Patrick McDonnell celebrates the twentieth year of his Mutts comic strip in pretty much the same fashion he ushered it in; with the gentle adventures of a cat and dog living life to the fullest, for all its worth. Cat Crazy, the eighth Mutts Treasury, collects a whole year (2012) of daily and Sunday funnies that lets fans revisit their furry friends again and again.
From its intentionally spotted cover to the odd zoomed-in halftone (mimicking the colorized dots of Sunday newsprint) McConnell’s collections remains deeply entrenched in the world of the printed page. For those of us still craving the chance to add paper editions of our collections of favorite things, it doesn’t get much better than a collection of Mutts strips.
While I lament the loss of the cheaper, boxy collections (which stopped production years back) the switch to larger rectangles has its benefits. Individual strips, two per page, are given room to breathe in all their original black ‘n white glory while Sundays are presented in full-color in both single and double stacked (per page) form. McConnell even sprinkles artwork throughout the pages, giving this collection all the more reason to join others on your shelf. You DO have others, don’t you?
There’s simply no better way to experience Mutts than in these larger-than-life treasuries, with their look and feel of well-thumbed paperbacks, perfect for an extended table reading as it keeps its place open for easy gazing, gawking, and best-buddy sharing.
Mutts has always operated on a different level than its peers, working from a different blueprint that’s closer in tone and heart to the aspirations of of his hero Charles Schultz (Peanuts), though without the psychiatric angst. Unapologetically sweet, yet never saccharine, McDonnell’s comic strip may the ultimate culmination of the art form, pulling inspiration from generations of others in the medium to create something wholly original.
It’d be easier trying to explain the mysterious of a Zen Koan than attempting to adequately describe just what Mutts is all about. Front and center are Earl, the energetic and spirited Jack Russell terrier, and his best bud and frequent co-hibernator Mooch, the little kitty whose peculiar affected speech (or should that be shpeach?) is anything but an impediment.
Others in the ‘cast’ include a menagerie of returning and one-off faces like the foul-mouthed Crabby, the downbeat Sourpuss, or wuvable Woofie and his happy tongue; they’re not really characters so much as characterized manifestations of pure emotion.
McDonnell, a board member on The Humane Society, is famous for using Mutts to help promote and champion animal rights and this collection doesn’t buck the trend. As fans might expect the most prominent of these include the string of “Shelter Stories” strips, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, they’re stark reminders of the lifetime of love and companionship waiting for you at the local animal shelter.
There’s also collections of strips for “Farm Animal Sanctuary” and even illustrated quotes from the likes of Albert Camus, Emily Bronte, Ray Bradbury, and Robin Williams, among others. It’s remarkable how, twenty years on, the strip remains almost exactly the same as it ever was.
Is there currently a better comic strip than Mutts? Cat Crazy, the eighth Treasury collection of Patrick McDonnell’s gentle strip, makes a strong case it might be. While Mutts may not always be the funniest, the most headline-stealing, or even the most obvious, Earl and Mooch inhabit a world that lacks the crass cynicism and evil intent of our own, one that unabashedly appeals to our better nature. Our own world desperately needs more schtuff like Mutts in it.