MUTTS: the comic art of Patrick McDonnell

(Book – Hardback)
Patrick McDonnell, John Carlin
Released: 01 November, 2003

The comic strip Mutts by Patrick McDonnell first appeared in 1994 and is currently seen in over 500 newspapers worldwide. Suffice to say it's a popular strip, one that Charles Schulz called one of the best (strips) of all time and Matt Groening describes as smart and funny, brilliantly drawn and full of heart. So where does Mutts appeal lie and what has this book got to say on the subject?

I know when I first saw the strip in a UK paper a few years ago, I didn't immediately take to it. Ostensibly about a friendship between a cat and dog, at first glance it seemed saccharine and of another era compared to the strips alongside it, but my opinion changed when I purchased a collection of strips and had a chance to get to know the characters, and a chance to appreciate McDonnell's writing and deceptively simple drawing style.

McDonnell explains the peculiarities of the speech used in the strip As in the tradition of the older comics, Mooch (the cat) has his own way of talking. This occurred shpontaneously. It started with his saying 'Yesh', then 'Shmaybe'. Soon it got out of hand and he was 'shhhing' all over the place Shades of Herriman's Krazy Kat certainly, and what may have seemed overly cute to this cynical British young git when I first read the strip, now actually perfectly fitted the characters and artwork, and I think Art Spiegelman has nailed why it's so successful – It's smart without being pretentious and it's sweet without being cloying.

What about the book itself? Well, it's really well put together, containing over 300 illustrations on glossy paper and includes many of his strips, sketches and paintings as well as autobiographical text alongside the art by McDonnell that charts his career from jobbing illustrator to syndicated cartoonist, and discusses his influences, creative process, and his continuing support for animal welfare. It's available from and if you're already a fan of Mutts, the book is highly recommended. If you're unfamiliar with the strip I suggest searching out the book collections instead. Mutts may or may not be your cup of twee, and I certainly don't think it's one of the best (strips) of all time but the man from Newport, he still say Yesh!

Tim Harries

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