(courtesy Andrews McMeel Books)
One of the reasons you read a well-written and beautifully drawn comic strip is to spend time with characters you love.
Sure, it helps if they look appealing and they’re funny and the world they inhabit is one you wouldn’t mind being a part of too, but in the end what you really want is to spend time with endearingly sweet, charming and comedically gifted friends who make you feel better about the world.
That doesn’t mean the characters have to be perfect; in fact, much of the fun comes from the fact that they’re not and that their amusingly fallible moments remind you that part of being alive is not always getting it right or being good all the time, but coming out the other side, loved, appreciated and connected to others anyway.
Every last part of that is on gloriously uplifting display in MUTTS by Patrick McDonnell, a cartoonist of principle who invests his characters, and understandably so, with his worldview which encompasses respect for all life, and that obviously includes animals such as the protagonists of the strip, Mooch and Earl – the former a cat with a predilection for pink socks and hibernating through winter (if the bears will let them!) and the latter a dog who’s loves his master and who’s bemused by his feline pal’s antics – veganism, adopting not buying pets and a sense that life is beautiful and precious and should be celebrated.
It’s an intoxicating brew, and whether you subscribe to all those views doesn’t really matter; sure McDonnell may have a series of strips, as he does in the Walking Home collection, where the Fatty Snax Deli goes from meat-based products to plant-based after the owner has an epiphany about the sanctity of animal life, but so charmingly written is it, with Mooch and Earl the outsiders trying to wrap their head around things, that you’re happy simply to read about one person’s transformation.
No doubt McDonnell wants us all to embrace this way of living, but at no point does MUTTS feels like a sledgehammer to the soul; rather it’s a gentle persuasion with many of the artist’s ideas woven into pleasingly sweet and funny panels that are as much about the goofiness of the strip’s leads as they are about a particular ethos.
(courtesy Andrews McMeel Books)
That the ideas are on clear and obvious show is not a surprise.
MUTTS has from its first published on 5 September, 1994, has made its heartwarmingly clear that animals are far more than just pets.
Thankfully, McDonnell doesn’t go down the “fur baby” route with Mooch very much the cat of Millie and Frank – though Mooch of course rules the roost as is the case, happily for those who love them, of all cats – and Earl devoted to his dear Ozzie, but the point of the strip, and it’s all over Walking Home, which takes in a year’s worth of daily and Sunday instalments, is how important animals are.
That we should love them and adopt them and care for them and not treat them as possessions but beautiful companions in life to be treasured (except maybe if you’re a chipmunk or squirrel and you’re throwing nuts at passers-by; okay, fine, even they deserve all the love and respect in the world … just have to wear a helmet when you pass them, right?).
It may sound over-earnest, and yes, sometimes it is, but it comes from a very good place, and it imbues MUTTS, and the delightful characters of Mooch and Earl, with a sense of purpose and reason for being that elevates its jokes about seaside holidays with cranky crabs and migrating birds a little confused about the whole idea and singing birds rather taken with their musical inventiveness to something rather quite affectingly special.
It’s like being given a great big all-enveloping hug by a funny, joke-delivering, learned animal-loving philosopher who has opinions but delivers wrapped in a simple and profound appreciation for how good life can be.
MUTTS feels retro sweet and simple and yet gloriously well-informed and 21st century aware all at once, in many ways inheriting the mantle of Peanuts by the great Charles M. Schulz, who did whimsy and surreal silliness superbly while mixing it with some sharp and necessary observations about life.
While it’s true that MUTTS is probably more gently militant in its approach, it always feels though like you are spending time with friends who have some great ideas that at the very least you should listen to.
You may not embrace them, fully or at all, but it’s worth listening to them because particularly in terms of its love and respect for animals and the natural world as a whole, the comic strip has a greta many things we should be heeding and employing.
If nothing else, MUTTS makes you feel like life can be whimsical and funny and cutely knowing and that a better way is possible with friends by your side, a pet in your orbit and yes, even a crab swearing at you on the beach.