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Stop And Smell The Roses
posted July 20, 2009


Creator: Patrick McDonnell
Publishing Information: Andrews McMeel, softcover, 208 pages, 2009, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 9780740781469 (ISBN13), 0740781464 (ISBN10)

I bet we're another two or three years away from reconsidering Patrick McDonnell's Mutts, a process that may or may not feel the impact of the comic strip's delivery of choice rotting away underneath it. Reading Stop And Smell The Roses, I don't suspect the strip will change between now and then, and I feel there's a good chance the strip will always be slightly under-appreciated. Mutts is a lovingly-drawn work that has avoided plumbing the richness of humanity that people are used to witnessing in the great comic strips. The animals remain animals (in the cartoon sense, as slices of humanity) and the humans remain as the animals see them. That seems to me exactly as McDonnell intends it.

On its bad days, and every strip has them, Mutts seems stuck on a hamster wheel of slick puns and corny jokes that feel more like McDonnell is winning some kind of dare about retaining a light hand than following a muse that might challenge or shake up the status quo. On Mutts' good days, and in a collection that flatters the best work like this one there are a significant number of good days, the jokes and the back and forth and the exaggerated figure drawing all seems part of some elegant dance, a smart and appropriate capitulation to the attention span of the readers and the shallow stage on which these little moments take shape. What Mutts feels like in these moments is the strip on top of another, more densely-plotted classic adventure or comedy strip. Whatever that may say about the modern newspaper comics page, being that kind of strip is hardly a bad thing. The other thing that happens to you when you read a bunch of Mutts at once is that the art really begins to work on you, in the basic way although maybe not to the degree Charles Schulz's did. It all feels safe and lovely and proper and useful.

I have no idea what the eventual reconsideration of Mutts will be like, but I hope that the art and the jokes and the earnest pleas for charity all can be seen to work together in some way, and that there's a proper consideration of those moments in life that really are that simple, a push past our own complexities in return for the feeling of the sun and its warmth brushed across one's face.