August 03, 2017


Suit Your Selfie: A “Pearls Before Swine” Collection. By Stephan Pastis. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Dog Man #3: A Tale of Two Kitties. By Dav Pilkey. Graphix/Scholastic. $9.99.

Sorry I Humped Your Leg (and Other Letters from Dogs Who Love Too Much). By Jeremy Greenberg. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     Dogs are not major characters in Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine comic strip, but as the latest collection for younger readers shows, their cameo appearances with series regulars such as Pig, Rat, Goat and Zebra fit Pastis’ skewed and sometimes strange humor quite well. One strip features “the dreaded poodle drone,” designed not to bomb enemies but to harass them into submission: it is a pink poodle that hovers above the counter where Rat and Goat are sitting, repeating its “yap!” 24 times in the confined space of a single panel. Then there is neighbor Bob’s dog, which Bob tells Pig he got because dogs are “loyal, trustworthy, and will stick with you to the very end” – at which point the dog comments, “I’d sell your soul for a strip of bacon.” That is definitely a Pearls Before Swine perspective. Actually, Pig proposes introducing a regular dog character to the strip in one place here, saying it would make things easier when the strip is translated into other languages, since dogs “go ‘arf arf’ everywhere.” Not so, says Pastis in his cartoon iteration, then showing the identical dog “speaking” in 10 different languages, from “mung-mung” in Korean to “bub-bub” in Catalan to “bad-bad” in Persian. Even without a prominent canine, though, this collection manages to reflect much of the strip’s generally dark approach to life and other mishaps – without getting too far into elements that are common in Pearls Before Swine but considered inappropriate for younger readers, such as all the beer drinking. Death, however, is obviously deemed all right, since one strip has a dead crocodile being stored in a home freezer and others feature identical-looking lemmings committing or about to commit mass suicide. Death is also referenced in an “alternative history” strip in which Abraham Lincoln sends tweets on Twitter, including one about his upcoming evening at Ford’s Theatre. But there is a distinctly odd bit of editing in this Lincoln strip, showing where modern sensibilities regarding younger readers lie. One tweet here reads, in its entirety, “Slaves free! #DoingBestICan.” But Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves, and the original Pearls Before Swine version of this strip had the correct information in its tweet: “Slaves free! (if living in Confed.) Rest of you – not so much. #DoingBestICan.” That is an accurate tweet (given the absurd underlying premise) but apparently was considered too difficult, or controversial, or politically incorrect for Suit Your Selfie. Very odd. This misstep aside, though, the book is fun in the usual offbeat and suitably strange Pearls Before Swine manner.

     Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man graphic novels are offbeat and strange as well, and they too have quasi-literary aspirations. Or at least A Tale of Two Kitties does. Yes, this book – ostensibly created by fifth-graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins – starts with references to and echoes of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. And at the very end, after three separate happy endings, the book concludes with some real-world seriousness about the benefits of reading to your dog, complete with the hashtag #Readtoyourdogman. In between the Dickens references and the hashtag, Pilkey weaves a story that is tangled even by his standards: evil cat Petey clones himself but ends up with a kitten; multiple buildings come to life and start yelling “Gooba Gaba” after an explosion at the Living Spray Factory; the dastardly now-dead fish Flippy (from the previous book, Dog Man Unleashed) gets a bionic body and is reanimated to do more bad things; there are several of the usual “flip-o-rama” sections, in which readers are told to flip two pages back and forth quickly and repeatedly to simulate animation (very primitive animation); and the little kitten, who loves Dog-Man, ends up helping take care of the various baddies by using Petey’s invention, the “80-Hexotron Droidformigon,” a “transforming supa-robot” that the kitten is using in “Robo Suit mode.” There is a surprising amount of warmth in A Tale of Two Kitties – even Petey shows that he has a softer side – and there is also some thoroughly unsurprising mayhem, along with jokes and quotations from Dickens and, as usual, “how to draw” instructions after the story ends. This time the “ridiculously easy” drawing steps show how to re-create the kitten (now known as “Li’l Petey” but identified as “Cat Kid” in the promo for the next book in the series), the 80-HD, and a “beasty building,” as well as Petey and Dog-Man. It is all in good fun, and really is funny, and the touches of seriousness harm the humor not at all – they actually enhance it, although calling the book in any sense “educational” would be stretching things a bit too far.

     The dogs are real, not cartoon characters, in Sorry I Humped Your Leg, but the “letters” they have “written” spring entirely from the mind of Jeremy Greenberg. The idea of this small gift book is to show endearingly adorable dogs of all types in poses that just might reflect their feelings about situations described and discussed in the letters. An adorable pup named Thatcher is shown splay-legged on an apparently slippery wooden floor, so the letter here begins “Dear Foul Floorboards” and explains, “I hope to grow old sleeping on your sunniest spots, but if this keeps up I’ll refuse to have my claws clipped until they have no choice but to resurface you into sawdust.” A dog named Truman is seen with extended tongue lapping up the juices flowing from a cooked but still-uncarved turkey on a countertop cutting board, and the letter to “Dear Thermometer-Popping Pack Leader” says, “Next year our ears will ring with the sound of crunching exoskeletons as your survivalist sister-in-law serves her traditional Thanksgiving feast of fried crickets and tap water. I had to lick the cutting board, or next year the only thing we’d be thankful for would be a travel-halting snowstorm.” Elsewhere, a dog called Ozzy, newly arrived in a foster home, writes, “Since this is the first time I’ve seen you get out of the shower, it’s probably good to break the news that Ozzy barks at butts.” And then there is the “Dear Grandpa Pack Leader” letter from Rusty: “Has anyone told you that you might just be the most interesting human in the world? …I love watching you wake up wondering which room you’re in. It means you’ll probably forget and feed me two breakfasts.” True, that “maybe you’ll forget” sentence is ageist and a trifle cruel – Greenberg’s fault, not Rusty’s – but the notion of a dog, any dog, considering a person, any person, to be “the most interesting human in the world,” is a pretty solid insight into the delights of dog ownership and the delightfulness of the antics and activities of cartoon and real-world dogs alike.

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