Patrick McDonnell (1956-): A Cartoonist’s Journey Through Mutts and More

Patrick McDonnell (1956-): A Cartoonist's Journey Through Mutts and More

Patrick McDonnell, born on March 17, 1956, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has etched his name into the annals of cartooning history. A versatile artist, author, and playwright, McDonnell is renowned as the creative force behind the beloved daily comic strip “Mutts.” This article delves into the life, career, and significant contributions of Patrick McDonnell, exploring the evolution of “Mutts,” his forays into children’s literature, and his advocacy for animal welfare and environmental causes.

Patrick McDonnell

Born: March 17, 1956 (age 67)
Birthplace: Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.
Nationality: American
Occupation: Cartoonist, Playwright, Children’s book illustrator
Notable works: Mutts
Spouse: Karen O’Connell (m. 1983)

Early Life and Artistic Influences

Patrick Luigi McDonnell’s artistic journey began with influences that would shape his distinctive style. Born to an Irish father and an Italian-American mother, McDonnell’s early inspirations included the works of Charles M. Schulz, George Herriman, and E. C. Segar. Growing up in Edison, New Jersey, he developed a passion for visual storytelling that would become the cornerstone of his career.

Patrick McDonnell (1956-): A Cartoonist's Journey Through Mutts and More

Academic Pursuits and Early Career

After graduating from Edison High School in 1974, McDonnell pursued his artistic education at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York on scholarship, graduating in 1978. During this time, he encountered a cohort of underground cartoonists, sparking his interest in the world of comics. McDonnell’s earliest professional illustrations appeared in publications like The Village Voice and New Jersey Monthly magazine. His tenure as an illustrator for Russell Baker’s Observer column in The New York Times Sunday Magazine laid the groundwork for his eventual entry into the realm of comic strips.

The Birth of “Mutts”

McDonnell’s monthly comic strip, “Bad Baby,” for Parents Magazine marked his initial foray into the world of sequential art. However, the inception of “Mutts” in 1994 catapulted him to widespread acclaim. Launched a few months before the conclusion of Bill Watterson’s iconic “Calvin and Hobbes,” “Mutts” seamlessly filled the void left by the beloved strip. McDonnell’s creation became a newspaper staple, garnering praise for its timeless charm and humor. Notably, Charles M. Schulz commended “Mutts,” declaring it exactly what a comic strip should be.

Patrick McDonnell (1956-): A Cartoonist's Journey Through Mutts and More

Recognition and Awards

“Mutts” quickly ascended to the pinnacle of comic strips, winning the Harvey Award for Best Comic Strip multiple times. Its widespread syndication, reaching over 600 newspapers in 20 countries, testified to its universal appeal. McDonnell’s artistic finesse and ability to infuse social commentary into his work earned him accolades from fellow cartoonists, including luminaries like Matt Groening and Art Spiegelman.

Beyond “Mutts”: Children’s Literature and Collaborations

McDonnell’s creative endeavors extended beyond the comic strip. His picture book, “The Gift of Nothing,” became a New York Times bestseller and underwent adaptation into a musical for the Kennedy Center stage. Another notable work, “Me . . . Jane,” a portrayal of Jane Goodall’s childhood, received the prestigious Caldecott Honor in 2012.

In 2009, McDonnell collaborated with Eckhart Tolle to create “Guardians of Being,” a philosophical exploration of nature and the present moment. His venture into children’s literature continued with the publication of “Me… Jane,” a captivating narrative that resonates with both young and adult audiences.

Patrick McDonnell (1956-): A Cartoonist's Journey Through Mutts and More

Advocacy for Animals and Environmental Causes

Patrick McDonnell’s deep connection with animals transcends his artistic expression. A vegetarian since around 1990 and a vegan since 2005, McDonnell has been a stalwart advocate for animal welfare. He actively supports organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, and The Charles M. Schulz Museum, where he serves on the board of directors.

The Mutts characters, creations of McDonnell’s imagination, have been utilized by various entities, including the United States Marines, the American Library Association, and the Humane Society of the United States. The characters even grace the New Jersey Animal-Friendly license plates, contributing to funding state pet population programs.

Personal Life and Legacy

In his personal life, McDonnell shares a home in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife Karen O’Connell, whom he met in the late 1970s during their membership in the punk band Steel Tips. Their household includes their dog Amelie and their cat Willie Lebowsky. The inspiration for the Mutts’ character Earl, a Jack Russell Terrier, lived with McDonnell for over 18 years before his passing in November 2007.

Patrick McDonnell (1956-): A Cartoonist's Journey Through Mutts and More

Bibliography and Artistic Range

McDonnell’s bibliography reflects the diversity of his artistic output. From “Mutts” collections to children’s books like “Hug Time” and “The Monsters’ Monster,” McDonnell’s creations traverse genres and age groups. The extensive list of Mutts collections attests to the enduring popularity of his comic strip, while his children’s books showcase a commitment to inspiring young minds.


National Cartoonists Society, Charles M. SchulzMuseum, Humane Society of the United States (member of board of directors), Fund for Animals (member of board), HSUS Hollywood Office, Art for Animals, Neighborhood Cats, North Shore Animal League.

Awards and Honors

Patrick McDonnell’s contributions to comics and illustration have not gone unnoticed. He received numerous awards, including the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year 1999. The Harvey Award for Best Comic Strip was bestowed upon “Mutts” multiple times, affirming its status as a beloved and critically acclaimed creation.

Adamson Statuette, Swedish Academy of Comic Art, 1997; Ark Trust Genesis Award, 1997, 1999; Harvey Award for best comic strip, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005; Reuben Award, National Cartoonist Society, 1997, for comic strip of the year, and 1999, for cartoonist of the year; Max and Moritz Award for best international comic strip, 1998; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Humanitarian Award, 2001; HSUS Hollywood Genesis Award, 2002, 2005.



Mutts, foreword by Charles M. Schulz, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1996.

Cats and Dogs: Mutts II, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1997.

More Shtuff, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1998.

Yesh!, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1999.

Mutts Sundays, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1999.

Our Mutts, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2000.

A Little Look-See, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2001.

Sunday Mornings, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2001.

What Now?, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2002.

I Want to Be the Kitty!, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2003.

Sunday Afternoons, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2003.

Dog-eared, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2004.

Who Let the Cat Out?, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2005.

Sunday Evenings, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2005.

Everyday Mutts, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2006.

Animal Friendly, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2007.


The Gift of Nothing, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2005.

Just like Heaven, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.

Art, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.

Hug Time, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2007.


(With wife Karen O’Connell and Georgia Riley de Havenon) Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1986.

Bad Baby (comic-strip collection), Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1988.

(Illustrator) They Said It!: 200 of the Funniest Sports Quips and Quotes, Oxmoor House (New York, NY), 2000.

Mutts: The Comic Art of Patrick McDonnell,essay by John Carlin, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.

Illustrator for Russell Baker’s “Observer” column, New York Times Magazine, 1978-93; creator of Jerseyana cartoon for New Jersey Monthly, 1980s; creator of “Bad Baby” monthly strip for Parents magazine; illustrator for “Scorecard” column in Sports Illustrated, “Bright Ideas” in Parade, and “Laughter” in Reader’s Digest.


Patrick McDonnell is the creator of the popular comic strip “Mutts,” which appears in more than 700 newspapers worldwide and has garnered a host of awards. The humorous, understated cartoon revolves around the adventures of Earl the dog, Mooch the cat, and a cast of eccentric supporting characters.

According to George Gene Gustines, writing in the New York Times,“‘Mutts’ is a throwback. Its daily tales … ooze an archaic innocence (and sometimes an anarchic knowingness) that would not have been out of place in a Sunday comics supplement from the 1920’s. It’s easy to imagine Earl and Mooch rubbing panels with classic strips like George Herriman’s ‘Krazy Kat’ or E.C. Segar’s ‘Popeye.’”

Born in 1956, McDonnell attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and after graduation he began a career as a freelance illustrator. From 1978 to 1993 he drew Russell Baker’s “Observer” column in the New York Times Magazine, and he also created “Bad Baby,” a monthly comic strip that ran in Parentsmagazine for ten years. During this time, McDonnell was also a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated, Reader’s Digest, Parade, and other national magazines.

Despite his tremendous success, McDonnell decided to pursue his dream of writing and illustrating his own comic strip, and in 1994 he created “Mutts.” At its heart is the friendship between Earl, the amiable canine who loves belly rubs, and Mooch, the curious feline who obsesses over little pink socks. According to David Astor, writing in Editor & Publisher,“McDonnell is not your typical modern-day cartoonist. While many of his peers produce comics with a hip, cynical edge, McDonnell prefers a kinder, gentler, ‘stop-and-smell-the-roses’ approach.”

As Astor continued, “McDonnell also bucks the trend of more topicality in comics by trying to keep the ‘real world’ from entering” his comic-strip fantasy. The animal cast of “Mutts” “think about food, sleep, the weather and other basics of life as they get in and out of all kinds of humorous situations.” As McDonnell told New Jersey Monthly contributor Annemarie Conte, “a lot of cartoon animals are people in disguise. I want to keep my animals as animal-like as possible.”

In addition to seeing his “Mutts” strip appear in daily syndication, McDonnell has produced a number of “Mutts” anthologies, among them Mutts Sundays and Who Let the Cat Out? He has also produced several children’s books featuring the “Mutts” characters. In The Gift of Nothing, for example, McDonnell creates “a perfect meditation on gift giving and friendship,” according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews, In the book, Mooch tries to find the perfect present for Earl on his special day. When readers reunite with Mooch in the pages of Just like Heaven, he awakens from a nap just as a fog rolls in and mistakenly believes he has arrived in Heaven.

“The small, sketchy illustrations hold a great deal of charm,” observed School Library Journal reviewer Julie Roach. McDonnell is also the author of Art, a self-illustrated work about a young boy’s penchant for creating fanciful doodles, scribbles, and splotches. “The primary color illustrations are exuberant and joyful and seamlessly match the text,” wrote a contributor in Kirkus Reviews.

A strong advocate for animal welfare, McDonnell serves on the board of directors for the Humane Society of the United States. “People really identify with that special bond we all have with our animal companions,” the cartoonist and author remarked on the King Features Web site. “Animals have unique personalities all their own. In ‘Mutts,’ I try to express the world from their point of view.”


Patrick McDonnell’s career embodies the transformative power of comics and illustration. From his early days as an illustrator for major publications to creating the iconic “Mutts” comic strip and his ventures into children’s literature, McDonnell’s journey reflects a commitment to storytelling that transcends boundaries. His advocacy for animal welfare and environmental causes further demonstrates the impact artists can have beyond the realm of art.

As Patrick McDonnell continues to captivate audiences with the adventures of Mutts and his other creative works, his legacy inspires aspiring cartoonists and storytellers. Through humor, compassion, and artistic brilliance, McDonnell has left an indelible mark on the world of comics, reminding us of the enduring power of a well-drawn comic strip.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Patrick McDonnell

Who is Patrick McDonnell?

Answer: Patrick McDonnell is a renowned cartoonist, author, and playwright, best known as the creator of the daily comic strip “Mutts.”

What is “Mutts,” and when was it created?

Answer: “Mutts” is a daily comic strip created by Patrick McDonnell, launched in 1994, which follows the adventures of a dog and a cat. It has been syndicated since its inception.

What other works are Patrick McDonnell known for?

Answer: McDonnell is also recognized for his picture book “The Gift of Nothing,” adapted as a musical, and “Me . . . Jane,” a picture book about the childhood of Jane Goodall, which won a Caldecott Honor in 2012.

What awards has Patrick McDonnell received for his work?

Answer: McDonnell has received numerous awards, including eight Harvey Awards for Best Comic Strip, four National Cartoonists Society Awards, and the prestigious Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year in 1999.

What is Patrick McDonnell’s background and early life?

Answer: McDonnell was born on March 17, 1956, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1978. His early artistic influences included Charles M. Schulz, George Herriman, and E. C. Segar.

When did McDonnell start his career as a cartoonist?

Answer: McDonnell began his career as an illustrator for magazines such as The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and Reader’s Digest. His first comic strip, “Bad Baby,” ran for ten years.

Tell us about “Mutts” and its significance.

Answer: “Mutts” is a critically acclaimed comic strip McDonnell launched in 1994, succeeding the popular “Calvin and Hobbes.” It has become a classic known for its humor, modern art spoofs, and social commentary.

What contributions has McDonnell made to children’s literature?

Answer: McDonnell authored several children’s books, including “The Gift of Nothing,” “Me . . . Jane,” and “Hug Time,” earning him recognition and awards in the realm of children’s literature.

How is Patrick McDonnell involved in charitable activities?

Answer: McDonnell is actively involved in animal and environmental charities. His characters have been used by organizations such as the United States Marines, the American Library Association, and the Humane Society.

What is the significance of “Mutts” characters on license plates?

Answer: Characters from “Mutts” appear on the New Jersey Animal-Friendly license plates, contributing to funding state pet population programs.

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