Once upon a time, I used to read the daily paper. It showed up at my house wrapped in a nice red rubber band, and every morning I would open it up, glance briefly at the headlines, and then head as fast as possible to the funny pages. One of the strips I always read was Patrick McDonnell's Mutts.
It has been years — at least ten years — since I got a daily paper, and thus about ten years since I read Mutts. I always liked Mutts. It reminded me somehow of a blend between George Herriman's Krazy Kat, Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbe, and Charles Shultz's Peanuts. Not that it has the inspired genius of any of those strips. In fact, Mutts just kind of took the pleasant aspects and left the manic bits behind. It was harmless, heart-warming fun.
So I haven't read Mutts for about a decade, but I picked up Our Little Kat King on a whim. I was in the mood for some harmless, heart-warming fun. Sure enough, that is exactly what I got.
Our Little Kat King is a Mutts treasury, collecting both the daily black-and-whites and the Sunday color strips. The strips number from the 12-31-2009 daily to the 2-21-2010 Sunday strip. You basically get an entire year of Mutts.
Even with not having read it for ten years, Mutts is just as good as I remember. It is the kind of comic strip you can pick up at any time, on any page, and just sink into the panels. Even though the title is Our Little Kat King, that only shows up in one strip. There are a few reoccurring themes, like Shelter Stories and Puppy Mill Rescue Stories featuring various animals up for adoption down at animal shelters or freed from puppy mills, or Mooch playing The Dude from the Big Lebowski, or Mooch Dreams of Africa, where he meets all the wild animals. There are the usual environmental themes, and nature enjoyment as well.
Some of my favorite pieces where comic strips at all, but interstitial splash pages where McDonnell recreates famous comic books and works of art using the cast of Mutts. He had a Kuniyoshi ukiyo-e print, and the cover of a Silver Age X-Men comic, and some more that I don't recognize but that are very cool.
Which isn't to say I loved every strip. This much Mutts in one sitting can turn sugary. Some of the strips with famous quotes I found sanctimonious. Some of the "simple truths from simple folks" types of wisdoms were more than a little "Ziggy." And some of the strips are just boring. And Cathy shows up in one strip. They can't all be winners.
But all of the strips are good enough. Like all good comic strips, Mutts has a timeless quality. Even after a ten-year gap, it was like visiting with old friends again. I'm glad that Earl and Mooch haven't changed too much. I think I will have to drop in on them again sometime.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.