Mutts: Animal Friendly

By Patrick McDonnell
208 pages, black and white & color
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing

There are times when I look at the newspaper comic strip pages and just groan at how many uninspired strips continue to limp on, churning out one lifeless joke after another. There’s always a ready antidote, though, in the form of Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts. I wouldn’t dare to go so far as to say it’s the only strip of interest these days (there are a handful of other good ones out there), but I will say that it’s not only the best one out there, but even in the heydays of newspaper strips it would still be at the top of the list.

Mutts primarily follows two pets—a dog named Earl and a cat named Mooch. At the heart of the strip, it’s their adventures and encounters with friends. And while there are occasionally week-long stories as well as returning features, that’s about it. With all that in mind, what amazes me is the amount of charm continually on display. Mooch and Earl are innocent commentators on the world around them, a domesticated pet version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in some ways. At the same time, there’s a lot of parodying of pop culture going on, be it snappy-one-line responses to Mooch’s literary readings, or a pet version of American Idol. The comic gets serious at times as well, with recurring features like McDonnell’s “Shelter Stories” where animals up for adoption relay their sad stories, or strips revolving around ideas such as Earth Day or the destruction of our wilderness. (And all in just three panels!)

The art is a real treat, both in black and white or the Sunday color pages. I love the way he draws animals, with human-like expressions that fold seamlessly into animal faces. There’s a real charm about just about everything McDonnell draws, from the small gaps between his ink lines to the way that he can use just a couple of strokes to define an entire creature. Best of all, though, is how well McDonnell is about draw the emotion of joy in Mutts. There’s one strip towards the end of this latest collection that just makes me grin every time I look at it; it’s just an image of Earl leaping through a snowstorm with utter glee on his little doggie face. There’s so much going on there, from the irregularly sized snowflakes to the sense of motion as Earl moves, but best of all how his little tail is wagging merrily away and his tongue hangs out in sheer delight. It’s just perfect.

Originally the Mutts library alternated between “treasury” sized books reprinting color Sunday strips, and smaller books purely in black and white. Animal Friendly (along with the previous collection Everyday Mutts) merges the two, and I couldn’t be happier. As gorgeous as the color strips are (and the amount of experimenting as well as comic book homages that show up in the title cards of the Sunday strips is worth the price of admission already), having them united with the black and white strips just fully brings home how great this strip is. Great, great stuff.

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