Nearly every strip in the funny papers from Doonesbury to Blondie and the just-too-darling children in The Family Circus have been sending up the elections, and all but one has been focusing on the presidential candidates.

Mooch, Earl, Shtinky Pudding and all the rest of Mutts’s warmhearted animal kingdom took a backseat during the week of Oct. 13 to a chicken, a calf and a pig, who went door to door to let the jujube-eyed humans in their four-paneled world know that they, too, are have feelings and just want sunshine and enough space to run before they wind up on their plates for breakfast or supper. “No, I didn’t know that,” said one concerned householder when a little pig asked her if she was aware of the cruel confining treatment that farm animals get today.

On October 17–18, the Jack Gallery in Los Angeles featured an exhibit of McDonnell’s newest collection of paintings and canvasm along with several lithographs created on 19th century Marinoni Voirin presses—the same press, in fact, that printed the works of Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Chagall and other great masters. Keith Tomaszewsky, executive vice president of Jack Gallery, says that McDonnell rightfully belongs in that category.

“He’s genuine,” Tomaszewsky said. “He has an art background—he saw our presses and wanted to use the old presses that these artists had used. And we take on the same causes—we’re all animal lovers.”

As active members of Friends of Long Beach Animals, we can attest to McDonnell’s genuineness and generosity. For the last few years, Mutts Comics has donated some wonderful suction items—books, signed posters, beautiful mementos—to FOLBA’s WALKs and theater evenings, making him a direct contributor to our shelter. Wanting to see firsthand his wide view of loving activism, we gladly faced the still-high gas prices and headed up the 405 to L.A. to meet our hero. Like the FOLBA contributions,
a considerable part of the gallery’s exhibit was intended to help bring about awareness of Proposition 2, which benefits the treatment of California farm animals and protects food safety. The evening exhibition was hosted by Mike Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and a portion of the Oct. 18 sales benefited Prop 2. There were also two public signings of McDonnell’s new creation, South, a wordless book of paintings that tell the story of a little bird left behind by his flock, and how Mooch, the somewhat self-centered but definitely not selfish cat with the speech impediment, trudged with the little creature over hill, dale and snowbank until he was reunited with his friends.

All of McDonnell’s characters manifest an interspecies friendship and a world-view concern to a readership whose own kind has trouble dealing with its own species members. McDonnell has been an animal lover since childhood, and when he started his strip, he wanted to portray the world through animals’ lives. The result is a deceptively simple comic that deliberately resembles older funnies like Krazy Kat and Popeye. Mooch, in fact, lisps his characteristic “sh” as a tribute to the odd ways in which Krazy, Popeye and others spoke.

“There was a kid I knew in the fifth grade who always said, ‘Yesh,’” McDonnell said, “so I gave it to Mooch.”

Mooch plays with a little pink sock, his best friend Earl the dog loves his walks, Butchie (he’s a people) extracts wandering pets from his Fatty Snax Deli on a daily basis. But Mutts is cute human-animal interactions on the surface only. The true messages are much deeper and pertinent, with a minimum of anthropomorphism: the undying, unquestioning love that Earl gives his Ozzie is universal among beloved dogs and their human companions; Sid, the goldfish in an otherwise empty fishbowl who’s bored beyond belief; the lessons of friendship and caring that Mooch learns through his constant curiosity. And all characters gently communicate the sad and often tragic lessons of human thoughtlessness: the lonely guard dog chained in his yard, whose only friend is the little girl who makes his day with a hug; the foundling Shtinky Puddin’s obsession with saving tigers from extinction; spokespups, kitties and bunnies from overflowing shelters; and the cruel treatment of agribusiness farm animals.

“When you see the world through animals’ eyes, you see how tough they have it,” McDonnell said.

Three years into the strip, the HSUS took note of McDonnell’s vision and asked him to write strips about animal shelters. Shelter Stories was the result— touching tales featuring shelter conditions and actual adoptions. McDonnell has been, according to HSUS, “an animal shelter’s best friend” ever since, and continues to work with the organization for the betterment of animal welfare. The coincidence of the Jack Gallery exhibition and McDonnell’s support Prop 2 seem, as Mooch might say, to be “kishmet.”

“I’d just started doing paintings for the Jack Gallery and they were thinking about having a show,” McDonnell said. “At the same time, I was telling the Humane Society that I wanted to do strips about Prop 2. We thought it would be a nice combination.”

“Vote YESH” in Pig Latin. MUTTS © 2008 Patrick McDonnell

McDonnell also painted one canvas acrylic and three on paper with a Prop 2 theme for the exhibit. The entire proceeds from the sale of the paintings will benefit the proposition.

We asked Patrick McDonnell which of his characters would be the biggest proponent of Proposition 2. With very little forethought, he replied, “All of them!” And Mooch speaks here for every Mutts character: “Pleash—vote YESH! on Prop 2!”

Jack Gallery is located at 3rd and Fairfax on the plaza between Farmers Market and The Grove. (877) 252-2122 or click here

Mutts Comics
Yes on Prop 2
Humane Society