Today’s Friday Robot was inspired by a spread in a book by Patrick McDonnell. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. His brushwork is particularly compelling. With this, I was attempting to approximate the look digitally.
Longtime readers of this here blog know that I live with a black cat.
Sambora is an enjoyable companion. There are times when she is my muse. However, there is one thing that has long vexed me about her. I have a hard time drawing a completely black cat.
This might not be a problem if my media of choice was paint or photography. As you can see from the picture above, there are gradations in her fur. Depending on how the light is hitting her, she can appear to have reddish or bluish highlights. Mostly, though, the light that hits her immediately gets sucked into her body and the energy is used to create even more fur, which is then shed onto every single object in the house.
Since my preferred means of artistic expression is black ink on white paper, drawing a completely black cat is tricky. Do you fill the picture in completely, so she looks like a silhouette or a shadow? Do you use crosshatchey lines to indicate depth? And what if you’re depicting her at night?
I was relieved to hear from no less a master cartoonist than Patrick McDonnell that he, too, has trouble drawing black cats. At his ComicCon panel, Patrick discussed his solution: a tuxedo cat.
Mooch is a black cat, yes, but he’s got white patches, making his features apparent.
Patrick showed us a photo of a recent addition to Chez McDonnell, “Not Udi.” Not Udi is a stray who Patrick and his wife began feeding, then giving shelter. He got his negative name when a woman, who was looking for her runaway Udi, came to see this cat. Immediately upon inspection she proclaimed, “That is not Udi.” A name was found.
Patrick admitted that, without any other colors with which to distinguish features, he is having trouble drawing Not Udi in his strip.
I have therefore decided to not even try to draw a black cat in my comics until Patrick finds a solution. Too much is at stake for me to lamely attempt and fail. The world needs a black cat. The world will have to wait.
New Jersey. There’s got to be more to it than being a commuter state to New York City. How else can you explain this level of talent erupting from its loins?
Patrick McDonnell, cartoonist extraordinare. Creator of the transcendental comic strip Mutts. On the Board of Directors of the Humane Society. Writer of several children’s books (unlike many celebrities who write kids’ books, McDonnell’s do not suck). Unconfirmed reincarnation of the Japanese poet Basho Matsuo.
Bruce Springsteen. Player of rock music. All-time classic albums: Born to Run, Nebraska, The Rising. Best member of the E Street Band, by a longshot. Has written no children’s books that I know of, but if he did you can bet every kid in town would be itching to get on the open road and ride, ride, ride. Direct descendant of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan (though not by blood).
What is it about the Garden State that creates huge mega-stars? They’ve got talent and ambition, and nobody’s gonna stand in their way. Maybe it’s growing up near (but not in) one of the biggest cities in the world. Maybe Jersey girls (as sung by Tom Waits) inspire these guys to go that extra mile. Maybe there really is something in the water.
When I first got my books back from the printers, I sent some out to a few cartoonists who I admire. David Fitzsimmons, an editorial cartoonist in Tucson, has long been a mentor to me, beginning when I was in middle school. Richard Thompson has a new syndicated comic strip called Cul de Sac (and has been more than generous with his time in answering my persistent and star-struck emails). Patrick McDonnell is one of the few cartoonists to have a hugely successful strip AND not be dead. His comic strip, to those of you who may not be familiar, is called Mutts. It is well-drawn, Buddhist-inspired, and is often both funny and moving in the same few panels.
Let this post serve as an open letter to any cartoonist who wants their work shown on a highly prestigious, Polk Award winning blog. Send me your drawing of a Falling Rock character and I’ll post it for all the world to see. I’m arching my eyebrow at you, Jim Davis.
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.