Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the October 18, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Meet the Mighty `Mutts’
From the self-important way Earl barks at the FedEx
man, you would think he was famous. His New Jersey house-mate, the
rising comic strip star Patrick McDonnell, sounds like a much more
humble fellow. And although this is supposed to be Patrick’s phone
interview, the little dog chimes in with a high-pitched
"Sorry, you’re going to hear a lot of barking," says the
artist apologetically. "You’ve hit mail time at the McDonnell
Although McDonnell’s well-loved strip "Mutts" is a relative
newcomer to the comic pages — it has only been around since 1994
— he has already won the National Cartoonists Society’s highest
honor, the Reuben Award. Industry awards and accolades have their
place, of course, but for real proof of "Mutts" success, look
elsewhere — on desks, bulletin boards, and refrigerators around
the nation, in Europe, and Japan.
McDonnell will meet area readers and sign copies of "Our
his fifth comic collection (Andrews McMeel Publishing, October 2000,
$9.95), at Barnes & Noble in North Brunswick, on Saturday, October
21, at 2 p.m. Recognized for work to help raise awareness of the
of homeless pets, McDonnell has invited Petfinder.com to share the
event. The New Jersey-based business that runs a national Internet
directory of homeless pets will be on hand, with a laptop computer,
to help match needy shelter pets with good homes.
For those who have yet to become acquainted with McDonnell’s
Earl the dog lives with (and adores) the dark haired, mustachioed
Ozzie (who looks a bit like McDonnell’s press picture). Earl’s friend
and neighbor, Mooch the cat, who speaks with a comical lisp, lives
with (and tolerates) Millie and Frank (also known as
Unlike most comic strip animal characters, McDonnell’s "Mutts"
get their charm from acting more like pets than people. Neither Earl
nor Mooch aspire to be human — with lives that revolve around
eating and sleeping, they know full well how sweet it is.
"Mutts" also features two outsize outdoor pets, Sourpuss,
a big tomcat, and Guard Dog, a big bull terrier condemned to life
on a chain. Among the occasional visitors is Shtinky, the little
tiger-striped cat, who has singlehandedly tried to save endangered
tigers. Once or twice a year McDonnell writes a series of "Shelter
Stories" to encourage readers to take in a homeless pets.
The original Earl who has never come to terms with the mail man is
a 12-year-old Jack Russell terrier. A more recent addition to the
McDonnell household, Meemow the cat, was rescued from a parking garage
as a feral kitten. "We had Earl for nine years before we brought
a cat into the house. It’s been three years now and he still hasn’t
got used to it," says McDonnell.
But he doesn’t want to overstate the problem. Of course cats and dogs
can live together happily, he insists. "It’s just that Earl gets
unbearably jealousy if I show Meemow any affection whatsoever."
Meemow maintains his silence throughout the interview.
McDonnell’s strip is just six years old, but he fixed on his vocation
at the tender age of four. "When I was four years old, I knew
I wanted to be a cartoonist," he says. "I grew up in the early
’60s and I was totally immersed and in love with `Peanuts’ — it
was love at first sight. We also had Walt Kelly and Jules Feiffer
books in the house. I can remember poring over them and not be able
to read the words. Cartoons probably helped me to learn to read
This pattern is not so rare. "At the cartoonist society’s annual
meeting two years ago, 10 of us did an online chat and we were asked,
When did you know you wanted to be a cartoonist? Every single one
of us replied four or five years old," says McDonnell. His hero
Charles Schulz is in this category too.
"If I had had any idea how hard it was when I was four years old,
I would have changed my dream," McDonnell adds (but you can tell
he’s joking). "One of the first questions I asked Charles Schulz
when I finally got to meet him was, `Does it get any easier?’ He
right away: No."
"Charles Schulz was always disappointed that comic strips in
were considered below burlesque," says McDonnell. "But it’s
like jazz, American doesn’t embrace its own art forms that well. For
me I’m fascinated by the medium. I like the newspaper strip, the haiku
of four little panels. You have to get down to its essence real
Schulz’s Snoopy is a dog we have come to know as smart and literate,
prone to fantasies about his life as a World War I flying ace. And
there are no cats to be found in "Peanuts." McDonnell’s Earl,
on the other hand, is all dog. He’s not exactly dumb, but once Mooch
arrived on the scene, Earl’s doggy intelligence can seem, shall we
say, limited. In one strip, Earl is a little outraged that Mooch shows
no remorse after breaking a vase. Mooch invites Earl to demonstrate
some doggy cringing; it’s so effective, Earl gets the blame.
McDonnell thrives on comics, both contemporary and historic. He names
as his strongest influences Schulz’s "Peanuts," E.C. Segar
of "Popeye" (and Olive Oyle and Brutus) and George Herriman,
author of the "Krazy Kat" strip that ran from 1911 until
death in 1944. McDonnell and his wife co-authored the book, "Krazy
Kat: The Art of George Herriman," published by Abrams in 1986,
and still in print.
"One of the things I admired about `Krazy Kat’ was how George
Herriman used to change his title panel," he says. "I always
admired the variety he brought to them. So I did one, then another,
and it was sort of like potato chips — now I’m stuck with it."
McDonnell’s inspired title panels evoke any number of pop culture
icons from pet mug shots to pizza boxes. Some strips employ lots of
words, but some of his best are purely pictorial. "I like when
concepts are funny," he says. "Sometimes in my work, some
of the funnier things happen in the middle of the panel, not at the
end. I like it to be funny in different places. I think the trouble
with many comics today is that they’re nothing more than a set up
for a punch line."
Born in 1956, McDonnell grew up in Edison with two
and a sister, and continues to live in New Jersey. His parents, now
retired, met at Cooper Union, New York’s prestigious free art school.
His mother became a teacher of fashion design and an assistant
of schools, and his father became a beer salesman. A beer salesman?
"A family comes along and sometimes its hard to make a living
at an artist," he says, adding, "you could say they’re
my art success more than anybody."
McDonnell’s wife Karen O’Connell works at a computer job ("I don’t
do computers," he notes) and teaches yoga. "Many moons
they used to be in punk band together, the Steel Tips. "I still
fool around on the drums," he says, "And she sings around
As a child, McDonnell’s household contained plenty of drawing
and more. "Most important was the encouragement," he says,
"encouragement for my drawings and encouragement to keep drawing.
We had art on refrigerator and plenty other places, too." Today
he has a brother in the music business and one in video. Their sister
is married and raising a family.
McDonnell majored in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in
New York City, graduating in 1978, but concentrated on fine arts
which he found more interesting. "When I was at School of Visual
Arts I took one cartooning class with Will Eisner. But as a kid I
was always doodling and drawing cartoons, in college I was egotistical
enough to think they didn’t have anything to teach me."
When he graduated from SVA, he took his portfolio to two cartoon
"I showed things in my portfolio, but I had such a bad reaction
that I thought maybe I’m not going to be doing comics." Instead
he landed a weekly job with Russell Baker that provided "a weekly
paycheck and great exposure." He kept at it, adding a complement
of magazine jobs, until Baker retired 10 years later.
"The whole time I was doing magazine illustrations, it was like
a comic strip in my head," says McDonnell. "I was using the
same characters in a lot of my illustrations, and sometimes I even
used word balloons." Ten years after his first try, McDonnell
took his portfolio around again and was hired by the King Syndicate.
"As soon as I tried the strip, I felt I was home," says
Next came the slightly terrifying process of learning on the job.
"This is my sixth year and I feel like I’m just starting to know
what I’m doing."
"The original concept was to have the dog go out and have little
adventures. Then I decided to have him meet a cat, since that’s what
dogs do. But when Mooch came into the strip’s life he never left.
Just like a cat. Mooch is definitely the star" — and, we add
editorially, he knows it.
McDonnell’s line of work, and its relentless deadlines, is constantly
challenging, but not everyone appreciates all that goes into the
art form. "Most people think you sketch those little doodles in
five minutes," he notes, " — and they wonder, What’s your
"What’s hard is to look at a white piece of paper and get an idea.
The pressure of the deadline and trying to do your best every day
is hard. I’ve awakened at 3 a.m. with some of my best punch
"I have a bad habit of doing a Sunday page, of loving the concept
of it, but not knowing how it ends. And that’s a dangerous thing to
do, because you may have put in a day’s work of nothing." These
are the times, he says, when putting his subconscious to work on the
problem can pay off.
"When you do it every day, it’s hit or miss. Some days I’m in
the writing mood; other days, it’s like pulling teeth. The longer
stories take longer to write. You’re trying to write a little novel.
I really enjoy doing those."
McDonnell’s Sunday funnies, collected in the book "Mutts
and published last year, have made him especially popular with art
lovers. He has created visual puns and fond tributes to artists from
Matisse and "La Danse" to H.R. Rey of "Curious
Look closely and you may find an Andy Warhol Brillo Box, a pair of
Raphael angels, or a Mondrian abstraction.
Whether or not Americans respect comics in general, comics artist
Charles Schulz became a national hero at the end of his career.
"He deserved it," says McDonnell. "He is true piece of
Americana, right there with Mark Twain and Aaron Copland. He did touch
people’s lives. And what was really sweet about it was that he lived
to see it. The outpouring of affection came when he announced his
retirement, and he got to enjoy it. And not just in America. It’s
amazing how he touched the world. I must have got calls for 10
after his death, most of them from other countries."
And Schultz did it all without a cat. Take a glance at the funny
these days and you’ll find cats in abundance, from Garfield and
to Robotman’s hairless cat, and Catbert, Dilbert’s evil H.R. director.
Such species imbalance leads inevitably to a nagging, overarching
question: Are cats funnier than dogs?
"I do cats and I do dogs, and I have to contend with both
so I can’t answer that," says McDonnell with mock caution.
a delicate line I’m on. My reply has to be, `No comment.’"
— Nicole Plett
signs copies of his new book, "Our Mutts" (Andrews McMeel,
2000). Petfinder.com will be there to help match shelter pets with
good homes. Free. Saturday, October 21, 2 p.m.
the Photograph," in conjunction with a two-day symposium, Friday
and Saturday, October 20 and 21, in which scholars discuss the
of the photograph and the modern art world; show continues to November
19. Also: "Material Language: Small-Scale Sculpture after
to December 30. "Life at the Fin de Siecle: Lithographs of
through October 29. "Dutch Prints in the Golden Age," with
prints by Rembrandt and other Old Masters, to November 5. Tuesday
through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours
every Saturday at 2 p.m. Free.
"A Century for the Millennium: 100 Treasures from the Collections
of the Princeton University Library," on view in the main
gallery to November 5.
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Niches" by sculptor Thomas
a contemporary exploration of Biblical subjects. Monday to Friday,
8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 9:30 p.m.
To November 3.
"Black Box Video Shorts," a show highlighting the present
and future of video art features video artist Pipilotti Rist and her
video installation "Sip My Ocean." The show, which offers
a timeline and text on video art, also features work by Penny Ward,
Judy Lieff, Bonnie Mitchell, Wolfgang Staehle, and Alan Moore. Monday
through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.; Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday,
1 to 3 p.m.
West Windsor, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "Crossing Over:
Art," an exhibit of computer-generated and computer-inspired art
by MCCC faculty members Anne Bobo, Yevgeniy Fiks, and Lou Draper,
and guest artist Kin Plett. Curator is Tricia Fagan. Gallery talk
is Wednesday, October 18, at 7 p.m., for the show that runs to
2. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays from 7 to 9
p.m.; and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m.
"Citizen Cake," a juried gallery exhibit that is part of the
Fall Festival of Art and Culture. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To October 20.
Book Illustrators features six children’s book authors and
Kim Adlerman, Denise Brunkus, Carol Camburn, Deborah Clearman, and
Jill Kastner. To November 11.
The gallery celebrates its move across Witherspoon Street with an
exhibition featuring illustrations by Russian-born artists Andrej
and Olga Dugin from their forthcoming edition of "The Brave Little
Tailor." Now living in Western Europe, the couple is following
in the artistic tradition practiced by their friend and mentor,
Spirin. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m; Sunday,
noon to 4 p.m. To October 29.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Old Traditions, New Beginnings,"
a major exhibition celebrating 250 years of Princeton Jewish history,
jointly presented and exhibited at the Jewish Center of Princeton.
This is the first-ever exhibit on the history of Princeton’s Jewish
community, scheduled to coincide with the Jewish Center’s 50th
Topics addressed include early arrivals, family life, social
work and business pursuits, religious traditions, and anti-Semitism.
609-397-0275. "Organic Movement," a solo exhibition of
by Monica McNulty about visual movement inspired by nature. Gallery
hours are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 16.
"Complements," a shared show by watercolorist, Gail
and oil painter, Lisa Mahan. Both artists live in Pennsylvania and
both prefer working directly from life in natural light. Gallery hours
are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To November 5.
Recent paintings by Mike Filipiak whose subjects include scenes of
Maine and Hunterdon County. Gallery hours are Thursday to Sunday,
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., for the show that runs to October 30.
Annual Fall Exhibition featuring pastels by Nancy Silvia and
by Charles R. Ross. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m.
to 5 p.m. Show continues to November 12.
609-397-1006. "All Chairs: Designs for 2001 and Beyond," a
show by the architect Matthew Huey. On view, Thursdays through Monday,
noon to 5 p.m., through October 30.
609-397-7887. "Solitudes," an exhibition of paintings and
drawings by the Belgrade-born artist Bojan Valovic. Trained initially
in the Netherlands, the artist graduated from the Rocky Mountain
of Art and Design in Denver, before settling in Washington, D.C.,
where he now lives. Gallery is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to
6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 12.
71st Annual Phillips’ Mill Juried Exhibition, a prominent showcase
for art of the region, with $10,000 in awards. This year’s show
657 entries from 390 artists living within a 25-mile radius of New
Hope. Jurors were watercolorist Nessa Grainger, printmaker Tony
painter Jill Rupinski, and sculptors Phoebe Adams and Harold
Patrons’ Awards go to Behnam Khavaran, Harry Georgeson, and Barry
Snyder. Among the artists also winning prizes are James Feehan,
McVicker, Betty Curtiss, Tom Chesar, and Ferol Smith. Gallery hours
are Sunday to Friday, 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 1 to 8 p.m. Admission
$3 adults; $2 seniors; $1 students. To October 29.
609-397-3349. Recent paintings by Bonnie MacLean. A native of
MacLean is known for her Filmore rock posters created in the 1960s
when she was married to impresario Bill Graham. In 1972 she moved
back to Bucks County where she now lives with husband Jacques Fabert.
Show runs to October 26. Gallery is open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.,
Oil paintings by Anthony Thompson and pastels and watercolors by
Camero. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. To November 11.
609-896-5168. "Drawings and Paintings: From Here and Abroad"
by Marge Chavooshian. The gallery is located on the second floor of
the Student Center. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.;
Friday to Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m. To October 22.
609-252-6275. "Winning: Overcoming Obstacles," an exhibit
of art by 12 artists who also teach in New Jersey schools. The show’s
theme is the ability of the human spirit to overcome daily challenges
in all aspects of life. Participating artists include David Bush,
Caroline Lathan-Stiefel, Mary Vaughan, Andrieta Wright, William
and Catherine Watkins. It is being held in conjunction with the Susan
G. Komen New Jersey Race for the Cure which takes place at the
Squibb headquarters on Sunday, October 29. Gallery hours are Monday
to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To
732-524-6957. Group show by 12 members of the New Jersey Photography
Forum, a non-profit group of professional photographers, photo
and amateurs, to November 16. Open weekdays by appointment only.
609-895-7307. Garden State Watercolor Society Associate Members Show,
the annual exhibition, juried by Gary Snyder of Snyder Fine Art and
Bernice Kisaday Fatto of Watercolorists Unlimited. Open Monday to
Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To October 26.
"Latino Artists’ Exhibition," a group show featuring Monica
Camin, Dan Fernandez, Carla Hernandez, Maria Lau, Maria de los Angeles
Morales, Miguel Osorio, Christina Pineros, Orlando Reyes, Gloria
and Ivan Valencia. Show is curated by the Delann Gallery Domani.
is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. To November 3.
"Improvisational Bridges," an exhibition of paintings, prints
and computer-generated works by former Trenton native Eleanor A.
She is a professor at Queens College and has taught for over 30 years.
Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday
2 to 4 p.m. To November 5.
Magid was born in Ohio, but lived in Trenton and Pennington until
the age of five. Here she was introduced to the wild at the Cadwalader
Park Zoo and the Ellarslie Mansion "Monkey House." When the
family moved to the Morrisville area, Magid says, "It may be due
to a lack of close human neighbors there and then that I formed up
the habit of drawing plants and other woods life, branching out to
fields, farms, and rural waste places with my mother’s help."
Her father was a ceramic engineer for the American Standard
and a member of the American Ceramic Association. "Crossing back
and forth to Trenton accounts for other themes that shaped my interior
life and exterior work: An affinity for the river, bridges, bridge
contours, and their invitation to stretch out and find or make
or generous links."
609-586-0616. Fall-Winter Exhibition. In the Domestic Arts Building:
"James Dinerstein: New Sculpture," recent works in cast
"Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture."
Show continues to April 8, 2001. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.
to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission is $4
Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10 Sunday.
Annual memberships start at $45.
609-292-6464. "Click! The Marvelous in American Vernacular
an exhibit of found photographs offering a diversity of American
ranging from quirky snapshots to haunting photographic documents.
Curated by Donald Lokuta of Kean University, Robert Yoskowitz of Union
College, and the museum’s assistant curator Margaret O’Reilly, the
show explores how great works of art influenced everyday photography.
To December 31. Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to
4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Closed Monday and state holidays.
Dating from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, the 90 "ordinary
photographs of ordinary people" featured in this exhibition were
found in shoe boxes at flea markets and yard sales or retrieved. Taken
by anonymous photographers, their power may be the result of a lucky
accident or of inspired planning that is reminiscent of such photo
masters as Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Diane Arbus. Found
photographs have become a hot new collectible in the art world.
Also: "Dinosaurs, Ammonites & Asteroids," to January 21."
"Leonard Baskin, Clarence Carter, Jacob Lawrence, and George
New Jersey Remembers," through October 22; "Woven by Tradition
and Design: A Selection of American Indian Weavings, Textiles and
Baskets from the New Jersey State Museum Collections," to December
31; "Recreating Flowers: The Glass Wonders of Paul
to January 7.
On extended view: "New Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and
"New Jersey’s Native Americans: The Archaeological Record;"
"Delaware Indians of New Jersey;" "The Sisler Collection
of North American Mammals;" "Of Rock and Fire; New Jersey
and the Great Ice Age;" "Dinosaur Turnpike: Treks through
New Jersey’s Piedmont;" "Amber: the Legendary Resin;"
and "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
609-695-0061. An exhibition of new work by area artists Eric Fowler,
Susan Weiss, Gloria Wiernik, and Ruth Laks. Gallery hours are
to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Show runs to
609-298-6970. Pastel works by Dressler Smith and portraiture by Nancy
Goodstein. Also represented, ceramics by the late James Colavita.
Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m., and by
The gallery celebrates its fifth anniversary year with a a group show
featuring contemporary and classic art featuring artwork by the late
Mortimer Johnson and works by owner, Eric Gibbons. Gallery hours are
Thursday and Friday from 4:30 p.m.to 9 p.m.
Road, 609-921-3272. Princeton Artists Alliance group show, "Visual
Variation," featuring works by 20 professional member artists.
These include Joanne Augustine, Clem Fiori, Lore Lindenfeld, Pat
Lucy Graves McVicker, and Charles McVicker, to October 20. Also,
a shared show with Helen Gallagher, Stefanie Mandelbaum, and Helen
N. Post in the Professional Artists Upstairs Gallery. Gallery talk
is October 21, at 3 p.m., for the show that runs to October 27.
hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m.to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
A shared show of paintings by David Shevlino and bronze sculpture
by Natalie Ferracci, an apprentice at the Johnson Atelier. Gallery
hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To October 22.
Annual open house. Ty and Kiyoko Heineken open their studio located
in the only authentic Sukiya style Japanese building in New Jersey.
The exhibition, comprising their collection as field anthropologists
in Japan of tansu traditional cabinetry, folk art, and Mingei objects
from the 400-year Edo through Showa periods. Children welcome. Annual
open house continues daily through Sunday, October 29.
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