Cartoonist Patrick McDonnell


BOB FAW, correspondent: With a few deft strokes—one line here, another there—the figures almost magically, come to life: a dog, Earl, or a cat, Mooch, appearing in the comic strip Mutts since 1994 and now syndicated in more than 700 newspapers in 20 countries. Since he could hold a crayon, Patrick McDonnell has been drawing cartoons and so much more. Every morning McDonnell is up around 5:30 with his cat MeeMow, and just before he sits down to create, he reads something spiritual.

PATRICK MCDONNELL: It reminds me what is important, and especially in doing the comic strip. I try to be funny and everything, but I always try to think of a higher purpose: how I can serve the world a little bit with my comics? Cartoons help you slow down, which is a big part of the message—to slow down.

FAW: The world of all those characters mirrors his own world in Edison, New Jersey, one acre of tranquility where deer often graze and a cat sleeps on a nearby window sill—reminders, says McDonnell, of this stillness all around and that true happiness is found in simple things.

post01-cartoonistMCDONNELL: You know, our cat is just purring and sleeping in the sunlight. I think it’s finding that, you know, life is stillness. When we are with our cat and dog we kind of let go our troubles and ourselves and just become like them, which is like being happy in the present.

FAW: For 19 years, McDonnell observed those moments of stillness, that celebration of life with his Jack Russell terrier, Earl, the inspiration for Mutts. Now he tries to do the same with his new dog, Amelie.

MCDONNELL: When I play ball with my dog, every once in a while I will throw the ball horrible, and I will think if I was with a person and I threw the ball horrible, they’d probably say, “Well, come on.” You know, the dog doesn’t care. He just goes after the ball and is happy to come back. That’s a big lesson to learn.

FAW: It’s the simplest, truest things, he says, which we could learn from animals if only we would let them be our “guardians of being.”

MCDONNELL: I think cats and dogs are in the moment. You know, I think that they give us that gift. I think if you have a cat on your lap that’s purring, it’s hard to think about all the troubles in the world and your own life and really you can just relax and let go and be in the now.

FAW: It’s a mindset which infuses McDonnell’s comic strips and his books, one he recently did with the spiritual teacher and best-selling author Eckhart Tolle.

post02-cartoonistMCDONNELL: Like millions of other people, I was immediately taken with his work. He really gets to the basics. With a cartoonist you only have three panels. You have to get to the point, and I felt like he really got to the core of, you know, spirituality—spirituality and just being in the present moment. So, you know, he really influenced my work and influenced my life.

FAW: Patrick saw a photo of Tolle with his dog, Maya, and decided to contact him about collaborating on a book.

MCDONNELL: In Eckhart’s work he talks a lot about nature bringing us to stillness. You know, Mutts is about stopping and smelling the roses and how our dog and cat can help us do that, so I mean I felt an instant connection with his work. My wife and I went through a lot of his recordings and his books, and anytime he mentioned a dog or a cat we took out that little quote, and we paired them up best we could with some of my comics.

FAW: For example, when Tolle wrote “live in the now”…

MCDONNELL: I had Earl and Mooch talking about trying to live in the now and made a little, you know, gag out of it.

FAW: To remind you that?

MCDONNELL: That we should live in the now, yeah.

FAW: Or when Tolle wrote that he’s met several Zen masters, and they all happened to be cats.

post04-cartoonistMCDONNELL: I did have a strip where Mooch is sitting on his little bed and purring and meditating away and just kind of disappears and all that’s left is the purr.

FAW: In whatever McDonnell draws, wisdom is much the same. Take his picture book “Just Like Heaven,” where Mooch falls asleep and thinks he died and went to heaven.

MCDONNELL: He goes around and sees all the things that he’s lived with his whole life, but he sort of sees them through new eyes now because, wow, this is heaven, so you know, I think the point of the book is probably back to the stillness.

FAW: Living in the present is where heaven is?

MCDONNELL: Yeah, yeah.

FAW: That’s your message?

MCDONNELL: That was the message of that book, yeah.

FAW: The spiritualism of Tolle and cartoon genius of McDonnell can be distilled in just three—and sometimes even one—small panel.

post03-cartoonistMCDONNELL: To me that’s the magic of it. You can say so much in so little.

FAW: Captured recently, too, in this public service announcement which McDonnell helped create for the Humane Society of the United States, where he sits on the board.

Public Service Announcement: I’m afraid to open my eyes. I’m afraid yesterday was all a dream and I’ll wake up and still be in the shelter.

FAW: Whether in an animated version, the so-called funny papers, or even in hardback, there is something in McDonnell’s simple drawings which deals with what matters most.

MCDONNELL: I mean, it’s definitely what’s underneath the strip—like Peanuts. I feel Peanuts had the same spirituality, but it, you know, wasn’t hitting you over the head with it.

FAW: These are your words now: “Spirituality is integral to both my life and my work.”

MCDONNELL: I think that’s why we’re here and the most important thing. When you sit at the drawing table it is a meditation, yeah, and a prayer, a little prayer when you do these little comics. They’re like little prayers to the universe.

FAW: So given all that you don’t feel you need to belong to a church, you don’t need a set of doctrines?

MCDONNELL: I just think God is everywhere. I think we’re living in church. Nature’s church.

FAW: Finding in the life around him, which McDonnell tries to put in comic form, what Eckhart Tolle calls “a spark of the divine.”

MCDONNELL: If we just saw all life as one and, you know, and all beings as, you know, a piece of—a spark of the divine, I think all the problems would go away. Our mind just fills us with problems and things to constantly nibble at and work on. In the meantime, there’s just this peaceful stillness all around us we’re not paying attention to.

FAW: Which Patrick McDonnell is trying to change through comics—his “little prayers to the universe” reminding us to slow down and live better.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Bob Faw in Edison, New Jersey.

  • bruce

    it really sounds good if you desire to live as though is no God and no Creator. I wonder what Tolle will do when he is face to face with Jesus one day and realizes there is more to living than playing with cats and dogs. jesus said He is the only way to The Father . Nice thought though.

  • Pauline S

    I have long been an admirer of Patrick McDonnell and look forward to reading Mutts every day. It is a daily reminder to live in the moment. Thank you for this wonderful interview.

    I don’t understand Bruce’s comment. (above) There is nothing inconsistent with being spiritual, interacting with the world’s incredible animals, and belief in God/Creator. The most familiar example that comes to mind is St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment One of St. Francis’s most famous sermons is one he gave to a flock of birds. One day while Francis and some friars were traveling along the road, Francis looked up and saw the trees full of birds. Francis “left his companions in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds” and “humbly begged them to listen to the word of God.” One of the friars recorded the sermon, which overflows with Francis’s love for creation and its Creator: “My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.”

  • Jean Hanzl

    I can only say a big huge THANK YOU for this part of your show, today. My husband and I are so in tune with what Patrick McDonnell had to say and also with what he is doing for a large part of our population, as well as in our world. His spirituality is so very positive and so simple and deep all at the same time. Again, thank you and it must be said that we enjoy all your Religion and Ethics programs! True believer and believer of truth. Jean

  • Bill Edwards

    Ethics is what our behaviior is especially towards others. Dogs and cats are others too. Some people treat their pets better than they treat other people. The message is to trreat others, including our pets, the way we would like to be treated. Lets not miss the message!

  • Parvati

    “Just one smile immensely increases the beauty of the universe.” This is what my spiritual teacher has said. He loved humor, the way it quickly dissolved our problems and allowed us to feel a direct connection to God. I’ve always got an immediate joyful smile when I saw the drawings of Patrick McDonnell. Thank you, Mr. McDonnell, please continue your good work. May we all strive to bring good humor, smiles and authentic spirituality to our fellow human beings.

  • Grandma

    Bruce, he talks about God in every comic. PAY ATTENTION!

  • Kathy

    where can I find a copy of the cartoon on the show “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, I’m glad I’ve walked this world with you” ?

  • Peter.Ludek

    re:Bruce says – The problem with “some” Christians they live in the past [the Bible] or the future [the after life]]
    but don’t notice what is going on around – now in the present!

  • Frank B.

    To Bruce:
    I clearly understand where you are coming from and you make a good point, from a religious perspective. We need to appreciate, however, that spirituality is not necessarily religion. In my own spirituality I express myself through my RC faith, but my faith is not all who I am, just a very large part.

    There is that part of me that I could say is similar to the comment about St. Francis; we are each unique and gifted in how we present to others our own spirituality and faith. Like you I believe Christ will enable me to get into His Father’s kingdom, but I cannot say I know exactly God’s plans for those people unlike me.

    As for Peter’s comments regarding some Christians, it is true we do live in the past and the future. Wise Christians use both to shape their presence in the world to serve others. Do I agree with Tolle and McDonnell? Not entirely, but there is some value in how we seek and discover peace because for me that peace comes from one single source, but in many forms.

  • Deb Booth

    One of my favorite cartoons of Patrick’s was one where he printed the quote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘Thank You’ it will be enough” by Meister Eckert. It reminds me that gratitude is a way of life.

    I really enjoyed this article – Patrick reminds us that God is everywhere, if you just seek Him/Her/It.

    Remember, too, that religion can be very divisive. Spirituality tends to be a bit more inclusive.

    “In my father’s house are many mansions”… and there are just as many ways to GET THERE from here, I believe. For some people, there is one way – and anybody else’s way is wrong. That’s not my thought process at all.

    Thanks for highlighting Patrick’s gentle reminders in the form of his comics – he’s a blessing to the animals in the shelters, and to the humans who care for them.

  • Lorene

    I love McDonnell’s work. It lightens my spirit & my interactions with others.
    I have posted at my food bank the Sunday column of Mutts waiting for a belly rub, with people walking by ignoring him. In the last frame he says, “We’re all doomed.”
    It makes all of us chuckle and remember that no matter our problems, we can make someone feel better with a hug (or belly rub.)

  • Shanti

    What a blessing it is that we have both Patrick and Eckhart to remind us about what it is that really matters. Animals are one great way to remind us about this daily and are really such wise and wonderful teachers that are truly a great gift for all of mankind.

    If we stop, look and listen, animals can teach us ongoing by example about how to live fully in the moment and also how to love others unconditionally. If we are open with our awareness, we can also immediately sense how they can touch the heart with their love and affection and also how they have the ability to heal our souls during our deepest times of trial, trouble and need.

    Blessings to Patrick & Eckhart for such wisdom and generosity of spirit, and also to the animals for their tolerance (of the “two leggeds”) and ongoing spirit of infinite love.

  • Zen Master Jerry

    Yesh! McDonnell shines the light on spirituality for so many who may not otherwise consider simply being at one with Nature or God… as if they differ.

    -Jerry G. Dawg

  • Tom Stemmle

    Hi Pat,
    Well said!

  • Bridget

    I think Patrick has a God given talent for art and expression and how he can express kindness and thoughtfulness of people and animals through that art. He uses that talent for so much charitable work as well.
    I enjoy all his works. SOme can be so simple yet so heartwrenching.
    Great interview!

  • Meury

    I luv the mutts so much God bless you always Pat.

  • Lori

    I’ve loved Patrick’s work for decades, and especially Mutts. I’ve been a reader of Mutts since day one and have the scrapbook full of comic clippings to prove it (just ask Patrick about the long-haired woman with the 15 binders full of every single Mutts newspaper comics in them).

    This comment goes out to Kathy from July 12th, who wanted to know where she could find a copy of the Mutts comic of Earl and Ozzie with that caption: that strip is dated February 14, 2003. It’s a daily strip. It should be in book 9 Mutts: Dogeared. Not sure what page of the book it’s on unless I consult my scrapbook cross reference index. has several copies of that book available.

  • Joni Russ

    I give thanks for Patrick for taking a comic strip and making it become a voice for all animals. His compassion and love for creatures inspires me. I take his comics and paste them in my journal. Sometimes the only reason I buy a newspaper, is to see what he will have to say about these creatures I love so much. Thank you Pat, you are so precious.

  • Maureen Fudger

    First, I must disagree with “Bruce” above. Bruce, how do you know, when we all face God, as to how he will judge one? We are ALL God’s creatures, 2-legged and 4-legged, and even Eight-legged! I don’t know how one can presume what God thinks or will do. I do believe, though, that helping animals, rescuing them, adopting them, stopping the tortures put upon them by laboratories, and on, and on, and on, is God’s work. I’m Catholic, and I had a crisis of faith when there was an horrific story about a kitten burned alive in a stove, deliberately. I went to my priest, and I said I’m done with God. How can he allow that? Father said ‘ that was God’s kitten too’, God is hurt too. Father said that Satan knows our weaknesses, and that Satan knew I’d freak out and wonder how God allows such things. That’s when you have to pray, pray to God to keep Satan out of one’s life. Don’t let Satan win.

    In the meantime, thank you, Patrick, for your wonderful art. I live in NY now, but I have your NJ Animal Frendly license plate on my deck wall. (Ok, so I lied to Motor Vehicles – venial sin, I can live with that.) As the proud parents of 17 rescued cats, and 4 rescued dogs (and a pending rescue Cockatoo), bless you for your work.

  • Patrice McDonnell

    Hello Pat,

    I enjoyed viewing your video, and what you share with others is so meaningful and filled with sincerity.
    I am still in receipt of the book of comics, which you autographed for me some 20 years ago, while visiting the Time-Life Building. From one Pat McDonnell to another Pat McDonnell — keep up the good work – and regards to your cousin Ed!

    All the best,
    Patrice McDonnell

  • Helgard Deuel

    Dear Patrick McDonnell,
    Of all the cartoons in the daily paper – I only read 4 – but your’s is the first one I look for – they make my day. Your seasonal ones like for Thanksgiving, Valentines day, Mother’s or Fathers day , etc – are so meaningful, fun and wonderful. However, I only enjoy about 80% of them. Why only 80% IS:
    1. Some cartoons I simply do not understand.Asking others they don’t understand them either.
    2. I do not like your squirrels to throwing nuts on heads – neither humans nor animals. It’s making fun of others’ misery. Because a nut on ones head hurts and is no fun. You are so immensely creative that I am positive you can come up with something better to do for the quirrels and throw nuts at others.
    It like the TV serioes – Best and funniest videos’ – which mainly made fun on situations which looked sunjy but were not funny for the subject to which it happened!
    I am sure you get my point.
    Kepp up the wonderful work you do.
    Helgard Deuel;, San Marcos, California

  • C.J. Farrell

    I can only respond with a resounding “Yesh!”

  • Jane Cherrytop

    Mr.McDonnel, if you read this it would mean a lot! I am 11 and I love your comics…yours is the only one I look for every Sunday. Every sudsy we visit my grandparents after church and I race in their house looking for the Comics. You are a great inspiration to me. Thank You!