Patrick McDonnell

Patrick McDonnell has won as many awards from cartoonist associations as from animal-rights groups. His professional honors include the National Cartoonists Society Rueben for Cartoonist of the Year and Germany's Max and Moritz Award for Best International Comic Strip. His work for animal rights earned him PETA's Humanitarian Award and the Humane Society's Hollywood Genesis Award for Ongoing Commitment. He created the comic strip Mutts in 1994, and it's now distributed in more than 700 newspapers in 20 countries. McDonnell comes to town this week to read from his latest book, Hug Time, which tells the story of a kitten who understands the power of hugs.

CP: Clearly you care deeply about both animals and comics. Which one was your passion first?

PM: They're pretty closely related, but probably art. I've wanted to be a cartoonist since I was three or four years old. Both of my parents went to art school, so art was encouraged in the house. And I feel like I started drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Another part of it was I was a big fan of Peanuts growing up. Charles Schultz is the reason I wanted to be a cartoonist; I was just in love with the magic of Peanuts. One of the things I loved about Peanuts was Snoopy, and I think the dog-and-cartoon quality blended together.

CP: Shultz named Mutts one of the best comics ever, didn't he?

PM: Yeah, I still have to pinch myself. The nicest thing for me about becoming a cartoonist was that I got to meet and become friends with my childhood hero. He was very kind about Mutts. When he said that Mutts was one of the best comics, I felt like I could retire.

CP: Your character Guard Dog, a tragic anti-bully perpetually chained even though he poses no real threat, seems to be a favorite of your readers. What is he symbolic of, and are your other characters symbolic of anything?

PM: Guard Dog is funny; when I was first fooling around with that character in my sketchbook, I thought it might be fun if Earl and Mooch had a villain in the strip—a big, nasty dog that gave them a tough time. So in doing my sketches of him I drew a bulldog with a big collar, and in one of my drawings I put a chain on him to make him look tougher. Boy, the minute I put a chain on him I started thinking about the reality of dogs who have that life, and my villain became a tragic character as soon as I did that. That's a more powerful character. I always felt that if I inspire one person to take their dog off the chain and bring him in the house, it's worth doing. I actually get a lot of mail about Guard Dog, everyone wants me to free him. As far as other characters go, Jules is my animal advocate, so he's symbolic of all the good people I meet in my charity work who really dedicate their lives to helping others. Then there's a character named Sourpuss who is the most negative character in the strip, he's probably symbolic of the age we're living in.

McDonnell reads and discusses his work at two locations today.
Sun., Feb. 10, 3:30 p.m., 2008

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