Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
"I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do a strip about a dog from a dog’s point of view," says MUTTScreator Patrick McDonnell, whose strip first appeared in print on September 5, 1994. "I wanted to be a cartoonist since I was 5 years old, so I imagine I’ve been working on versions of it since then. Originally it was just going to be about a dog named Earl and his owner. Before I knew it, the strip had Mooch the cat."
Unlike other comic strips with animals, McDonnell is happy to let his starring characters remain more pet-like than human. "I haven’t gotten them up on two legs, walking around doing human things," he says. "I try my hardest to keep them doing things animals would do."
It would seem that someone who creates a comic strip named MUTTS must have had a long history of observing dogs. But not Patrick McDonnell. Although he always wanted a dog, his parents wouldn’t allow it. Instead the New Jersey native fell in love with Snoopy, the beagle from Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts’ strip. McDonnell, in fact, credits Schultz with his love of comics and his love of dogs. "And now I have my first dog, Earl, and he’s everything I always hoped a dog would be."
"I was drawing a little white dog with a circle around his eye in my magazine illustrations for many years," Patrick continued. "I thought he was pretty much a generic pooch, but an art director told me he looked like a Jack Russell terrier. When I moved from an apartment to a house with a yard, I got my Earl. So when I decided to do a comic strip, I knew he was going to be the star."
Along with Earl, Patrick also has a female calico cat named Meemow, found as a kitten by his wife Karen in a parking garage where she works. "They are a constant inspiration," relates McDonnell. "They keep me close to the animal spirit. I hope everything I learn from my animals ends up in the strip. Meemow sits on my table when I draw, and Earl is at my feet."
Creating a daily and Sunday comic strip can’t be easy at times, and even the most prolific cartoonist must suffer from occasional writer’s block. "Coming up with ideas is the hardest part of the job. Some days are tougher than others… I stare at a blank paper and eventually something comes. Music inspires me, as do my dog and cat. And I like looking at my art books and taking Earl for walks," McDonnell explains. "It's a miracle. I haven't missed a deadline yet!"
Patrick McDonnell is also a cartoonist with a message. One of the other characters in his strip is a not-so-happy dog who is always chained up. "I haven’t yet revealed who that dog belongs to, but I do hope people reading the strip might recognize themselves," he says. "It’s natural that animal rights issues have become part of the strip, but I try not to make it seemed forced. I want the reader to enjoy it, but pick something up too. A little education never hurts."
In 1998 Patrick created his first "Shelter Stories", a specialMUTTS series to promote animal adoptions after being contacted by two animal agencies. "The first strip I did featured shelter animals who were all hoping to be adopted, including a cat named Tom Tom who was unsuccessful in finding a home. In the latter strip, a little girl falls in love with Tom Tom and the strip ends happily with her taking the ecstatic cat home." McDonnell adds, "I try to do two series a year. I get wonderful feedback from shelters throughout the United States, and my MUTTS has helped some animals find homes. It’s the part of my work I’m most proud of."
In recognition of his work helping to promote the adoption of shelter animals, Patrick McDonnell has twice received theArk Trust’s Genesis Award for outstanding contribution to animal rights by a cartoonist, first in 1997 and most recently in 1999.
"What's the highest compliment I can pay Patrick McDonnell? He keeps coming up with ideas I wish I had thought of myself," writes Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, in the foreward to McDonnell’s first MUTTS anthology.
Schultz, McDonnell’s major inspiration, also writes: "To me,MUTTS is exactly what a comic strip should be. It is always fun to look at, and the two main characters are wonderfully innocent. Patrick has created a little world that exists within itself. Everyone in MUTTS, from the little pet fish to the butcher behind his counter, is funny. Earl, of course, holds it all together and, as always, it is the way he is drawn that makes him so good. It's hard to believe that after 100 years of comics, Patrick could come up with a new and perfect little dog. I like everything about MUTTS."
And Charles Schultz isn’t the only fan. Book collections of McDonnell's work have appeared in France, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. MUTTS, a collection published in 1996 by Andrews McMeel, flew off bookstore shelves across America. A second collection by Andrews McMeel, Mutts II: Cats and Dogs, was released in the fall of 1997. And in 1998, Andrews McMeel published The Mutts Little Big Book andMutts: More Schtuff, the third collection of strips.
McDonnell’s latest offerings, also from Andrews McMeel, are a Year 2000 Calendar and a new, full-color book titledMutts Sundays that features over 200 comic strips. Lately Patrick has been combining book signings at stores and galleries with mobile pet adoptions. And last month he was in Los Angeles signing autographs at a joint event with Pet Orphans.
Although he says that "right now, Earl and Meemow are it," when asked if he might be tempted to adopt a third animal, he is careful to add, "but who knows what the future holds?"
When it comes to animals, Patrick McDonnell has a way with pictures. But he also has a philosophy we should all adopt. "I think in this crazy, fast world, animals are our link back to the source. We should treat all living things with the utmost respect."
(Editor’s Note: October is Adopt-A-Shelter-Animal Month, which ties in very nicely to the Shelter Series of cartoon strips Patrick McDonnell has done. In honor of his work, and to entertain our readers, The Pet Press is proud to have received permission from King Features Syndicate to reprint some of these special cartoon strips. Look for them in future issues.)
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