, signed by "Steve Pasty".
    • This strip takes a jab at stockbrokers.
      Goat: What qualifies you to be a stockbroker?
      Rat: I like to take people's hard-earned money and provide no valuable service in return.
      Goat: Wouldn't pickpocketing be simpler?
      Rat: Yeah, but my hands are too slow.
    • Here Rat writes a letter to French President Chirac telling him that because his people are still rude to Americans despite Rat's multiple previous letters, he must now be punished - specifically, by having Euro Disneyland expanded to include the entire nation of France. If he's nice, they won't make him wear the mouse ears.
    • This strip pokes fun at Starbucks and its insane amount of locations. Rat and Pig's TV-watching is interrupted by "Starbicks" employees showing up and telling them that they're opening a cafe in their living room. Rat threatens to call the cops, only for Pig to look out the window and discover that the police station right across the street is now a Starbicks.
    • In one strip, Pig tells Rat and Goat he heard "something terrible". When they convince him to talk about it, he starts singing the Kars4Kids jingle, much to their displeasure.
  • Take That, Critics!: Rat took a pointed jab at The Comics Curmudgeon, although given that it's Rat, and he claims to be using it to slam Pastis himself, who knows what is 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 to the extreme with the dumbest of them all, 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. They don't call her moody for nothing.
  • 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.
    • Subverted after Rat murders Pastis (For getting Rat stranded in Russia) - Stephan explains he's in a comic strip and can come back to life without problem, able to take off his own leg and head.
    • Subverted again after Rat was beheaded (by Jim Davis for eating Garfield - long story) - Goat questions how Rat can come back after this. One Beat later, we see Stephan gluing Rat's head back on.
  • 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 once. Another time, it makes Pig think he's gotta take a dump.
  • Unsound Effect: May 19, 2006 used "hula hula hula" to indicate Pig dancing the hula.
    • November 8, 2009 has "run run run" to indicate Danney Donkey running. Lampshaded by Pastis in the treasury commentary.
  • 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.
  • Wannabe Line: Rat, Zebra, and Pig go to a nightclub and get in line. Rat and Zebra got in; Pig, who'd recently visited a vet instead of a doctor and been given a cone to wear, was not so lucky.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Some of the 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.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Some early strips implied the cast lived in the town of Albany CA (where Stephan Pastis was living at the time), but this seems to have been Retconned; this strip does provide a good overview of the neighborhood though (apparently they live in "Pearlswood").
  • 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).
    • Done again with members of rock bands.
    • This strip have Rat and Pig getting into such a routine as well.
    Rat: Do you realize that the phrases "married for life" and "marred for life" are separated by just one letter?
    Pig: Yeah, you gotta watch what you mail people.
    Rat: Not that kind of letter... an alphabet letter.
    Pig: Oh.
    '''Rat: Not "O." "I."
    Pig: You?
    '''Rat: Not "U"... "I"!
    Pig: Oh, I see.
    Pig: Gee, are you okay?
    Pig: That's so cute you got a li'l pig doll... what's his name?
    Rat: I call him "Voo".
    Pig: What does voo do?
    Rat: That's right.
    Pig: What's right?
    Rat: Voodoo.
    Pig: Voo do what?
    Rat: Voo do voodoo.
    Pig: Never mind.
  • 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 in this strip.
  • 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: There's 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.
  • You Can't Miss It: In one strip, Rat gives directions and adds "You can't miss it". After they leave he tells Pig he adds that to make them feel stupid if they do miss it.