The Controversy That Wasn’t

I’ve always wanted to get Pearls on TV.

Just not this way.

The strip in question is yesterday’s, and the panel in question is this one, which you can see here:

pb090811 (happy box 2)

Apparently, certain readers think they see the “f” word appearing twice in this panel.  Personally, I can’t see it, and I know it was not in the strip as I created it.  The only thing I can think of is that the way in which certain newspapers compressed the strip resulted in the “f” word appearing.  If you are readers of either the St. Louis Post Dispatch or the Fayetteville Observer or any other newspaper with similar compression techniques, perhaps you can confirm that.

As I told the editor of the Post Dispatch, there are plenty of times where I do things that merit legitimate criticism.  I just don’t want to waste one of those opportunities on something I didn’t do.

Maybe it’s one of those “Magic Eye” things, those popular paintings where if you squint your eyes hard enough and long enough and “look through” the painting, certain images appear.

I never could see those images.

And I can’t see this one either.

105 thoughts on “The Controversy That Wasn’t

  1. My guess is, someone saw the symbols and “rock” and jumped to high heaven thinking it was something else.

    I have a mantra for such situations: “People IS stupid; I can’t even say it in the plural anymore…”

  2. hi stephan
    as u know I’m not american so I ‘ve not read those newspapers. But I can’t see F in this painting. But I haven’t understood: what’s the matter if there would be an (or more) F(s)?!

  3. Oh sweet Jesus. People see what they want to see. If you drew a different kind of strip, someone would say they saw Jesus’s face in the text.

    I suppose if it’s compressed down, the #rock can fudge its way into looking like an f-bomb. But that’s a stretch.

    Your strip is awesome. Don’t change a thing.

  4. Well, I counted severals jerks, but you could be one jerk off from that, I suppose. BTW St.Louis Post makes your strip into the size of a postage stamp. If someone was saying you had ^$%@ in the comic, they are mistaking you for someone who works for Disney.

  5. Look at the two areas where # rock shows up. Now take your eyes out of focus. You can kinda see it, but anyone looking with anything better than legally blind vision should see it plainly says # rock.

  6. f word or no f word, I think you’re one of the last great newsprint comic guys out there (praise be to Gary Larson).

    Forget TV. You should go with the Pearls Before Swine movie!

  7. Did no one mention to you that in the regional dialects of Missouri and Arkansas, “^$%@” is a recognized alternate spelling of the “f” word?

  8. I didn’t notice it, either. However, when I save the pic on my computer and shrink it, the work “rock” in “$^@^# rock” suddenly looks like it begins with a capital F and a lower case u. However, I figure if you were going to put obscenities in the panel, you wouldn’t have bothered to use fun characters like $%^&* at all.

    If they press the issue, just tell them the chickens made you do it.

  9. If you look at the coverage, and the places they blurred on the TV broadcast (hilarious, btw: like anyone could read it that quick), it looks like their referring to the word “rock”, located right above the “been living” at dead center and bottom right.

    I guess if you squint . . .

  10. If you squint, or when the paper is compressed, the word “rock” kind of looks like the F word

  11. Okay – I looked where they had blurred out and it very plainly says “rock”.

    Just goes to show people who want to find something wrong will find it.

    Love the scolding tone of the reporter. Sheesh.

  12. Oh, god, why are people so desperate to be offended?

    I live in St. Louis, so I’ll check out a copy and let you know if I see anything.

  13. Oh, and for now, I’m guessing it’s that thing in the bottom right corner, the:

    # rock

    …which I can see morphing into distortion in a tiny comic panel in the newspaper.

  14. Would’ve been nice for a reporter of one media outlet or another actually contact you. But I guess that would have been way too journalistic of them.

  15. haha i like how on the news report they blur out a bit of the panel which apparently shows the f word. But yeah, there is no f word on there. I can’t see it anyway.

    Here in England, you sometimes see fully naked breasts making it to the comics pages, which I know would probably start a riot in the US. They’re not very good comics in England but hey.

  16. Seriously?!?! Some people have too much time on their hands if they are squinting to try and find dirty words hidden in Pearls. Perhaps next time you should hide the words “Get a life.”

  17. Oh! Oh! I got it!

    The ‘rock’ after ‘$^@^#’, when really, REALLY small, looks like the ‘f’-word. Sorta. And it appears twice, once in the middle and once in the bottom right, so I’m guessing that’s it.

    Of course, the size I had to shrink it down to to see that was pretty small, and I really had to look to find it, so I’m guessing only the people who are *really* looking to be pissed off will find it.

  18. I suppose if you look at it wrong, the “rock” in the middle-ish could look a lot like it. Though in any case, I imagine that a strip like that involved an editor checking over it with a very fine-toothed comb.

    Also, the only way that someone would see that is if he were looking specifically for it. It’s not like it’s obvious enough for someone to see without really looking?

  19. I can’t believe that someone would waste their time looking for the f- word in some small compressed comic panel. They must stay awake at night, wondering if there is a hyphen between anal and retentive. LOL
    (BTW, I could never see those magic eye things either!)

  20. People are obviously looking WAY too hard.

    It appears as though these up tight folks need a drink and a life.

  21. In “The Seattle Times” the panel in question runs at 1-3/4″ tall by 1-5/8″ wide and I can’t find any profanity in it. (Although the “rock” near the center kinda looks like a “f” if you look at it sideways after a few beers.)

  22. That’s terrible. A) that someone would take the time to read every word and see if there were any curse words, B) that someone would find a curse word that isn’t there (I mean, you made the strip, I think you would know) and C) that the news decided to report on that. Sad.

  23. I didn’t see it when I studied the script, but when I scrolled back up with my eyes a little out of focus (yes, like for those stupid Magic Eye books that give me a headache) I think I see what they are seeing.

    It’s the italicized word rock. The top of the o thins out and blends into the word above. And the r takes a prong from the letter below and turns into a small-caps F.

    But it should not have made it onto TV for that–anyone who looks with unbleary eyes should see that! Unless, as you say, it was squished by the paper. With my aging eyes and at the size the Philadelphia Inquirer prints it, I wasn’t reading ANY of the words in the print version of the panel, so who knows.

  24. I couldn’t find it. At first I thought it might be #rock, since at first glance it seems like it, but looking closer reveals, no dice.

  25. Based on where they did the “pixelization” thing on that news story, I’m guessing the number sign (#) and the word “rock” melded together when compressed. I’m sure someone saw the image of Jesus in their tortilla this morning, too. Hey, it’s got people talking, right? Whoo!

  26. It appears the word they’re referring to is actually “rock,” which appears in the center and the lower right, both times preceded by $^@^#

    I’ve viewed the panel as it appeared in my local paper, and I suppose if you think too hard, the “r” becomes an “F” (because there is a little smudge of superimposed text that looks like it forms the lower horizontal line), and the “o” becomes a “u” (because the italicized font is very thin at the top of the letter).

    The people who see the F-word in this panel are the same people who can taste hints of banana, chocolate, coffee and Chubby Hubby when they evaluate a fine wine. IT TASTES LIKE GRAPES, PEOPLE!

  27. In my paper (The Globe and Mail) it is reasonably clear (though it is also clear that it is a printing artifact)

    In the middle #rock, the ink in the word “think” below the r bleeds slightly causing the r to look like a smushed “f” The top of the o gets smeared (another printing artifact) making it look more like a “u” with an umlat.

    Even though the bottom right #rock has the same layout, the printing artifacts aren’t there for that one.

  28. Yeah, I scoured every inch that I could see in this strip. But I couldn’t find the “f-bomb” anywhere in the strip. I think they’re just crazy. >.<

    Also, I love your work. And your blog.

  29. I wasn’t bleary-eyed, drunk, crossing my eyes just so, or looking to be offended, but I saw “#rock” as the eff-dash-dash-dash, the queen mother of all dirty words. It wasn’t in a compressed newspaper image, but in a compressed web image, right on’s own page.

    That said, it could be argued that I *was* looking for it in the sense that I half expected Pastis to try and slip one past the censors, so I spent a bit of time scrutinizing panel 2 with that expectation ahead of time. And since you wouldn’t expect to see “#rock” in a big jumble of insults but you would expect to see f*, you could argue that my mind filled in the blanks. But yeah, interference from the surrounding letters helped that along.

    Was I offended? No, I was amused. I also agree that those looking to be offended spent way too much time and effort trying for that effect.

    As to whether it really was just a random coincidental artifact of compression or Stephan deliberately smudged the surrounding characters so the “r” and “o” were ambiguous… that’s a mystery that we’ll never know, just like Janet Jackson’s “accidental” wardrobe malfunction. Yeah, this was a typographical malfunction!

  30. This controversy sounds like excellent material for future Pearls strips.

    What are the odds that the newspaper and TV station that participated in libelous and slanderous actions against you will apologize? About as likely as Garfield actually being funny?

  31. I held the strip in front of the mirror so I could read it backwards and it says that Paul is dead.

    #rock…. 😦

  32. Definitely #rock is the issue. At a distance of about 4 feet from my monitor it looks suspiciously like the f bomb.

  33. Well, no matter how hard I look I can’t find it but I agree that maybe people saw the # rock and just assumed. I really tried to find it too – but I couldn’t do the magic eye things either so I guess that is why I can’t find it.

  34. Let’s pretend “fuck” really is there: So the paper’s copy editor (even with a magnifying glass) lets a profanity make it to print but blames the syndicate’s copy editor for missing it?

    #rock ’em.

  35. Yeah, if you don’t look very carefully at “rock” from far away it LOOKS like it, but whoever was stupid enough to call someone didn’t look close enough. What I don’t understand is why they think it appeared twice!? As I quote from Rat, “People are MORONS! MORONS! MORONS!”

  36. I don’t see the F word.

    But I do see the word “fart” once.

    And for the record, those Magic Eye things are really fun.

  37. Who cares if you did or not?
    First of all, the newspapers are too small to tell anyways, and online you can see it’s not there. And if it was… who cares?

    Slow day at the newsroom.

  38. You have to be either drunk or blind to live in St Louis, so I guess some drunk or blind guy “saw” the f word and had to complain the the Post-Dispatch. You’d think the paper would check it out before publishing a random complaint. Nice to live in a country where journalism no longer exists.

    By the way, the in-famous “Ed H” lives in a tree in East St Louis. He’s part monkey.

  39. Yeah, I had to look at the paper about three times too. I think the trend towards printing this stuff so small you need a magnifying glass to read it has a lot to do with that.

  40. I just want to commend you for this awesome story line. I have complained (apparently too often) about this very thing on the blogs of my local newspaper (Albany New York Times Union). So, now I am reading blog posts but refraining from reading the comments unless to answer a question I asked.
    Thank you so much for addressing this sad social commentary!!!

  41. If I squint (and after a couple of beers), I can sort of imagine that the “r” becomes an “f.” But I really can’t make that “o” become a “u” in my mind.

    Regardless, I think Rat now has a new expression that he can use whenever he wants to let fly a vulgarity. And S.P. wouldn’t even need to cover it up with @#%!!.

  42. I think it’s an optical illusion. 🙂

    I swear I see the F-word out of the corner of my eye, but when I look in that area is vanishes and I see it elsewhere. But the same thing happens when I look directly at it.


  43. I can see a sailboat, but I can’t see the offending expletive.

    I note that the news channel tag line is “News four never stops”, but they forgot the rest of it i.e. “…to check for accuracy.”

  44. I read your strip every day in the Fayetteville Observer and remember that one. I did not see “f” word at all.

  45. If you’re using Internet explorer or firefox, open jake’s link and press Ctrl and minus four times. in the higher # rock, one of your other words passes the R in the middle, making look like a small capital F.
    the o is also thinner at the top, so if you shrink it enough, as most newspapers do, it looks like the F-bomb.

    I think that’s the issue.

  46. sorry, I skipped a bit in my previous post, I mean that the shrunk O looks like a U, so, that the whole word looks like the F-word.

  47. I just grabbed yesterdays paper from the recycle bin and when I took a look at that panel sure enough the way the image was reduced by the paper the work rock looked like f***, of course the real cause of this issue is that papers are cutting cost and in the case of my local paper craming 24 comics onto a single page which is truly obscene.

  48. From now on, #rock will enter the Internet meme records as an alternative term for the f-word. Quick! To Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary!

  49. Preposterous. They just shouldn’t be running the strip so small. That’s the problem here.

    ‘#rock’ them.

  50. Perhaps, Rat adjusted the graphics to cause this illusion. Seems like his handiwork. By the way I almost see ass in that panel.

  51. Stephan, on behalf of all the non-moronic residents of the city of St. Louis (myself hopefully included), I just want to say that you are #rocking awesome.

  52. August 12, 2009. The date upon which the work “rock” became the eighth word you cannot say on television. It will be added tomorrow to our company’s list of words which, if uttered, require that you “pay the pig” (which is the piggy bank into which our cussing fine is deposited).

  53. Maybe the word “jerk” compressed looks like the f word, I thought it was at first glance.

  54. I didn’t see anything on the one you posted so I went back and looked at the strip on yahoo…
    It does not say F*** on yours anywhere, it clearly says rock. But when you make the image smaller and you don’t really pay attention but you are thinking of expletives, it jumps out at you. But if they had taken a closer look, they would have seen that it was not a curse word.

    I say “rock” them. and now rock is a new curse word thanks to them blotting it out on the show. Besides, they are just looking for people to screw.

  55. When I was reading it yesterday morning in the Sacramento Bee, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to put swear words in the 2nd panel and not be noticed, given how cluttered it is. So I looked at it closely and definitely saw the f-word. The panels are quite small in the Bee, so even after staring at it, I was still convinced that that’s what it said. I only actually came to this blog because I was curious to see if there was anything regarding that here. Now that it’s shown larger, I can obviously see that it says otherwise. To counter what a couple other people said, I’m 18 and have good eyesight, and I also found it quite amusing, so it’s not just old grumpy blind people who saw it.

  56. I remember those magic eye things. I remember staring at one of them for a long, long time. And then I saw the image – it was Mickey Mouse.

    Or so I thought. Turns out that I was just staring at wallpaper. And I was having a stroke.

  57. I’ll admit that when the strip first appeared, I looked closely at the words in the last panel…

    but in my defense, I wasn’t looking for “profanities” – I thought there might be a joke hidden in there 🙂

    ( I half-expected to find the words:
    “if you read this, you are looking too closely” )

  58. All I could see was an image of Sarah Palin doing unspeakable things to Larry. I think I need new glasses.

    That Ed H dude is a juicebag. Pound Rock, indeed.

  59. I think that it could be a good thing – people who never read the comic before might get interested, thinking it’s edgy and that the humble creator likes to break all the rules!

    I guess next time you incorporate a huge jumble of words on a panel, you’ll just have to look at it from 50 feet away after taking a couple hits of acid while closing one eye and reciting the pledge of allegiance…

    just to make sure it doesn’t offend anybody.

  60. And if the “f” word were there, what’s the big deal? It’s only a word. People who look for such to complain about don’t have enough REAL work to do.

  61. The word in question obviously was NOT in the strip yesterday. Controversy like this is always created by people whose lives are so lame and sad that they NEED drama. My guess is that those same people would drop ten bucks for a ticket to an R-rated movie any day without blinking an eye. And you know those movies are peppered with F-bombs.

  62. I’m with the #rock faction. If it does say “fuck” anywhere in that panel I guess I #rocked up and didn’t see it.

  63. ok i think i found it after showing a few of my friends. the word ‘rock’ to simple minded and half blind color-def idiots (yes i know i said color-def)the symbols blur wen compressed and it looks similar to that word. so stephan i see u have some new material on guys that make the crocs look like edison and einstein. keep up the good work and keep on ‘rocking’ or how the blind ones see it.

  64. My wife just told me about the controversy. I checked back on the site I usually use, the Houston Chronicle’s site. (URL below) I had not seen it on first reading; but I saw it this time.

    As someone said earlier, it looks like the bold/foreground word “rock” got fuzzied/made less crisp than Stephan’s image, above. When the tops of the letters in the background word ran along the middle of the lowercase letter “r” … yeah, on the Chron site it makes the “r” look like an upper case “F”. On first reading, at least.

    Ditto the “rock” at the lower right.

    Mind you, once I saw Stephan’s image and saw what it was *supposed* to look like, I did start seeing the lowercase “r”.

    Here’s that URL. It’s a page built with a bunch of comics. PBS is at the bottom of the first page (due to the alphabet).

  65. The comments on this page are using words like “moron” to describe the people that made this news (even specifically ripping on “Ed H” and the reporters). Considering the subject matter of this series of strips, is this ironic? I can never tell.

  66. wow, that’s wild. they even blurred out the alleged spot on the panel. That is way too funny. the #rock faction has to have it right. could be the new chat slang, much like pwn.

  67. Today’s strip (the stupidity epidemic) is remarkably appropriate for this! Too bad “News4 Never Stops” running mindless stories without thinking!

  68. Pingback: Inserted F-word in Pearls Before Swine? | The Daily Cartoonist

  69. Well, I don’t see the f-word, but if you read the strip backwards, slowly, it says “Satan loves hooves”.

  70. If you fold that one panel together like the Mad Magazine Fold-in you see “Seriously, moron. Please shut up” and a small caricature of Sergio Aragones.

    Maybe it’s just me.

  71. There are a couple of places where, if one squints and assumes the worst, the letters do look a bit like the f-word. However, I suspect that if I squint enough, and assume the worst about myself, I could find the f-word in this comment too.

  72. That’ll teach you for including the word “rock” in your comic with a lot of visual noise!

  73. Did you know when you turn the record edition of “Stairway to Heaven” backwards on a turntable you can hear “Praise to Satan?”

    Or was it “Reagan wears pink speedos.” I can never remember.

  74. I can see what people are getting at. When I lean back in my chair and squint, “# rock” does look like the F-word. Like you said, its just like one of those magic eye things.

    I hate it when people make such a big deal over pointless/stupid stuff like this. Like how one Christmas a bunch of women protested because they didn’t like how Santa says “Ho Ho Ho”. Its just a waste of time and energy. Theres more important things in life to worry/complain about other than just some words some folks think are bad, but aren’t.

  75. I honestly don’t see it unless it is the word “rock” and you squint like you lost your glasses it might look like the f word. I laughed when they put a “censor” thing over the comic in the news clip like it was a nudie pic or something.

  76. I really REALLY like the fact that this is the strip for my birthday. Kinda gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling 🙂

  77. People are idiots. If anyone takes your comic out of my paper, I will cancel my subscription.

  78. It would have been AWESOME if you had the f-word in there somewhere.

    Or better yet, you should draw a subliminal middle-finger. I had a friend who painted a portrait of a nice dining table with fruit, a wine-opener, and a candle. Everyone who looked at told her what a lovely painting it was.

    In reality, her painting was giving everyone the finger.

  79. Don’t worry about it. I’m from the St. Louis area and it’s crazy little stuff like this that is causing the Post-Dispatch to lose readers and money. Is “Pearls” in the Belleville News-Democrat? It’s a much better paper than the Post-Dispatch.

  80. @kimberly baker

    Wow, you’re so incredibly edgey, what with the random and ignorant disrespect towards mid-western people. Were you amazed when people from my state/city came to defend Mr. Pastis? I’m sure your mind was completey blown by the fact that people from Missouri aren’t all ignorant rednecks.

    Or wait, what am I thinking.. I’m from Missouri, so I guess I should be saying something along the lines of; WELL GARSH DURNED IT STEEVAN HOW DARE’N YOU MESS WITH MUH FUNNY PAGES. DEMS GODS PAGES.

    You’re just as ignorant as the people who called KMOV to complain.

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