Mutts, a delightfully retro, self-aware comic strip by Patrick McDonnell is not your usual humourous newspaper diversion.
First published in 1994, and described by the immortally-great Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts) as “one of the best comic strips of all time”, Mutts has always had a keenly-felt beating heart at the centre of its storytelling.
The willingness of McDonnell to be sweet and adorable, unashamedly heart-on-the-sleeve in an age of cynical standoffishness has paid handsome dividends, not only giving us two avowedly cute (but sassy and clever into the bargain) protagonists in Mooch, a cat, and Earl, a dog – their respective humans, Millie and Frank and Ozzie, though loving and attentive play a background role to the furry stars of the show – but a vehicle through which he can promote a variety of animal-friendly causes, including environmental awareness, conservation, animal adoption and the necessity of giving every pet an expansive love that knows no bounds (because they will most assuredly give it back, without question).
This willing, unconditional loveliness is on full, gloriously-affecting display in the small festive tome, Mutts: A Shtinky Little Christmas, where Mooch and Earl come to the rescue of a long kitten in the snow named Jules, who they rename Shtinky Puddin’ because, well, why not? (Shtinky, the spelling of whose faux-name reflects Mooch’s appealing lisp, loves tigers, and naturally their preservation in the wild, is a recurring character in McDonnell’s artfully-crafted world.)
It’s adorable, as is just about everything about this story which unapologetically, and thank goodness for that, pulls on every seasonal heartstring possible, giving us a story of two animals, and their humans, rescuing Shtinky not once but twice – let’s just say Mooch is a tad neglectful as one critical juncture – come to the salvation of another, and in the process giving us a seasonal tale about giving up our own comfort and wellbeing for the sake of others.
The book is not long, and more like an elongated comic strip than anything (this is not even remotely a bad thing; simply a format description) but in its short running time, we’re treated to a heartwarmingly, redemptive story that sends an important message about looking after the fellow furry creatures we share the planet with.
We even meet Santa Claus too who, along with having a big warm sack full of milk and cookies, scoops up Mooch, Earl and Shtinky from the dubious care of an unseeing snowman in a blizzard, depositing them safely home where love and belonging really lies.
We all know life can be cruel and unpredictable but just as he does in Mutts each and every single day, McDonnell reminds us in A Shtinky Little Christmas that what makes our time here on earth so worthwhile and meaningful is giving and sharing to others, no matter the personal cost, especially if it’s to creatures, and yes, people, far more vulnerable than us.