SANTA ROSA, CA – Greek-American cartoonist Stephan Pastis, based in Santa Rosa, created the popular comic strip Pearls Before Swine in 1997, and was recently featured in The Press Democrat (TPD) after his latest installments of the strip were pulled from 850 newspapers by its distributor because the five scheduled to run January 18-22 depicted a military coup.
Pastis “submitted the strips more than a month ago and never meant to comment on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building in Washington, DC, by supporters of President Donald Trump as Congress met to recognize the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden,” said a spokesman for Andrews McMeel Syndication, based in Kansas City, which distributes Pearls Before Swine, TPD reported, adding that “rather than risk reader misperception that the strips had been inspired by the uprising, Andrews McMeel Syndication… decided to withdraw them from the publication schedule.”
Pastis told TPD in an interview via email that “the syndicate almost never stops any strips I run, so this is really unusual, but these are unusual times.”
Scheduled for the week of the U.S. presidential inauguration, the strips would have started on January 18, but on January 8, “two days after a violent mob stormed the Capitol, the syndicate sent a notice to subscriber newspapers that next week’s strips would be replaced with substitutes already created by Pastis,” TPD reported.
Andrews McMeel Syndication’s CEO Andy Sareyan said that “the strips haven’t been killed but merely delayed,” TPD reported, adding that “We’ll run the strips when things calm down. He wrote these strips long before everything that happened last week, but to run them now just seemed like bad timing. They were about to come out at the time when tensions are running so high in the country.”
Pastis summarized the Pearls Before Swine strips which involve “two ongoing characters, series star Rat, who has been posing as president for years as a running gag”… “and the militaristic Guard Duck,” TPD reported.
“Guard Duck, in his little army helmet, invades the White House to remove President Rat, whose elite guard unit (the crocodiles) are lured away from their post by a Cinnabon. Rat scrambles to pardon himself before he is dragged from the Oval Office,” Pastis said, TPD reported.
Pastis had posted on Twitter on January 7 before the strips were pulled to let readers know that the storyline’s timing was unintended. He posted “Just a quick note to say that the Pearls Before Swine strips that will run in newspapers from 1/18-1/22 are all about an attempted presidential coup. They were all created at least a month in advance of yesterday’s events and are not a commentary on them.”
The post included an image from the comic strip, “showing Rat sitting behind the president’s desk as Guard Duck peeks at him from behind a curtain,” TPD reported.
View the post on Twitter: https://twitter.com/stephanpastis/status/1347272801841868800.
Pastis is “confident that the withdrawn strips will be safe to run six months from now,” TPD reported.
“The strips themselves are fairly harmless. It’s just that, unbelievably enough, they concern a coup attempt involving the president of the United States,” he told TPD, “And most people don’t know how far in advance syndicated cartoonists have to work. So they’ll assume it’s a commentary on what just happened and not know they were done way in advance of the events.”
Pastis noted that some of the strips were drawn “years ago,” TPD reported.
“There are five strips. Two of them were drawn in 2017 and for whatever reason, I just never ran them. Three of them were drawn in early December 2020,” Pastis explained to TPD. “I normally work around eight months in advance, but lately I’ve been substituting strips in so that I could cover the pandemic. The syndicate has ‘Pearls’ strips that run through the end of August 2021.”
Pastis “has cultivated a reputation for edgy humor and has even jokingly mocked syndicate censors in his comic strip,” TPD reported, adding that his distributor stills hold him in high regard, according to Sareyan.
“He is certainly one of our favorite people we represent. There certainly is no friction between us,” the syndicate chief told TPD, noting that “we defend any cartoonist’s right to comment on events. But Stephan wasn’t trying to comment on last week’s event at all. He didn’t know it was coming. He isn’t prescient.”
Though Pastis also seemed to predict the future in a previous strip, he told TPD that “the even odder strip was the ‘Pearls’ strip from December 29, 2019, which seems to predict the pandemic year of 2020.”
“I think that the bottom line is that when you do a series of comic strips about an insurrection in the United States government, you never think there will be an actual insurrection in the United States government,” Pastis told TPD, “Or, maybe it’s just that in the last couple years, if you do strips that assume the worst, you will generally be proven right.”