a Silver Anniversary for Mutts
25 years of artful celebration and kindness to animals
Spot Magazine’s Editor Michelle Blake had the opportunity to see what inspires Patrick’s comedic art
Mutts Silver Milestone --an interview with Patrick McDonnell
25 years ago, people thought of animal shelters as sad, depressing places. You brought warmth and humor into the heartbreak. What's challenging about your role of delivering a heartfelt message in a fun way?
I've always felt that the comic strip form is capable of more than just telling jokes. Like all art, it can do much more. Many of my favorite comics of the past had heartfelt themes and moments --such as Peanuts and Krazy Kat, to name two. After years of creating strips with Earl and Mooch sharing homes with their loving guardians, I felt it was only right to showcase dogs and cats at our shelters waiting for the same opportunity. My goal is to nudge readers to visit their local shelters and find a new best friend. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear a MUTTS Shelter Story has inspired an adoption.
Why is it so effective to deliver a serious message in a fun, entertaining way?
With a daily comic strip, readers get invested in the characters. We welcome them into our lives every day and they begin to feel like a part of our families. People let their guard down and are more accepting to new ideas. While they’re in that comfort zone, it's easier to bring up an occasional serious topic in a kind way.
The world seems increasingly complex, and your work cuts through the noise with simple, quiet words like your manifesto (be kind, be present, make humane choices). Can you talk a little about keeping it simple in the chaos? What do you do to keep yourself grounded in the fundamentals when the world is challenging?
Thanks for your kind words. I've always felt that art is a refuge in the chaos of the world. A comic strip can be an oasis in the steady stream of bad news found in our newspapers. I've always received joy and comfort from the Peanuts comic strips that I read as a kid, and I want to give some of that back to today’s readers.
By nature, my comics followed the “less is more” philosophy. I always try to keep it simple and pared down to the essentials in order to get to the heart of the matter. As Eckhart Tolle says, our cats and dogs keep us sane by bringing us to the present moment. Making art also helps. Drawing MUTTS, for me, is a form of meditation.
The last time you talked with Spot Magazine, you were contemplating how and when you'd unchain Guard Dog. You've gotten requests from readers to free the dog from his chain, and you've said you hope to do that, though Guard Dog is also playing an important role in educating people about this issue. Now we see snippets of Guard Dog both on and off his chain. How has that character changed in the years since organizations like Coalition to Unchain Dogs and Fences for Fido have shone a light on chained dogs across the country?
Guard Dog still has a role to play in helping to educate people. I have been promising to free him for quite some time and, if everything works out, that time is coming very soon. I am so grateful to groups like the ones you have mentioned who do so much to make the lives of real Guard Dogs better.
Which change in the animal welfare world over the past 25 years has moved or inspired you the most? What would you like to see done in your next 25 years?
We have seen remarkable change for animals in the past 25 years. As an example, 20 years ago I created a strip for MUTTS that I call “Sweet Dreams,” which shows many different caged animals (in factory farms and research labs) dreaming to be free. Since then, we’ve seen so much progress for animals in the United States — although, of course, there is still much to be done. For me the most astounding change was when Ringling Bros. Circus suddenly reversed course on having elephants in their shows, and then shut down shortly after. And, separately, for years I’ve been saying that vegan chefs and vegan food companies were going to change the world. There are now fantastic meat alternatives everywhere and they are being enjoyed by everyone. This trend is just going to continue to grow and one day we will see the end of all the suffering the poor souls in factory farms endure today.