December 14, 2017
(++++) THE CANINE-FELINE CONNECTION
#LOVEMUTTS: A “Mutts” Treasury. By Patrick McDonnell. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.
Catabunga! A “Get Fuzzy” Collection. By Darby Conley. Andrews McMeel. $18.99.
Snoopy: What’s Wrong with Dog Lips? A “Peanuts” Collection. By Charles Schulz. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
Dogs and cats are among the most venerable of all cartoon characters, both in comic strips and in animation. And cartoonists continue to find new ways to use them, exploring their imagined personalities and their interactions with each other and with humans and others around them. The gentlest and most warm-hearted dog-and-cat strip currently being drawn is Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts, in which Earl the dog and Mooch the cat are best friends despite (or because of) their opposite personalities – and each explores the Mutts world in his own way. The latest wonderful Mutts collection, with the unpronounceable Twitter-ese title of #LOVEMUTTS, includes many of the multi-day-sequence strips that have become standard fare for McDonnell. Characters make New Year’s resolutions (Mooch’s is that he will not scratch the furniture “where they can see it”), deal with the issue of fur coats (Mooch: “I’m a fur foe for faux fur”), and show up in heartwarming “Shelter Stories” urging the adoption of all sorts of animals (not just cats and dogs). McDonnell continues to show his knowledge of older comic strips by subtle tributes to them – and some that are not so subtle, as when Mooch kicks a football and says “That’s for you, Charlie Brown,” in a Sunday strip whose opening panel has Mooch flipped over exactly as hapless Charlie Brown used to be when trying to kick the football or throw a good baseball pitch in Peanuts. Then there are the special elongated daily strips in which McDonnell combines all the usual sequential panels into a single extended one, puts a quotation in it, and provides an illustration using Mutts characters. For instance, there is one showing Earl rushing delightedly to the door when Ozzie comes home, with the quote, “If I know what love is, it is because of you. – Hermann Hesse.” Also here are animal-centric news reports, Mooch in his role of “the all-knowing Shphinx,” some wonderful turn-the-page-sideways panels in which the excellence of the art is the main attraction, and various “cause” strips in which McDonnell moves into advocacy territory while staying true to his characters. A single-long-panel strip in which Earl and Mooch sit beneath a tree looking out on a lovely landscape, agreeing that “every day is Earth Day,” is an example; so is a Sunday panel for “Be Kind to Animals Week” that has Mooch allowing critters of all sorts into the house for food and relaxation – frogs, a snake, a bear, a raccoon, various birds, a skunk, and more, all drawn in inimitable Mutts style. There are a few surprises here, too, such as “Cat Comix by Mooch,” three-panel strips in which the first two are done in “Mooch’s” style and the third in McDonnell’s usual one – with punchlines mentioning Peanuts, The Family Circus and even underground comics. Mutts is a wonderfully inventive strip, through which McDonnell consistently uses the central dog-and-cat pair to communicate his apparently limitless love both of animals and of cartooning itself.
Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy has a more-traditional view of the cat-and-dog dichotomy, with Bucky Katt and Satchel Pooch being basically “frenemies” as they share their apartment with feckless and generally uninteresting human Rob Wilco. The latest installment featuring this particular odd couple (plus Rob) is Catabunga! And something new has been added: the book is entirely in color instead of having color only for the Sunday strips. Whether that makes the characters look better, or just different, is a matter of opinion. Actually, the look of the characters is generally less important in Get Fuzzy than what they say: this is one of the most word-focused of all modern comic strips, with constant verbal misstatements and misinterpretations being key to the humor: “showdown at the okra corral,” “call me fishmeal,” and dialogue such as, “Do cats have souls? …Depends how long their fishing line is.” Bucky at one point here says, “Words matter, Satchel. Your choice of words matters.” And he explains that George Lucas did not choose to “devote twenty years of his life to film “Star Squabbles,’” while J.R.R. Tolkien did not “write a thousand pages about the Lord of the Bangles.” And so it is throughout Get Fuzzy. Satchel points out to Bucky that having free will also means having “free won’t.” Rob discovers that the pages of Catch-22 are hollowed out and filled with eight dead rats, which Satchel explains happened because Bucky “still needs to catch fourteen more.” Bucky takes pictures of himself and another cat, but hogs most of the frame, so the photos are dubbed “selfishies.” And he stinks up the entire house making “purrpourri.” And then there are the Get Fuzzy comments on specific elements of contemporary life, as when Rob tells Satchel not to bring Bucky a box “full of tools and fire” and Satchel says, “Rob, if cats aren’t allowed to do stupid things with boxes, we may as well just shut down YouTube right now.” Get Fuzzy is character comedy with a strong verbal focus, but enough of the real-world personalities of dogs and cats leaks through so that it is barely believable that if a dog like Satchel and cat like Bucky did exist and did need to coexist, their coexistence would be much like what Conley puts on display.
Even Conley has been known to make reference to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and McDonnell does so on a regular basis – not only in the latest Mutts collection. And that makes sense in thinking about cartoon dogs and cats, because one of the great ones is Schulz’s Snoopy – who reappears yet again in another all-color collection aimed primarily at younger readers and titled What’s Wrong with Dog Lips? The cover shows Snoopy offering to kiss Lucy, who is recoiling at the whole notion – but really, Snoopy is about as kissable as they come, at least when he chooses to be. Lucy and Snoopy make pretty good antagonists in the Peanuts world – in one strip here, Snoopy is ice-skating while wearing a stocking cap, comes up to Lucy with a smile and a thought balloon saying “how about a skate, sweetie?” – and in the last panel has had the stocking cap pulled all the way down to the two paws on which he has been standing. Elsewhere, Lucy compliments Snoopy for writing a story about greed – which turns out to be about a man named Joe Greed, not about the sort of greediness that Lucy admires. Snoopy’s interactions with the other Peanuts characters always gave the strip much of its flair, as when Charlie Brown answers the phone in the middle of the night and informs Snoopy that “there’s no room service after midnight”; when Charlie Brown observes Snoopy dressed as “Joe Motocross” preparing for a race; and when Snoopy appears as a tennis player commenting, “I didn’t invent the double fault – I merely perfected it.” There are also sequences of the type that have become classic, such as the ones with Charlie Brown trying to manage his always-losing baseball team (on which Snoopy is a player). And there are occasional surprises outside the realm of the usual characters – as when Sally stands outside her school and bemoans her poor grade on a report, leading the school itself to complain about all the grousing it hears and to think, “Someday I’d like to get ’em all in the same room and drop a ceiling on ’em!” (The building later bonks Linus with a brick because its dreams of “being a liberal arts college on a big university campus” did not come true and “I have a right to be bitter.”) The Schulz inventiveness continues to delight nearly 18 years after the cartoonist’s death. For example, at one level, Peanuts is actually a dog-and-cat strip, but the cat – Snoopy’s nemesis – is never seen. Its presence is certainly felt, though, as when Snoopy awaits a visit from his brother, Spike, and threatens to have Spike punch the cat in the nose – which leads to a panel with the word “SLASH” in big letters and then one in which a big chunk of Snoopy’s doghouse has been unceremoniously torn away. And there is a followup strip in which an even bigger threat by Snoopy leads to an even bigger attack on his doghouse, this time with an exclamatory “RIP!!” Cats and dogs are not the main point of Peanuts, but one dog is certainly central to the strip – and the fact that McDonnell’s Earl has almost exactly the same coloration as Schulz’s Snoopy is far from a coincidence.