The Saturday Evening Pearls: A “Pearls Before Swine” Collection. By Stephan Pastis. Andrews McMeel. $10.99.
My Space: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 24. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.
Ignorance, Thy Name Is Bucky: A “Get Fuzzy” Collection. By Darby Conley. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.
The latest Pearls Before Swine collection is a bargain, costing $2 less than the other two books here and offering just as many pages (128). Being an ex-lawyer, Stephan Pastis may have something to do with the price differentiation – maybe he wants to undercut the competition. It’s certainly not that PBF is worth less than other top-notch strips: why, there is no better place to go for death-obsessed, bottom-of-the-barrel humor in which characters regularly get killed and the book’s cover resembles an old Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell moment, except that half a picture of Pastis is visible on the wall as the crocodiles serve a dinner whose main course is Zebra with an apple in his mouth, and the table sports an entire plate of very worried-looking Fruit Buddies that are about to be eaten, and everyone is drinking beer endorsed by Danny Donkey, who hates everybody, and… Hmm. For some people, $10.99 is going to be about 11 bucks too much for this. But those with sufficiently twisted funnybones will have a great time with the lawsuit filed by the crocs against Zebra, who they say “‘willfully failed’ to be their food.” The crocs are represented by Rat and Zebra by Guard Duck, so negotiations go like this: “Hello…counselor? Settle or I firebomb your office.” “Settle or I beat you silly.” Then there is “National Enquirat,” Rat’s tabloid newspaper, in which Goat’s possession of aspirin leads to the headline, “Drug-Addled Goat Busted in Massive Narcotics Sting,” and a brief guest appearance by Beetle Bailey and Zero, who give each other a good-bye hug, produces this screaming headline: “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?” Let’s see…the hyenas move into the neighborhood and ask Zebra if he has any leftovers – “Dead guys. We’re not picky…. Maybe an uncle or something.” Danny Donkey learns an important lesson after cutting into lines at the market, store and amusement park: line cutting makes him happy. There are sendups of “Peanuts,” soap-opera strips and “Family Circus,” plus one strip whose reference to the Groucho Marx TV show You Bet Your Life will either be hilarious or fall absolutely flat, depending on a reader’s age and knowledge of television. In fact, there is a little of everything in The Saturday Evening Pearls, unless of course you want amusing family-focused humor.
If that’s what you’re after, go for Baby Blues, which is as delightful as ever, if not more so, in My Space (no direct relationship to the popular social-networking Web site: the cover shows mom Wanda crushed into a tiny portion of the page, indicating just how much space parents get for themselves when they have kids). The three-child MacPherson family is humming (or stumbling) along just wonderfully here. Wanda: “Whoever is doing whatever is going to get you-know-what, if you don’t cut it out!” Zoe and Hammie, after dad Darryl incorrectly says that turtles are amphibians: “Let’s see what else he doesn’t know.” Darryl, while cooking an outdoor meal of hot dogs, Polish sausage, linguisa, andouille, kielbasa and bratwurst: “My barbecue repertoire is pretty much limited to meat in a tube.” Thelma, Zoe’s overnight guest: “My! My! My! If this place was any nicer, it’d be a chocolate Sunday school!” Zoe offering to read a book to baby Wren, who does not speak yet but is clearly making her presence felt: “We have Where the Wild Things and the Dumb Brothers are…Dumb Brother, Dumb Brother, What Do You See?...The Very Hungry Dumb Brother…Why don’t we start with a classic, Harold and the Purple Dumb Brother.” All this verbiage springs from the mind of Jerry Scott (who also writes Zits, thereby proving himself attuned to children and proto-adults of all ages), and is perfectly matched to Rick Kirkman’s ever-more-refined drawings – in which the changing expressions (accomplished with oh-so-minor but oh-so-skilled alterations of the characters) perfectly reflect the ever-changing moods. And Kirkman has developed a fine sense of the absurd, too: just check out the Sunday strip in which Zoe and Hammie pile objects on top of their dad’s super-prominent nose.
The most prominent thing in the latest collection of Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy is the series of non sequiturs and outright misinterpretations from Bucky Katt. Bucky is equally snide to Satchel Pooch and the hapless human, Rob, whose cluelessness reaches new heights (or depths) nearly every time he opens his mouth. Rob, for example, wants to know why the sport of snowboard cross isn’t called “snoto-cross? Or bordo-cross? I mean, am I the only person who thinks about these things?” And Bucky, in a rare moment of lucidity and insight, comments, “The real mystery is how you don’t have a girlfriend yet, chief.” Most of the time, though, Rob (aka “Pink” or “Dorktator”) is only a distraction from the far more amusing interaction of Bucky with the world around him. Bucky decides to be a filmmaker like “Quentin Tabbytino,” a scruffy cat he brings to the apartment, and when Rob says he doesn’t believe the cat really makes movies, Bucky says, “Your toaster on the way out, Rob, ’cause you just opened an account at the First National Bank of Amerismack!” Buck also creates a “tummy exerciser” called “Ab Solutions” because the Pope “used to sell a product called Absolutions a while back, but the trademark must have run out.” And Bucky, denied access to whiskey, creates “whiskery,” which is “a homemade blend of rubber bands in toilet water.” He also creates the Bucky Museum (the whole apartment) and makes the perpetually put-upon Satchel handle admissions. Then there is Bucky’s determination to model for a hairball remedy: “This face will be synonymous with feline regurgitation.” But not everything in this book is Bucky-centric (although most of it is). There is one very funny week of strips in which Rob (now taking the role not of an advertising executive but of Conley himself) “rips off” and redoes a series of strips from none other than Pearls Before Swine…with “guest” appearances by none other than Stephan Pastis, who previously did the same thing with some Get Fuzzy strips – thereby proving, if nothing else, that oddball humor interfaces well with other oddball humor.