web stats

CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #226

Our look at newspaper comic strips continues with one of the best strips that’s currently running. It’s probably massively underrated, but it’s great fun, and it’ll charm the pants off of you. And then shed on them. (Archive.)

8/14/07

226. Mutts

Mutts 7.jpg

As Graeme McMillan was saying the other day, “charming” has become a dirty word, and a backhanded compliment. Well, forget that– I’m using it like Webster intended. Mutts is the most charming comic strip in the funnies. It’s relentlessly charming, in fact, and has completely won me over. Family Circus wishes it had a tenth of the charm that Mutts does.

Created and cartooned by Patrick McDonnell, Mutts is the story of Earl and Mooch, who are a dog and a cat, respectively, and their world, including a variety of other animals as well as their owners. It shows the world and society from the animal’s point of view. While the strip isn’t roll-around-on-the-floor funny, it’s cute and humorous and elicits chuckles. “Whimsical,” you might call it.

Mutts 9.gif

Mutts 10.gif

Mutts 11.bmp

McDonnell’s cartooning style appears scratchy and simplistic, but it’s endlessly emotive and fanciful. It reminds me of the seemingly effortless and wonderful cartooning of classic strips from the early part of the 20th century. McDonnell also plays with the format of the comic strip quite often, rearranging the layout to an aesthetic advantage that isn’t found in most other strips. He also produces a lot of neat little homages to other art styles in the Sunday title panel. Some of these include references to Action Comics #1, Flash Comics #1, the Hulk, Hellboy, and Dick Tracy. You can find more of these tributes at this section of the Mutts website.

Mutts 3.jpg

Mutts 5.jpg

The Mutts world also includes a rich supporting cast, from owners like Ozzie, Frank, and Millie, to neighborhood kids, to Butchie the Butcher, to all sorts of members of the animal kingdom. There’s the unfortunately ever-chained Guard Dog, the surly Sourpuss, Sid the fish, Shtinky, the cat who’s also an animal rights activist, Woofie the wuv doggie, Noodles the alley cat, and more. My favorite supporting character has gotta be Crabby the cussin’ crustacean, or maybe Bip and Bop, the squirrels who continuously bonk other characters on the heads with acorns.

Mutts 2.gif

Mutts 4.jpg

Mutts 12.gif

McDonnell himself is a great proponent of animal rights, and uses the strip to promote pet adoption (though his “Shelter Stories” series of strips), and speaks through his characters to help endangered species, protect the environment, and warn against animal cruelty. The moral of the strip, basically, is to love your pets and your world. The animals are sweet, innocent, adorable, and lovable.

From the sweet cast to the silly running gags and the lovely, enthusiastic spirit of the strip, Mutts has got– here’s that word again– a heartwarming charm. I love it.

Here, have more examples of its greatness (click on any images in today’s post to enlarge them):

Mutts 1.gif

Mutts 14.gif

mutts 6.gif

Mutts 8.jpg

Mutts 13.jpg

Mutts can be witty, silly, sad, and uplifting, sometimes all at once. It’s maybe the best strip my home paper publishes. I love it.

Check out the Official Mutts website for all sorts of good content. It’s packed with great stuff. More strips, some archives, a look into the artistic process, a biography on the cartoonist, forums, stuff for kids, and stuff to help our furry friends in need. Terrific website. Quite a few of the images in this post were borrowed from said website. All strips here are copyright Patrick McDonnell. (Don’t sue me; I do this out of love. Cheers.) And for even more internet Mutts goodness, try this neat fansite.

Now go out, buy yourself a Mutts collection or twelve, and cuddle with your favorite pet or twelve. It’s the right thing to do.

37 Comments

This is the first one of these things that I just can’t support at all. I never liked this comic strip and to me it is not a reason to love comics.

I feel like you’re starting to run out of steam Bill.

I’m sure there are lots of other reasons to love comics yet it feels like you’re already stretching. I mean Mutts before Peanuts? No love for the Spider-Man daily strip? Pearls Before Swine too edgy? What about Family Circus (which believe it or not was decent many, many years ago)? I respect comic strip week because there needs to be more unity between strip and book fans, but this strip (which I like) seems out of place.

I don’t remember did we do crossovers? There is a reason to like comics. What about so many great comic villains out there that are reasons to love comics in and of themselves? What about Harvey Pekar or Petter Bagge? I love your ambition, and I couldn’t do this day in and day out but I think you’re going off the rails a tad.

It’s “interesting”

As long as you don’t make Kathy or Garfield reasons to love comics, we’re fine.

Where is Krazy Kat? (I don’t remember it being a reason to love comics) Where is Mafalda? Where is Tintin?

Mutts is good stuff (Even if I skip the Shelter Stories strips – getting soft in my old age), consistently entertaining and creative, unlike most of the crap smeared on the funny pages these days. Nerts to the naysayers, sez I!

I’m sure there are lots of other reasons to love comics yet it feels like you’re already stretching. I mean Mutts before Peanuts? No love for the Spider-Man daily strip? Pearls Before Swine too edgy? What about Family Circus (which believe it or not was decent many, many years ago)?

Peanuts will not appear, sorry. I know I’ll be killed for the omission. Oh well. I’ve only barely encountered the Spidey strip in my time. Same for Pearls Before Swine– what I’ve read of it has been really good, but I’ve never had it in any local paper. And the Family Circus is a blight upon the funnypages. Also, crossovers are not cool.

In the end, I just talk about stuff I love. As always, the column is limited by my experience and enthusiasm.

Mutts has everything good about comics– pizzazz, wit, artistic range, heart and soul.

Sometimes Mutts is good and other times I feel like it is just phoned in. There are some strips like the letter writing ones where the set up is entirely the same but the punchline is different. It just feels like a case where someone else would think up three or four punchlines and settle on one but with Mutts they just run them all.

There are tons of comic strips both past and present, online and off that I would read before Mutts.

Nice entry, but I have to ask: will you at least consider Get Fuzzy? I can’t say that Bucky and Satchel are this generation’s Garfield and Odie, because they’ve gotten beyond that. And props on liking Pearls Before Swine. I hope it gets in your local newspaper, because it can be quite a gas.

I have never heard of this strip, but I must admit I’m very intrigued now. Great write-up.

And as far as all the snark – seriously people, how much did you pay to read this blog? Last I checked this column was one guy’s opinion on things to love about comics. If you disagree then just wait a day or two. Chances are something you do love will come up.

The negative comments for these posts always astound me. Anyhoo…

I know it’s unlikely, but while we’re on comics strip week, any chance of an entry on the Phantom? He’s awesome. No? Ok.

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 15, 2007 at 3:38 am

Let’s not forget Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows.

That was pretty good.

“The negative comments for these posts always astound me. Anyhoo…”

I’m really not trying to be a jerk, i’m just giving some feedback. I know it may come off as negative, but I’m just trying to help.

“Peanuts will not appear, sorry. I know I’ll be killed for the omission. Oh well. I’ve only barely encountered the Spidey strip in my time. Same for Pearls Before Swine– what I’ve read of it has been really good, but I’ve never had it in any local paper. And the Family Circus is a blight upon the funnypages. ”
No Peanuts? Any reason? Are you limiting your exposure to the later years? If you have no familiarity with the early years of Peanuts should you really be doing a comic strip week. And again, Family Circuis is a blight NOW to be sure, but if you ever read any of the strips from the 60s you’d see what I’m saying. Again, you seem woefully misinformed. FOR SHAME!

“Also, crossovers are not cool.”
For the record I was talking about the Hulk appearing in a given issue of the FF or Batman appearing in an issue of Green Latern versus Civil War or Identity Crisis. I don’t know how you could say the former isn’t cool.

“In the end, I just talk about stuff I love. As always, the column is limited by my experience and enthusiasm.”
Maybe thats my problem. So many of the early entries are so very easy. I mean Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, OMAC, Joe Simon… It practically wrote itself. I apologize if I am being harsh, I mean no offense, just sharing my thoughts.

Speaking as the guy who kicked off the negativity…

If you listed 365 of anything, I’m sure there would be a couple that I didn’t care for. So I don’t hold it against Bill that he happens to have struck something that I don’t like. I’m not outraged and I don’t think anything has been slighted. I just thought I might mention that I don’t like ‘Mutts’. This is a fine feature; I always read it; I hope he keeps doing it next year.

The negative comments for these posts always astound me. Anyhoo…

Look, the day the negative posts are discouraged is the day I give up reading. (Yes, I know, empty threat yadda yadda yadda. Makes me feel better, OK?)

For the nineteen-thousandth time: this column is not entitled – nor presented as, at least not up to now – ’365 Reasons Why I, Bill Reed, Love Comics’.

Therefore there is room for (friendly, informed) debate on what each entry contributes to the general love of comics. Especially since Bill himself has made it extremely clear that he enjoys feedback. Seems like trying to discourage that is a petty act in and of itself.

On to the entry…I like Mutts a lot, for most of the reasons Bill cited. Unfortunately it has a tendency to devolve into the world’s least subtle PSA for weeks at a time, solidifying the whimsy into saccharine.

Peanuts will not appear, sorry. I know I’ll be killed for the omission. Oh well.

Not going to demand your death :) , but I do feel like leaving out what is widely conceded as one of the greatest uses of the comics medium ever needs a bit more explanation. Only being familiar with the later years doesn’t quite explain it.

Matt, Km, Ian, I’ve got no problem with disagreeing with the selection in a friendly way or anything. I’ve never even read Mutts, so for all I know it could be terrible.

I just think it’s a bit harsh to direct comments at Bill himself, is all. We can dislike particular entries without telling him he’s going off the rails with the entire enterprise, you know?

It’s been ages since I’ve read this one (can’t get used to reading comics online, for the most part [ except of course for my email subscription to Zippy the Pinhead, which began showing back up out of the blue about a month ago after inexplicably disappearing for what must've been at least a year ... quelle Zippyesque!], & I refuse to subscribe to the local paper, which lured me down here with the metro editor’s job, then fired me 51 weeks later), & I don’t recall it ever showing up on “Comics Curmudgeon,” but I remember it being, well, pretty bland.

The “little pink sock” routine got old after the 50th installment or so, & for some reason the cat’s “shpeech” impediment drives me nuts (obviously, I need to worry about weightier issues … & really, I do! Lots of ‘em!) … but I guess “bland” is several rungs about “bad.”

Whoops — “ABOVE bad,” I meant to say. One of these days I’ll do something about my tendency to type before the morning’s frappucino (my only source of caffeine — I’d as soon drink antifreeze as hot coffee) kicks in …

I’ve always found Mutts heartwarming and very, very cute. I admire the creator for the Shelter “PSA”s, as I very much support that cause, and the strip has never failed to at least make me smile.

I think Mutts is definitely something to love about comics :D And it’s nice to appreciate the gentler side of the medium for a change.

When commenters downgrade Mutts in favor of the Spider-Man daily strip, that’s when you know, there are some people with no taste or critical standards.

I wouldn’t attack you for no Peanuts, either, but I have to agree, I’m dying to know WHY you’re leaving it out.

SanctumSanctorumComix

August 15, 2007 at 7:46 am

MUTTS is indeed VERY Charming!

I lovesh it!

But, to link it even more with the realm of comic books, MUTTS once did a DOCTOR STRANGE riff.

I have the strip in my DOC collection, but for your pleasure, here are the scans on Neilaien’s blog:

http://www.neilalien.com/doc/archive/2004/08/index.html#a09

~P~
P-TOR

I wouldn’t attack you for no Peanuts, either, but I have to agree, I’m dying to know WHY you’re leaving it out.

Peanuts has some fun characters and a charming spirit similar to Mutts, but it never really hooked me, and I’m not very passionate about it. Kinda find it to be mediocre… I do like the art style, though. From all eras. Hurm.

It is possible to convince me to include it, still. We’ll see.

Anyway, this post’s about Mutts. How ’bout them Mutts? I dig it.

I always found the art for Mutts to be it’s best part. As you said, very reminiscent of early 20th century comic strip simpleness. Almost reminds me of Krazy Kat. I also do like the pop culture references sometimes included within the artwork.

Having said that, I find the strip incredibly dull. I stop reading it years ago because of the lack of enjoyment I was getting out of the jokes. I won’t fault you for putting it here (the artwork alone is worth it), but I personally don’t find it one of the high points of my comics section.

Now normally I wouldn’t fault you for not including Peanuts because it is an incredibly obvious answer. Everyone knows and loves Peanuts, and no one really challenges it’s greatness (of at least the early years). But here I have to fault you, because you’ve included such other obvious choices as Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Now, Im not saying that you shouldn’t fit obvious ones in here as well, but I am saying that since you have put those obvious reasons to love comics in here, why not Peanuts too. Or at least Charles Shulz

Bill –

I love that you are including newspaper comics, and not just comic books. As others have said, the best thing about Mutts is the art – simple yet expressive. The worst thing is the writing – simple and repetitive.

I’m not a fan of Peanuts, either, so you won’t get hassled by me for that one.

I am kind of hoping that you will have a webcomics week – there’s so much good stuff online that would qualify as reasons to love comics.

I’m also still looking forward to a Letterer’s Week. And, while I’m at it, I really hope Art Spiegelman’s Maus ends up on your list, too.

But, you know what? Even if none of those show up, and Peanuts somehow does, I’ll keep reading and enjoying these posts. Thanks for doing them – it’s been a blast so far, and I hope you keep going once it’s done with 365 More Reasons to Love Comics.

Mutts is the best-drawn daily comic strip since Calvin and Hobbes. The writing settled into complacency years ago, but the art alone makes Mutts a reason to love comics.

Just for the record, Mutts is one of the best drawn, most inventively designed strip comics out today. Anyone who thinks this isn’t a reason to love comics needs to get with the program.

That said, Bill, you need to buy a decent Peanuts anthology even before you read The Invisible.

Hmmmm… something ate my post.

It reminds me of the seemingly effortless and wonderful cartooning of classic strips from the early part of the 20th century

Hardly surprising since McDonnell is a scholar of that period and even wrote a book about George Herriman and Krazy Kat. I think he even wrote it before Mutts came out.

There’s a lot of Krazy Kat references in Mutts as well.

(Krazy Kat would be my choice for something in comic strip week)

Now, Im not saying that you shouldn’t fit obvious ones in here as well, but I am saying that since you have put those obvious reasons to love comics in here, why not Peanuts too. Or at least Charles Shulz.

What he said. I do totally respect personal taste…but, c’mon, in the comic strip world, this is Superman. Mutts is – maybe – Nightwing. While I’m sure Pat McDonnell is a good man and a fine artist, the nation will probably not be mourning en masse at his death…or at least, he’s got a long, long way to go yet.

Peanuts is on the same wavelength as Calvin and Hobbes; at least for the first two decades or so. In fact, without good ol’Charlie Brown and Snoopy there probably wouldn’t have been a Calvin and stuffed tiger in the first place.

The genius lies in the way Schulz systematically stripped off all the schmaltz inherent in ‘kiddie’ strips and instituted a gentle, inconsequential, but very very serious, search for the meaning of life. Few – if any – comics creators have managed to come as close to perfectly delineating the Everyman…and be as endlessly entertaining doing it.

“When commenters downgrade Mutts in favor of the Spider-Man daily strip, that’s when you know, there are some people with no taste or critical standards. ”

I was going more for what the Spider-Man daily strip is as a concept over its execution (something that has always had a plass here at 365). I mean come on, its written by the creator, its been going for years, its the only book/strip crossover to ever really work. Its an intstitution.

How about less of an institution than a footnote and a long-lived afterthought?

Gotta say, ‘Peanuts’ should really be in there. And I’ll also second the idea of a webcomics week–if ‘Penny Arcade’ isn’t a reason to love comics, I don’t know what is.

Peanuts is on the same wavelength as Calvin and Hobbes; at least for the first two decades or so. In fact, without good ol’Charlie Brown and Snoopy there probably wouldn’t have been a Calvin and stuffed tiger in the first place.

Probably true. In this speech by Bill Watterson, he talks about his three major influences: Peanuts, Pogo, and Krazy Kat. I can’t argue with him about any of them. Watterson says a lot about why each should be highly respected among the creators and readers of comic strips, and I’ll not try to echo his words here. You all can read them yourselves.

I will say, though, that just as Watterson points out how the innovations of Peanuts aren’t as obvious over the course of its fifty-year span, so too is the sharpness of the content lost to some, I think. A lot of the topical relevance in the older strips is hard to see for someone who didn’t grow up in those decades, but if you know the references, through living through it or studying it, there’s a lot of sharp sarcastic social commentary underlying Peanuts, especially in the beginning, but even in the later years.

And occasionally it was daring in more than just words and oblique references; there’s an early strip (around 1952, I believe, though I’d have to be at home with my books to check) in which Snoopy, believing the dog catcher is after himself, imagines himself in the electric chair. Can you picture that strip running today? Maybe an occasional comic strip where people expect to be shocked, such as the Far Side or Mallard Fillmore (I said shocked, not entertained…), could get away with it — but not many could. And Peanuts did it fifty years ago. And made it funny.

While most of the strips weren’t quite so daring (so to speak) as that, it was still edgy for that time. Schulz received hundreds of letters from people upset at how cruelly the kids in his strips treated each other. Peanuts didn’t become less edgy over time… we just became more inured to it, much like the Simpsons are now viewed as being almost tender (!) when they were originally viewed as the height of dysfunction, and South Park is now passe instead of shocking. But Peanuts kept its relevance, because it was never really about kids… it was about people. Every strip, every sequence, every story was in some small part a parable about human life. And, contrary to most comic strip parables which try to teach people that “Everything will be fine in the end, it’ll work out, you’ll do good”, Peanuts flatly states that much of the time it won’t be fine, it won’t go your way, and you personally will probably be the one to screw it up, but you’ll endure anyway. Perhaps not the most optimistic message, but a rather useful one, I think.

And finally, I think some respect needs to be given just for the sheer scope of the body of work. One man, without any assistants drawing, inking or lettering, without interruptions or hiatuses (as far I have been able to find out about), drawing a strip for fifty years. Is there anybody at all who measures up to Charles Schulz in that way? There may be, but none that I’m aware of. Watterson, Larson, and Breathed didn’t stay at it for more than about a decade, and each took lengthy hiatuses. Garfield hasn’t been around as long, and Jim Davis uses assistants to help create the strip. The strips that have been around longer — and most that have been around for the same length of time — have changed hands at least once, often more than that. But Peanuts is, from beginning to end, entirely Charles M. Schulz’s work, and it spanned decades.

I think the idea that a man got to spend almost his entire life doing something he loved, and it was uniquely his but was beloved by millions, is most definitely a reason to love comics.

And after that long winded post, I’d like to say “Thanks” for including Mutts. It’s one I’d skipped over a lot in the paper, and I’ll admit it’s still in the process of growing on me, but this sort of article helps to see why it should.

I think the column is certainly big enough for both “Here’s the acknowledged king of the mountain” entries and “Here’s something you may not have given much attention, but it deserves it, because…” entries.

Mutts is one of the best shtrips in the paper and everybody should read it.

As one of the most frequent “negative” commenters, I feel like I should defend myself. I’m debating, and there’s no malice behind it. I don’t actually hold any disdain for Bill’s choices here. I mean, it’s just a blog. But does that mean that I can’t ever disagree?

I hope not. Maybe my use of hyperbole makes it hard to take my remarks as debate, but Bill’s never seemed to have any trouble with it. I think you can stop worrying about him getting his feelings hurt. He can take care of himself.

I try to be extremely tolerant when it comes to differences of opinion, but “Peanuts” is one of the very few works where I would actually distrust anyone who doesn’t like it. It’s perhaps the most psychologically insightful work I’ve ever encountered, in any medium.

Thanks so much for including Mutts in your 365, especially the Guard Dog. His comics are always so sad, and help to educate people that chaining a dog for life is just not the way to go. To read more about chained dogs, visit http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org

Patrick even donated one of Earl’s old dog collars for our Celebrity Collars for Dollars auction this year.

Tammy Grimes

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives