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Comics: Meet the Artist

Patrick McDonnell
Friday, September 10, 2004; 1:00 PM

Join Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin online two Fridays each month to discuss the comics pages. From artists to writers to editors, Tobin is joined by a different guest for each show.

On Friday, Sept. 10, at 1 p.m. ET Tobin will be joined by "Mutts" cartoonist Patrick McDonnell.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics fans, to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Patrick McDonnell, creator of "Mutts," who is joining us from the offices of his syndicate, King Features, in Manhattan. Welcome, Patrick, and thanks for joining us Live Online.


Patrick McDonnell: Welcome, everyone. Happy to be here. Let's start yapping.


Alexandria VA: Your strips, especially the interiors, often remind me of comics from the 1930s, especially the New Yorker. Are those strips among your influences?

Patrick McDonnell: I'm a big fan and student of all the early comic strips, the newspaper guys and the New Yorker. Obviously, George Herriman and Segar were big influences. In my title panels on Sunday, I do tributes to alot of the artists that influenced me. Actually the strip I just mentioned about spay-neutering, was done in R.F. Outcault's style. He did "Buster Brown" and "The Yellow Kid" in the early 20th century.


nyc burbs: Chickpea and chickpea's brother made me adopt 2 cats from the NYC shelter 8 months or so ago. I love them with all my life (Cartier and Napoleon).

There is a stray cat and her four kittens that have been coming around my house at dusk for the past 3 weeks. I give them food and water but can't get near them. Any ideas how to grab them? I would like to keep the mother and bring the kittens to the no kill shelter near my house. Thanks...

Patrick McDonnell: Nothing makes me happier than to know that my strip might influence someone to give a stray cat or dog a new home. Congratulations on your adoptions. I'm not the expert with catching feral cats, but I think that if you call your local humane society or the local shelter they could give you some ideas. From my experience, food and kindness usually works with capturing cats. Good luck!


Washington D.C.: HI Patrick

I love ChickPea and ChickPea's brother, will they be returning to the strip anytime soon? My rescued cats Piper and Max send regards!;

Patrick McDonnell: Chickpea and Chickpea's brother will definitely be part of the regular cast of Mutts, and you will be seeing them from time to time.


Pittsburgh, PA: Are there any plans for a book concentrating on the Shelter Stories? They are heart-rending strips!;

Patrick McDonnell: I'm so glad you asked. It's something that I've wanted to do for awhile. And now that I have 10 years worth of Shelter Story strips, there's enough for a book collection and something that will hopefully come out in the near future.


Nutley, N.J.: Hi Patrick --

Thanks for all you do for our animal friends.

Question: the Mutts license plates in New Jersey, which cost motorists extra... I was told the cost of these is helping to fund lowcost spay/neuter programs. But when I checked with several vets in Bergen, Essex and Passaic Counties (we're trying to help a colony of feral cats) they all told me there is no funding for anything like that available anymore. What happened to the license plate funds?

Patrick McDonnell: The license plate funds do go to spay and neuter animals. As a matter of fact, 85% of the fee goes toward that. I'm not exactly sure how it gets filtered down to the individual vets, but it's a great cause and I know the money is being put to good use.


Arlington, VA. : Mr. McDonnell,
As Earl is clearly a cartoon Jack Russell Terrier (but quite accurately portrayed), have you been a JRT's human before?
Love the strip and your spot-on sense of the animal-human dynamic! Patrick McDonnell: Thanks for the compliment. Earl is based on my own Jack Russell terrier, Earl, who is now 15 years old. And people still stop me and ask me how old my puppy is. He's a great dog, as are all dogs.


Philadelphia, PA: One of the greatest things about "Mutts" has been your willingness to raise issues of animal welfare, like homelessness among domestic animals, in the cartoon. What led you to take on those issues?

Patrick McDonnell: It's always been a passion of mine, mainly through my love of my own pets growing up. I really see animals as other souls who are sharing the planet with us. With Mutts, I tried to write the strip through the eyes of the dog and cat--how the animals see the world. And in doing the strip and thinking along those lines, I became aware of how tough it is for so many animals on this planet. So it sort of became a natural progression, to, on occasion, write about their plight. In a certain way, I try to speak for them, and hopefully in an entertaining way. It's an important part of the strip to me. Thanks so much for the question.


Chicago, IL: Patrick,
My wife and I LOVE Mutts. It's a must read every morning.

What was the inspiration for the pink sock? Growing up, my dog had a favorite sock, too. It just brings back some great memories.

Patrick McDonnell: One of the funniest things with doing the pink sock is I get so many letters from other cat owners, whose cats not only have socks, but have pink socks, in particular. It's just strange that I touched a nerve in catdom. Actually, my cat, Meemow, does have a sock, and that was the inspiration for the idea. On the Web site, muttscomics.com, this coming Christmas we will be selling a little pink sock catnip toy, and part of all the proceeds from sales on the Web site go to animal charities.


Monterey, CA: The last time (?) you were here, I made shome shnide remarksh about your overyoosh of a shertain comic divishe in your shtrip. For whatever reashon, you sheem to have shtopped.

I wanted you to know that I notished, and have only one thing to shay: yesh!;

Patrick McDonnell: Shure glad you're pleased.


USA: Hi.

I remember reading from your previous
Washington Post.com chat that you're
planning to do a storyline that shows how
Mooch and Earl got their homes.

Are you still working on it, scrapped it, or
already ran and I missed it?

Patrick McDonnell: You didn't miss it, and it's still something I have in my sketchbooks, I just haven't totally figured out the whole story yet. It is something I plan to do in the future.


Deming, N.M.: Do you ever have staring contests with a pet? If so, who wins?

Patrick McDonnell: I have had staring contests with my cat and I wouldn't say I win, but she does get bored first. And I've had staring contests with my dog, and he always wins. Do you have staring contest with your animals?


Washington, DC: Response to nyc burbs: Alley Cat Allies is the national feral cat protection organization. They have lots of great tips for catching ferals on their Web site: www.alleycat.org

Patrick McDonnell: That's a great idea. I should've thought of that. Thanks.


El Segundo, CA: I have a sample NJ Mutts license plate on my office wall; how can I get the State of California to issue your plates??

Patrick McDonnell: Write to the motor vehicle department in California and ask for it. I'd love to do it. And maybe try writing to Arnold.


Three Cat Condo, Washington, D.C.: I recently read that "Red and Rover" is supposed to be set in the 50s. I would never have guessed that; I thought it was not bound by any time. I have always had a similar feeling about "Mutts". Is "Mutts" suppose to be set in any particular decade?

What does Earl's guardian do for a living?

And what does Mooch think of Bucky Katt?


Patrick McDonnell: I do try to keep Mutts timeless. It's on some sort of comic time. And I think Earl once explained what Ozzie does. He feeds him, takes him for car rides and rubs his belly.
Mooch doesn't read the funnies.


Suzanne Tobin: BTW, Red and Rover is actually set in the '60s, not the '50s. That's why they're so many reference to NASA and space exploration.


Deming, N.M.: I have staring contests out here, but I realize I am at a disadvantage: snakes don't have eyelids.

Patrick McDonnell: Okay.


Baltimore MD: My husband's favorite character is Crabby (and by extension, his wife(?) Lollipop). Any crabby kids in the future? Any chance of seeing what winter's like at the beach?

Patrick McDonnell: That's a good question. I've never thought of winter at the beach. Maybe I'll explore that this winter. Thanks for the thought.
As for kids, we'll have to ask Crabby and Lollipop about that. Not that I know of.


Japan: Hi.

Mutts is my favorite strip. Congrats on its
10 years anniversary!

Anyway, cartoonist Stephan Pastis
emailed me once that you actually read
the "Pearls Before Swine" storyline
featuring Rat in comics school, taught by
Mooch and Earl. Just wondering, are you
and Stephan good friends, or a fan of
Pearls? What do you think of the strip

BTW, I read your blog on the
MuttsComics.com website and just a
correction. It's Watterson, not Waterson.
Note the two Ts. :P I used to read Calvin
and Hobbes, so I know the name.

Patrick McDonnell: Yes, I do know Stephan and as with all cartoonists, he's a great guy. As far as the Watterson note, I don't do the actual typing of the stuff on my site, so I take no responsibility for the misspelling. I did, in fact, mention it to the Web site people and they were supposed to fix it.


Washington, DC: Thanks so much for all you do to promote humane and responsible animal care in your adorable strip, "Mutts." All of us here at the Doris Day Animal Foundation and League are big fans!; Would you help us publicize the 11th national Spay Day USA on February 22, 2005? Thanks again.
Vicki Stevens
Director of Programs

Patrick McDonnell: I actually have done that with the Doris Day Foundation a couple of years ago. I'm glad you reminded me, I'll definitely do a spay and neuter cartoon for Feb. 22. Just recently, two Sundays ago, I did a spay-neuter strip with Noodles and Shtinky. Keep up the good work!


Rome, Georgia: Thanksh, Patrick, for participating in this chat!; Some comic artists draw more than one strip, like Chance Browne, who draws "Hagar the Horrible" and "Raising Duncan". Do you think you would ever begin another strip or collaborate on another strip like "B.C"'s Johnny Hart's collaboration w/ Brant Parker on "Wizard of ID?"

Patrick McDonnell: I don't know how those guys do it. Mutts keeps me busy 24/7.


Culver City, CA: Thank you for 10 years of Mutts and for muttscomics.com. Many of us would yap there all day and night if possible!; Do you ever read our posts, or do you have someone shcreen them with you in mind?

Patrick McDonnell: When I find some free time, I do visit muttscomics.com and I do enjoy reading the posts. The people at muttscomics.com will send me something in particular that they think I should see, something funny or alot of touching stories about people adopting cats and dogs that they know I'd appreciate.


Washington DC: Thanks for everything you do for the animals.

Patrick McDonnell: Thank you.


Gaithersburg: I like your strip. You are a great artist. It's usually not laugh out loud funny, but it doesn't seem as if it is meant to be. It's different than the rest and I like that.

But on to the questions:

Why do you think Weingarten hates your comic strip so much? (see any recent chat for evidence)

How many papers is your strip in?

How much money do you make? (approximate--I'm not trying to be too nosy, just curious if you are fabulously wealthy or just scraping by).

Do you think you make more money than Weingarten? Do you think he is funny?

Do you think you are better at what you do than he is at what he does?

Thanks. I know these are qustions that probably won't get answered, but it sure would make for an interesting chat if you did. I hear Weingarten's side of it all the time. I'd like to hear yours.

Patrick McDonnell: I have no idea who Weingarten is. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. As for Weingarten's chat, I know this sounds strange in this day and age, but I don't even own a computer (but my wife does). My strip is in about 550 papers. I'm doing fine financially. Thanks for asking.


McLean, Va.: I'm so glad that you're now featuring a few Mutts products on your website, but how about adding a few more? In particular, calendars and "desk-type" items would be welcome so that we fans could proudly display our Mutts devotion to friends and coworkers? I always receive favorable comments when wearing my Mutts t-shirt, so your many fans are interested; if a portion of the proceeds was dedicated to shelters and animal charities, it would further "spread the word" - - I'd gladly buy more for myself and for gifts to animal-loving friends and family. We are ALL Mutts fans! Thanks for the wonderful smiles you deliver and for the charitable causes you support.

Patrick McDonnell: Well, thanks for the compliments and the plugs. This fall there's going to be Mutts stationery products from Chronicle Books in the stores and on the Web site. They'll be notebooks, postcards and fold-and-mails. There will also be a 2006 calendar from Chronicle. There will be new products exclusive to muttscomics.com, including the pink sock catnip toy I mentioned earlier. There will also be a new edition of the Gift of Nothing, where all the profits go to Toys for Tots.
With all the other products, part of the proceeds do go to different animal charities.


Japan: Hi.

Just wondering, does Ozzie and Dr. Woo
going out? Curious, because usually
when Ozzie goes on a special occasion,
we usually see him with Dr. Woo.

Patrick McDonnell: That's an underlying story that I haven't explored completely, but Ozzie and Dr. Woo are definitely an item.


Fukuoka: Just wondering. Prior to MUTTS, was
there any strips you attempted to get
syndicated that either got rejected or
decided not to go further? If so, what were
some of them?

Patrick McDonnell: I did a comic strip for Parents Magazine called "Bad Baby" for 10 years from about about 1984-94. But I never tried to syndicate it, and "Mutts" is the one and only comic I tried to sell to the syndicates. I was just very lucky.


Pittsburgh, PA: Would you consider putting out all the Mutts' shtrips similar to the way they are releasing all the Peanuts strips (hardcover, in order, etc.)?
By the way, THANKSH!;

Patrick McDonnell: I'm flattered that you would even think of such a project. I have 10 books out in paperback, which have most of the Mutts strips, and someday I'm thinking of putting out a book of all the strips that didn't make it into the collection for space reasons. Then all the Mutts strips would have been published in book form.


Metro L.A., CA: I know you're on the HSUS Board of Directors. Do you advocate any other animal-help organizations, such as the Morris Foundation?

Patrick McDonnell: I'm very proud to be part of the Humane Society of the United States. They do wonderful work for all animals, all over the world. We just elected a new CEO, Wayne Paccelle, so it's a very exciting time. We have great plans for the future. There are many worthy animal protection groups out there, and they all could use our support. The animals can use all the help they can get.


College Park, Md.: Hi! I love mutts but recycled the comics section before I
could find out what happened in the stare down contest
between mooch and earl. who won?

Patrick McDonnell: You know I did a cartoonist's device, I had them staring at each other and ended it with "to be continued" and as far as I know it's still going on. Stay tuned.


seattle, wa: Patrick, your cartoons hold a special place in my heart. As someone who spent 7 years caring for animals in an animal shelter, it is an incredible blessing for someone with your kind sensibilities to have the "cartoon pulpit" you have created to speak about humane issues.

Our favorite comic (in an esteemed place of honor on our refrigerator -- for years now!;) is a sunday comic with vinettes of animals dreaming of better lives, ending with earl dreaming of the life he is actually living. I only hope that our dog has earl's dreams, too.

Thanks again for all you do. Please keep up the great work.

Patrick McDonnell: Bless you and thank you for all the work you do. That particular Sunday page is one of my favorites, too. Keep up the great work.


Annandale VA: You mentioned the old timers influence. Do I see some "Mutt and Jeff" in the humans?

And, I swear that deli owner used to run a butcher shop in Queens when I was growing up!;

Mutts took a while to grow on me, and now it's doing the same to my son who's recently added it to his Required Reading list.

Patrick McDonnell: Good eye. There's definitely some "Mutt and Jeff" in there. That's one of the factors in my choosing "Mutts" as the title for the strip. Alot of people consider "Mutt and Jeff" the first daily comic strip, historically. Ozzie has a little Mutt in him.
My best to your son.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Before time runs out, I want to thank you---Mutts has been a real joy in my (and other Mutts Nutts lives). It's a much nicer world with you in it!!

Patrick McDonnell: It's a much nicer world with the Mutts Nutts in it too.


Fukuoka: Just wondering. I notice that newspaper
comics business is shrinking more and
more lately.

Do you think comic-strip syndication will
wind up like theatrical cartoons (Bugs
Bunny, Pink Panther), which ended
because of the popularity of TV? I think
comics business is shrinking due to
abality (sp?) of reading strips online.

Patrick McDonnell: I think with all art forms, it's always in a state of flux. I think there will always be newspaper comics, and I think they'll also find other homes, like the Internet.


Arlington, Va.: If you don't own a computer, how do you submit your strips? Do you still FedEx them to the syndicate? And could you describe your drawing tools and method briefly? Thank you.

Patrick McDonnell: Sure. I just did an article on how I do a Sunday strip for Hogan's Alley magazine, and it'll appear in their next issue. I still do the strip in the traditional way, I use a fountain pen and dip it into a bottle of ink and draw it on Strathmore Bristol four-ply paper. And I watercolor my Sunday pages and annotate them with printer's numbers for the color guide, and I do FedEx the week's worth of stuff to the syndicate. People from muttscomics.com are going to try to get me to scan in my strips, so that might happen soon.


Ellicott City, MD: Hi Mr. McDonnell,
I just wanted to thank you for all you do to promote animal adoption...your stories bring tears to my eyes. Both of my cats are adopted and have been a real source of joy...our second one was adopted on Sept. 12, 2001...she provided some needed distraction to the tragedy of 9/11.

Mooch is truly like them!;

Patrick McDonnell: I'm sure your cat was grateful to you.


Takoma Park, Md.: I would like to know where you hid the secret camera at my house. I had a rescued tuxedo cat just like Mooch whose name was Tiny Vee. You captured so many of his manorisms perfectly that I was sure you were watching him. I will always treasure the 18 years I had with him. Sharing my home with an orphaned cat was the best thing I ever did. Some people may think it's the animal that reaps all the benefit from adoption, but I beg to differ. I received much more in return. The gift of unconditional love. Thank you for your wonderful strip. It's a must read for me everyday!!

Patrick McDonnell: Thanks so much for your thoughts. Unconditional love, that's what it's all about. Yesh!


Patrick McDonnell: Boy, that was fun. I want to thank everyone for their time, and I especially want to thank Suzanne who makes this so easy and pleasurable.


Suzanne Tobin: Thank you, Patrick. I hope all of you will join me again on Sept. 24, when I'll be chatting live from the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, Calif. with their acting director, Rose Marie McDaniel, and maybe I'll even get Stephan Pastis to log on, since he works in their permissions department. See you then!


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