“Yes, for those of you wondering, today’s Pearls strip got pulled,” writes Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis in a Wednesday Facebook post.
Since this announcement, Pastis has been trying to share the cartoon on Facebook but the only thing that appears when he posts the image is a black box. Whether this is due to a technical glitch or intentional removal by Facebook is unclear. Fortunately, commenters on his Facebook page have had no such difficulty and have been able to share the cartoon that was pulled:
In a screen cap of a subsequent Facebook post (the post disappeared shortly after going up, but it is unknown whether Pastis pulled the post due to the image difficulties or if Facebook took it down), Pastis wrote:
So here is the strip that was not published. I guess the fear was that it would run, and another terrible event would happen, and it would appear to be making light of it. So it could not run, and a repeat strip had to be used. For what it’s worth, it was drawn over a year ago.
Pearls Before Swine is an award-winning syndicated strip that runs daily in more than 750 newspapers nationwide and features a cast of animal main characters that run the gamut from sarcastic alcoholics to endearingly oblivious foils. The 7/27 strip used a pun to mock both the irrational fear of ISIS and the NSA’s wiretapping practices. After it was pulled from syndication and a strip from 2002 was run in its place, Pastis tweeted that the strip “Seems harmless to me, but I guess these are sensitive times.”
This isn’t the first time Pastis has run afoul of would-be censors. He has had strips mocking the Bush administration attacked, and in 2007 he received death threats from Turkish citizens who felt his character Ataturk the llama was an attack on beloved former leader Mustafa Atatürk.
In a post regarding the pulled strip, the National Coalition Against Censorship writes:
It’s sadly not uncommon for newspaper strips to face editorial redactions or censorship. Comics combine stylistic elements of books and visual art and are therefore challenged by censors for the same reasons other media are challenged; censors oppose their use of offensive language, inclusion of sexual content, and references to drugs, alcohol, or so-called “touchy subjects.”
As private entities, newspaper editorial staff are certainly within their rights to make decisions about the content they run in their papers. However, the removal of the strip raises concerns over self-censorship. Further, removal of a cartoon as relatively inoffensive at Pastis’s buys into the fear that terrorists like those who attacked Charlie Hebdo and other cartoonists around the world are trying to instill in the populace. The answer to such fear isn’t to remove a cartoon, but to support the free expression of those who would question the terrorists’ actions and the authorities that overreact to terrorist attacks by stepping on fundamental freedoms.