Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell, is one of the best newspaper strips of all time. It combines the artistic influence of classic strips like Krazy Kat with Buddhist sensibilities. Deceptively simple, an average Mutts daily is much deeper than a quick glance (and they are quick reading) will convey. In the introduction, Mutts is compared to a haiku, and I have to agree. The extreme brevity of each strip is used to convey a deep message that would get lost amid too many words or too many lines. One of my favorite strips from the recently published Best of Mutts contains 17 words total, yet it says more about life than some novels.
Best of Mutts is beautifully designed and fits the visual aesthetic of the strip. A simple cardboard cover (no dust jacket) lets the reader know McDonnell’s commitment to ecological awareness. Even small touches, like leaving off a dust jacket or printing on post-consumer waste paper, make a lot of difference when the print run reaches into the thousands. Inside the front cover there is a collage of Mutts comics, arranged almost like a comic strip crossword puzzle. The single panels are fun to see stripped of their context. You concentrate on the panel composition instead of the dialog.
The book is arranged as a collection of McDonnell’s favorite strips from each year of Mutts. Each year has a small blurb, written by McDonnell, explaining the major themes of that year and what he discovered along the way. It is an interesting way to read about a comic strip, to see how it developed incrementally. When you look at the very first strips, then flip to the end to see the more recent ones, it is clear how much Mutts has evolved. (This book ends in 2004, the tenth anniversary of the strip.)
I especially appreciate the novel idea of reprinting the Sunday strips as photographs of newspaper pages instead of the digital copies send out to newspapers. Mutts has always felt like an analog comic strip, and the warmer colors of newsprint are more fitting than the exact details of digital. It is also a subtle reminder of comics’ place in the world: the best place to read comic strips, even in the age of internet publishing, is still the gray pages of a newspaper.
Daily strips have been reproduced here in varying sizes. Some are printed three to a page, to emphasize each individual strip. Others have been shrunk to smaller than newspaper size, allowing up to six per page, or twelve for a two-page spread. The story of Earl and Mooch attempting to hibernate works particularly well in this format. You can almost read it as one long comic; the smaller pieces joined into one very funny narrative.
I would recommend this collection even if you already own some Mutts books. The commentary by McDonnell, as well as the unique presentation, make this a Falling Rock Favorite.