mutts-ii.jpgAt first glance, Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts seems little more than a cute commentary on lovable animals and their trained owners. Regularly featuring a dog named Earl and a cat named Mooch, the strip has many moonlighting characters: Earl’s companion, Ozzie, and Mooch’s companions Millie and Frank, an adopted cat named “Shtinky Puddin'” (a.k.a. Jules), a streetcat named Noodles, a crab named Crabby, and many others. Every strip features at least one adorable moment.

But even before that moment in the last panel of the comic strip, something else is mutts-i.gifhappening. In many of McDonnell’s Sunday color strips, he makes a subtle references within the title panel. Imitating any art imaginable, McDonnell mirrors Norman Rockwell, a can of baby talc from the 1930’s, a cookie tin, Hellboy and The Hulk comics, and even The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love album cover. Does everyone get the references? More than likely not, but the thought will come to all us at one point or another, “You know, that looks really familiar.” Perhaps it is supposed to play the role of reminder rather than homage.

But the heartstring that McDonnell strikes most is compassion for fellow animals. Many of the thepatrick-mcdonnell-and-earl.jpg strip’s “episodes” deal specifically with adopting pets and giving them loving homes. McDonnell’s comic strip has done so much to promote the adoption of homeless animals that he is even listed as a main supporter on the Humane Society website. More than just a strip about a dog and a cat in cahoots with each other, it is a campaign for the love and protection of all living things. Though McDonnell’s style may be rather simple, he is able to instill his form with more detail that most would ever expect.