February 18, 2021


Living with Mochi. By Gemma Gené. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

     The adorableness of dogs, especially in comics and often in real life, knows no bounds. And among the most adorable of the adorable are pugs, which – again, especially in comics – tend to look like animated potatoes with gigantic googly eyes. In the real world, pugs are subject to a host of health problems relating to their pushed-in faces and their pronounced tendency to overeat, making them attractively pudgy but seriously undermining their well-being. The fact that they also shed a lot, despite what seems to be an almost nonexistent coat, is another aspect of reality with which pug lovers quickly become acquainted.

     But pug lovers really don’t care about the negatives. Certainly Gemma Gené, who built the webcomic 157ofgemma around her pug and her life with him, is not concerned. Everything about Mochi (rhymes with “low key,” which Mochi is not) is adorable, and the book collection of Gené’s comics simply oozes appreciation and love for the dog with which she shares her life and the life of those closest to her.

     The sweeter sorts of animals-and-people comics fall into a predictable pattern, showing activities that will have instant meaning to readers who have experienced them but not much significance to others; and that is exactly the situation in Living with Mochi. In some of the strips, Mochi simply behaves as a dog does. In one, for example, Gemma buys a “fun new cooling mat” so Mochi can lie on it and not get uncomfortably hot, and Mochi tries it out and promptly lies down – next to the mat but conspicuously not on it. In another sequence, Gemma loudly calls Mochi’s name repeatedly, but Mochi does not come to her – and then she barely whispers the word “food,” and he shows up instantaneously. Owners of dogs – well, certain kinds and personalities of dogs – will laugh out loud at the reality and recognizability of these scenes, in which Mochi is silent.

     In other strips, however, Mochi talks to Gemma and other characters; whether he “really” speaks or the strips simply turn “Mochi-think” into human words is irrelevant. In one of these strips, Gemma is curled on the couch complaining that she has horrible cramps; Mochi says, “I’m also having horrible cramps”; Gemma asks if that is true; and Mochi says, “Your pain is my pain.” Exactly right! In another strip, Mochi works his way onto Gemma’s feet as she sits working at her computer; she struggles to slip her feet out from under him so she can stand up; and he says, “Before getting up, please consider if whatever you are about to do is worth waking me up for.” Also exactly right!

     The reason real-life (or almost-real-life) cartoon stories about people and the pets who own or are owned by them are enduringly popular is that nonhuman animals skew human reality just enough to help us see the funny side of life – and dogs and cats (plus reptiles and other critters) do this simply by being themselves. The “deviousness” and “manipulativeness” of a dog or cat is nonexistent: humans impose their standards of slyness and manipulation onto a pup such as Mochi – which is really funny, since the Mochis (or is it “Mochies”?) of the world are simply being themselves, day in and day out, and forcing the poor benighted humans to confront their own uncertainties, inadequacies, and all-around levels of discomfort with seeming to be in control of life when in fact they are not.

     Living with Mochi is so much fun precisely because there is nothing outré about it. Mochi’s appearance may be tremendously exaggerated – if you think it is impossible to exaggerate the super-funny look of a pug, you haven’t seen Gené’s art – but his behavior is not. On one page he is chewing paper despite being told by Gemma that paper is not food – and he responds, “Anything can be food with the right attitude!” That is a perfect encapsulation of dog thinking: if it fits in my mouth, it’s food. At the top of another page in the book, Gemma is on the phone, weeping and bemoaning some sort of human failing or frailty: “Why is this happening to me? It’s so unfair!” Then Mochi flops down on her feet, and she notices him, and she ends the call, and at the bottom of the page she is smiling, holding Mochi in her lap, cuddling him, and saying, “I am the luckiest person in the world!” That is what Living with Mochi, and with every other Mochi everywhere, is all about.

     There is comic fodder aplenty in the antics and everyday activities of human families that include nonhumans. But it is not for humor that we humans share our space and our lives with other animals – certainly not ones such as Mochi. It is the pure, unadulterated nature of the connection between people and non-people companions that makes these interspecies relationships so meaningful, no matter how good our interactions with humans may be. It all comes down to a kind of love, a kind of connectivity, that humans never quite seem able to have with each other. The interhuman relationships in Gené’s book are loving, supportive and altogether positive ones, but there is a reason the book is not called “Living with Other People.” That just wouldn’t have the levels of believability and charm that appear on every page of Living with Mochi.

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