November 10, 2005


Mutts Sunday Evenings. By Patrick McDonnell. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.

Surfer Safari: The Tenth “Sherman’s Lagoon” Collection. By Jim Toomey. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

Rugrats Volume 2: A Baby’s Work Is Never Done. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

     One does not usually think of beauty and sensitivity as coexisting, or even existing at all, in comics.  This is why Patrick McDonnell’s Sunday Mutts strips are both so unusual and so welcome.  McDonnell’s daily strips, while still well drawn and sometimes quite pointed, have become enmeshed in a “cause” mentality that gets in the way of some of the gentle humor they originally had: Save Endangered Species!  Adopt from a Shelter!  (Etc.)  But the Sunday strips retain the quietness and gorgeous style that originally made Mutts such an extraordinary creation.  In Mutts Sunday Evenings, we find Mooch the cat thoroughly enjoying himself by making New Year’s resolutions – which turn out to be for Earl the dog.  Mooch says he’ll miss his friends if he and Earl hibernate for the rest of the winter – so he brings them all into the same big bed, leaving Earl with a pricelessly bemused expression.  Guard Dog, eternally chained outdoors, yowls at the moon, which comes down and gives him a kiss – a marvelously surrealistic scene.  Crabby the crab visits “strange waters” drawn in Dali-esque style, in a strip introduced by a homage to the old EC horror comics.  In fact, the introductory panels – which some newspapers do not even run – can be as interesting as the main story: one gently parodies a schoolhouse reader, one a Dick Tracy strip, another a Flash Gordon story, another a Wheaties box, and so on.  This is a simply wonderful collection.

     Wonderful in its own (very different) way, Surfer Safari continues the delightfully bizarre adventures of Sherman the shark and his somewhat skewed (but not skewered) companions.  Jim Toomey’s art isn’t at McDonnell’s level, but Toomey’s funny bone is in the right place, and he manages an effective mixture of character comedy with one-liners.  Check out the flow chart that Megan, Sherman’s wife, makes to shorten arguments: every path leads to Sherman being wrong.  Moneygrubbing Hawthorne the hermit crab creates a friendship service, selling one prospect on it by telling him he is “slow, dimwitted, unattractive.”  Sherman encounters the kelp monster, who unsuccessfully tries to meet other monsters through (Internet jokes are a staple here).  And Sherman and Megan have a baby – you can imagine what additional chaos that causes.  But you don’t have to imagine: you can read all about it (and look at it, too).

     Not all comic strips are this successful, though.  McDonnell and Toomey both get (++++) ratings, for different reasons, but the committee-produced Rugrats deserves (++) at best.  Based on the Nickelodeon show and looking like not-too-well-drawn stills from it, it offers not-too-endearing dialogue: “Where do eggies come from?  Chickens.  Where do chickies come from?  Eggs.  (Pause.)  Where do toasters come from?”  A series of “10th anniversary” strips points to what this book is all about: each consists of two panels showing how little will change even after the Rugrats get past babyhood.  The message to readers: if and only if you want repetition and sameness, page after page and year after year, you – or your very young Rugrats TV fan – will enjoy this.

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