Living the Dream, the ninth Mutts Treasury and first collection of strips since this year’s earlier set, Cat Crazy, doesn’t shake things up that much. It barely rattles the timbers, honestly, and that’s just fine by me. For over twenty years Patrick McDonnell’s gentle strip about a canine-feline best-friendship and the world they inhabit has become the most stable thing going in comics, newspaper or otherwise, and one of the last vestiges of a once-great artform.
As we’ve come to expect from these elongated collections, Living the Dream takes readers on a journey chronicling an entire year of Mutts daily and Sunday funnies starting January 1st through December 29th, 2013. Each strip is dated for easy reference; a practice that should be – but seldom is – followed by every comic collection.
Those familiar with recent Mutts Treasuries, as with this year’s Cat Crazy, the tradition of giant rectangular pages continues. This gives every strip, both black ‘n white dailies and colorized Sundays, more room to breath and allows McDonnell’s superb artwork to shine fully. As per recent collections the Sundays are often double-packed, even stretched out two-pages wide… I love the audacity here.
While it took me some time to get used to these rectangle-only collections (I still have a soft spot in my heart – and precious bookshelf space) I’ve come around. I love how big and, yes, unwieldy they are. I love how taking one out requires a sense of dedication and space that I haven’t exercised in years. Opening up and indulging in the world of Earl and Mooch requires a spacial commitment the likes we haven’t seen since the latter days of Calvin ‘ Hobbes.
This is art that needs to be spread wide, preferably alongside a best friend as you sit elbow to elbow soaking up the love.
The Mutts Mythos remains as strange and wonderfully mysterious as ever, a heady mix of the transcendent and banal, stirred ever-so-slightly with a heaping spoonful of real sincerity. Front and center, as always, are Mooch and Earl, best friends and the nucleus of their own animal kingdom that extends, but not limited to, a menagerie of bears, frogs, chickens, horses, fleas, and even a human being or two. While they inhabit an idealized world of non-violence and full compassion, the lessons they can teach us are anything but fictional.
The actual strips are the usual grab-bag of comic serials and week-long adventures, a healthy mix of gags and puns, some visual and some literate. A nice selection of Diary Tales, Fatty Snax Deli, Mutts Book Club, illustrated quotes, and all the rest come together nicely to create just the right lazy weekend mood
Also on hand is a series of new Shelter Stories that remind us that our next best friend is just a Humane Society adoption away. If you’ve been aching to fill that empty spot in your heart that’s been feeling a little lonely, why not take a trip down to your local shelter and see what might be waiting for you there? You’d be surprised.
Less successful are the subtle reminders that even the disconnected world of social media and the internet still exists in this otherwise sublime fantasy world of positivity and kindness. The big exception, however, are a series of hilarious strips featuring Marvel’s The Avengers being bonked by squirrels Bip and Bonk, naturally.
Some might say that McDonnell’s penchant for pushing a certain agenda, especially his zeal for vegetarianism and protecting the environment may come off a little preachy, and they’d be right. It’s no secret he’s used the strip as a sounding board for many of the subjects he holds near and dear to his heart, and that activism is clearly visible here.
Few have been as passionately vocal about the often unheralded and tremendously important done by veterinarians and animal rights advocates as McDonnell, so I say preach away. Until the next book, anyway, as there’s plenty left to say. Living the Dream, as with all Mutts collections, is something to be treasured, shared, and thoroughly explored. Great shtuff!