If you open your daily newspaper this coming week, chances are you will be greeted with a message of compassion for farm animals. That's because Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the comic strip MUTTS, has dedicated a full week beginning this Sunday to the theme of protecting farm animals from cruelty.
MUTTS is syndicated in more than 700 newspapers in 20 countries. In California alone, it reaches 4 million households--and could not come at a better time as voters in that state gear up to decide on Proposition 2, a statewide ballot measure that would stop the worst factory farming abuses.
Patrick and I will be together next week at the Jack Gallery in Los Angeles for an exhibition of his newest collection of paintings on paper and canvas, and a benefit for the YES! on Prop 2 campaign. I had a chance to talk to Patrick about his work, and I wanted to share some of his thinking--and an exclusive sneak peak at next week's MUTTS--with blog readers.
Michael Markarian: Fans of MUTTS read about the adventures of Mooch and Earl, but also about a wide range of animal protection issues, from the conservation of tigers to the rescue of shelter animals. Why is it important to you to incorporate animal protection into your work?
Patrick McDonnell: In MUTTS I try to see the world through the eyes of animals. This has made me more conscious of how tough many of them have it on this planet. In 2000 I was asked to join the Board of Directors of The Humane Society of the United States, and became even more aware and involved. I felt that my strip could address (hopefully, for the most part, in an entertaining way) some of these issues and help give the animals a voice.
MM: How do your readers and fans respond to some of the animal protection issues included in MUTTS?
PM: Most readers know that animal protection issues are integrated into MUTTS. I hardly ever get negative feedback about these topics. On the contrary, many people respond positively--my favorite aspect in doing MUTTS is hearing from people who are inspired to adopt from a shelter or rescue group, or to volunteer to help animals.
MM: What inspired you to run a whole week of strips on the humane treatment of farm animals?
PM: Prop 2 is just too important to not tackle. Even though the reform will be modest, it puts a stake into the ground that the way we treat farm animals matters.
MM: Why is Prop 2 important to you, and what can your readers do to help?
PM: Because 20 million animals will be directly impacted, suffering less, if this measure passes. It will also send a clear message to the factory farm conglomerates that, once people are made aware, they will not tolerate the way most animals raised for food are treated in this country.
Prop 2 sets a new standard. If you live in California, you can be part of the solution by voting YES! If you do not live in California, you can tell your friends and associates who do live there about the importance of Prop 2. You can also work to get similar ballot initiatives started in your own state. Hopefully it will also make readers think about their own eating choices.
PM: Be kind. We are fellow beings sharing the wonder of this beautiful planet, and we are truly at your mercy.
MM: There is a long tradition of political and social commentary in comic strips and editorial cartoons. Do you see animal protection as part of this history in your field?
PM: Not so much in the past, but today there are quite a few vegetarian and vegan cartoonists who sometimes tackle these issues.
MM: In addition to MUTTS, you've published a number of wonderful books. (Of course, my personal favorite is Shelter Stories, since Misty is in there!) Tell us about your latest book, South, and your current book tour.
PM: South is a children's picture book about friendship and helping one another. It's centered on Mooch helping a little bird migrate south. This book was fun for me to "write"--it has no words.
MM: This week you will be at the Jack Gallery in Los Angeles. What will be on exhibition there?
PM: Recently I began doing large paintings of the MUTTS characters. The exhibit will include paintings on canvas and paper, drawings and lithographs. Some of the art is based on the South book. There will also be four paintings having Prop 2 as the inspiration with all the money going to fund Prop 2, along with a Prop 2 themed MUTTS comic strip.
MM: In addition to your professional work, you sit on the board of directors of HSUS and govern the work of the organization. How do you view HSUS's role in the animal protection movement?
PM: HSUS is pivotal. We are the largest animal protection organization in the world and have been getting amazing results in many key areas: disaster relief, investigative work (including puppy mills, animal fighting, factory farm abuses), stopping horse slaughter, protecting endangered species including the gray wolf, and bringing the horrors of the seal hunts and shark contests to light. I am particularly optimistic about the results we will see from HSUS's Animals and Religion initiatives. With Wayne Pacelle (and you) relentless and running at top speed, the animals' future could not be in better hands. I am so proud and honored to be a part of HSUS.