Maira Kalman’s new book, Beloved Dog (Penguin Press), illuminates her friendship with her first dog, Pete. Kalman, who movingly writes, “It is very true that the most tender, complicated, most generous part of our being blossoms without any effort when it comes to the love of a dog,” grew up being terrified of them.
Featuring her fanciful paintings and handwritten text, Beloved Dog details a life of love, loss and companionship. It also includes numerous examples of her work, including New Yorker covers and several of her Pete-inspired children’s books. As long-time fans of her delightful, quirky and just a bit offkilter work, we were particularly happy to snag some phone time with her recently. Following are highlights from our conversation.
Bark: Early in the book, you say that you are “besotted by dogs”—what a great term.
Maira Kalman: I used to be afraid of dogs, and that switch-over to realizing how important they are in my life and how completely besotted I am was a wonderful revelation and a great moment.
B: That discovery is pretty magical.
MK: It is, and it really does change the world. It opens things up in ways that were incomprehensible before. I don’t want to liken it to having children, but next to having children, it is that kind of relationship.
B: Tell us about Pete.
MK: I had always thought that if I got a dog, it would be a dog that jumped up— shpringeny—on all four legs, a scruffy kind of animated cartoon. And there he was. From the beginning, he was not only a beloved, beloved companion and an easer of sadness, but also a damn fine model.
B: Having a dog to guide you through the streets of New York must be a great entree into the world.
MK: Yeah, because when you have a purpose, which is “I am walking my dog,” you are already calmer and you have a companion. Of course, when you walk a dog, you have to add at least another half-hour to get to any destination because you meet people, the dog stops, you stop. You’re engaging in ways that you just didn’t do before. People who are walking their dogs usually are delighted to chat. It’s a friendlier world when you have a dog with you.
B: Can you talk about dogs as a subject matter for your paintings and books?
MK: Sometimes the dog is a human character and (of course) a stand-in for me, or a composite of me and other people. The dog is a conduit to emotions and humor, all those universal experiences. The other way that I work is to depict dogs as secondary characters, or digressions—my work is always about digression anyway. So, they populate the landscape the way people do, and contribute to the emotional quality of my paintings. They surprise me— they’re funny. The paintings are really observational journals of my life and the dogs who live in my world.
A new Peanuts movie reunites Snoopy and Charlie Brown in 3D
Being great fans of Charles Schultz’s work we were excited to learn that they made a full-length, 3D movie about Charlie Brown and all his pals, including, of course, Snoopy. As the trailer notes this is a movie about “an underdog and his dog.” We talked with Steve Martino, the movie’s director about this exciting project.
Who’s the brainchild behind The Peanuts movie?
Craig Schultz, the son of Charles Schultz, and his son, Brian, plus Brian’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano. All three of them are the writers and producers on the film. I think was Craig's desire to keep his father's legacy alive. I think between Craig and Brian they began to craft an idea that they felt would be worthy of a feature film and not a short or a television special. We find today that, kids don't read the comic strips in a newspaper as I did when I was growing up. They meet these characters that they connect with through feature films often.
This new movie is 3D, how was that transition made from a flat medium?
I thought that with the tools that we have in computer animation that it could enhance the emotion of the story. I also thought there was a wonderful opportunity to bring a character like Snoopy alive with all of his fun, crazy animation action, we could also create a rendering for him that had softness in his fur, it just brings a different emotional connection.
What became critically important is that the characters always looked and felt and moved ...as I had always remembered them. So, we were very particular about the way we posed the characters, the way we move them, so that it always feel like Peanuts should feel.
With regard of the everyman quality of Charlie Brown, I think the same can be said of the dog, Snoopy. Everyone sees their dog in Snoopy.
It's so true. I think Charles Schultz always said that Charlie Brown may have been a little bit more who he was and Snoopy was who he always wanted to be. Snoopy’s a big character, he plays big. He's funny. What I love in our film though, is that we really spotlight and showcase that, a boy and his dog, in that kind of relationship.
The Peanuts Movie, opening November 6, 2015, it will be released by Twentieth Century Fox.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dressing dogs like the pope
A pope who shares his name with the patron saint of animals, St. Francis de Assisi, is unlikely to be offended by seeing dogs in papal wear. In fact, we can dare to hope that he would find it flattering to see dogs dressed in such costumes. Pope Francis, after all, has thrilled many members of the animal community by discussing an afterlife for many species, including dogs. He has also addressed the importance of kindness towards all living beings. Naturally, many people are dressing their dogs like him as a way to celebrate and honor the pontiff.
With hashtags such as #popedogs, #holyhound and #alldogsgotoheaven, social media has seen many dogs dressed as the pontiff. While claims that pictures of dogs dressed as the pope are taking over the internet are a bit overstated, there’s no denying that dogs in pope costumes are gaining in popularity. There have even been a number of names for these dogs such as Pup Francis, Puppy Pontiff and Pope John Paw II.
What do you think of the trend to dress dogs like Pope Francis?
Even the apocalypse can’t keep good dogs down.
You wouldn’t think dogs and post-apocalyptic horror comics would go together, but you’d be wrong. In Avatar Press’s six-issue series, Rover Red Charlie—now available in collected form—writer Garth Ennis and artist Michael DiPascale put our best friends in the worst of circumstances: at the end of the world. Well, the human world, anyway. Fortunately, these canines are more than up to the challenge. Rover Red Charlie offers an uncanny insight into dogs and what life must be like from their point of view.
The comic features three dogs—Rover, Red and Charlie—trying to survive in a world in which all the humans have gone crazy and become violent for unknown reasons. We’re immediately shown the terrible predicament of seeing-eye dog Charlie: his leash is wrapped tightly around his owner’s hands, and his owner is on fire. Charlie is rescued by Red and Rover, who chew through the leash.
Rover, a Bassett Hound from England, is the cynic of the bunch; this character allows Irish writer Ennis to utilize plenty of appropriate slang. Red (a Red Setter) is the dumb, sweet, brave one who is also obsessed with the smell of his butt. Charlie, a Collie, is ever-proud of his guide dog vest and, as the most trained of the three, least equipped for the chaotic new world. The three pooches band together to survive and explore this new environment, meeting a variety of dogs and other critters in a cross-county journey from (as the dogs put it) the big splash to the bigger splash.
In Bleeding Cool, Ennis—well-known for classic runs on Marvel’s The Punisher and creator-owned Preacher—explained that the story “was inspired by an old painting that used to hang on the wall of my grandparent’s kitchen and now hangs on the wall of my office. It’s just head shots of three dogs. I think it was called ‘Faithful Friends,’ and I guess I waited 40-odd years to send them on an adventure. The other inspiration was when I figured out what dogs were saying when they barked.”
Ennis decided that barking means, “I’m a dog! I’m a dog!” This refrain is used powerfully throughout the book, with a few humorous variations, such as puppies yapping “I’m a pup! I’m a pup!” and an oddball Dachshund proclaiming “I’m a fish!” For Ennis, doglish is English plus these dogs’ own distinctive vocabulary, in which people are feeders, cats are hisspots, a heart is a thumper, the ocean is the big splash, fire is the burn, chickens are bork-borkers and Chihuahuas are me-dogs (because they bark “What about me? What about me?”). I’d buy a companion glossary to this comic in a second.
Our three heroes have differing views on the feeders and this changed world. Red and Rover are more accepting of the new state of affairs; Rover expresses a thought all dogs might have if they could put together a sentence: “Any time I got near anything interesting, I hardly had time for a sniff before I heard—Rover! No!” Charlie, the service dog, has more trouble letting go. He doesn’t want freedom, even when the three dogs pretty much have it made on a farm. The saddest words in the book might be Charlie’s plea: “I just want to be told what to do again.”
DiPascale’s art is naturalistic, kinetic and humane. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time around dogs because he nails not just the specific breeds, but dogs’ distinctive body language. Whether they’re feeling playful, confused, scared or defiant, DiPascale puts them in poses dog owners will recognize as true. There’s also a visual sense of humor to match Ennis’s wit: for example, the way he draws Rover running—flying folds of flapping flesh—is both true-to-life and funny. The real triumph of DiPascale’s beautiful painted art, however, is the faces, which are equally cartoony and realistic, expressing openness and honesty. Even if these dogs weren’t born charmers in terrible circumstances, you’d love them just for their mugs.
I asked Ennis by email why comics about dogs are so appealing, and he guessed anthropomorphism, adding, “…watching a dog sniffing around, frowning and shoving his nose in things, you can't help but attribute human motivation to him. Logically you know he's thinking—food, food, food, food, water, food, food, food—but your mind automatically comes up with thoughts that appear to match his expression and actions.”
A warning: This series isn’t going to work for squeamish readers. It is a horror story, and there is some gruesome violence, some of which happens to dogs. That’s usually a dealbreaker for me; I stopped watching the TV version of Fargo after a gratuitous dog death. But the violence in this comic is necessary for the horror genre, and without spoiling things too much, I can say the ending is far from a downer.
In fact, the ending is pretty damn inspiring: it makes you think that if we feeders were gone and the world literally went to the dogs, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
An illuminating exploration of humanity through animals.
If your live in North America, it’s possible you’ve noticed a rising tide recently of news coverage and public dialog related to ethnic discrimination and racially motivated violence. The high visibility of #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe and other solidarity-based social media phenomena in recent months is just one manifestation of an uncomfortable, mounting social awareness among sheltered denizens of the U.S. and its surrounding territories that systematic oppression, abuse of power, and covert white supremacy are still alive and well. In Eastern Europe, many of these issues have become depressingly old-hat— particularly in Hungary, where nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation have recently given way to a resurgence of white nationalist cries for enforced ethnic purity.
Enter White God, a new film by acclaimed Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, which opened in the U.S. in March. The movie tells the story of a group of rowdy canines confined to an overcrowded public shelter in Budapest who break free of their chains and storm the streets of the city, waging bloody retaliation against their human oppressors. White God draws upon Eastern Europe’s painfully recent history of government tyranny and exploitation under Communism, as well as its subsequent slide into radical ultra-con- servatism, to construct a fast-paced, emotionally devastating parable about the fearsome power of a dehumanized underclass.
The film’s perspective shifts between that of the four-legged rebel leader, Hagen, and his adolescent human sympathizer, Lili. While Hagen endures starvation, abuse and confinement, Lili roams the streets searching for her lost pet, whose agonies are the result of a cruel, impulsive abandonment by Lilli’s embittered father. The real culprit, though, is a “mutt tax” levied against all non-purebreds, which is so ridiculously high that Lili’s father refuses to pay it.
“During the last eight years, Hungary has become more and more extreme,” Mundruczó laments. Indeed, the country’s third most popular political party, according to recent polls, is Jobbik, a rhetorically aggressive Hungarian nationalist group, which lists the permanent expulsion of Jews and Romanis from Eastern Europe among its highest priorities. “In my eyes, the economic crisis [has led to] a huge moral crisis,” Mundruczó says. “The society has become motivated by lots of fear, and those fears are not really very helpful for minorities, and refugees, and those elements. So racism and chauvinism are very much on the rise as we are facing those questions and problems.”
White God’s title is a nod to American director Sam Fuller’s similarly themed 1982 film White Dog—which Mundruczó saw after his own movie had already been completed, but whose philosophical underpinnings he enthusiastically embraced. Mundruczó’s greatest inspiration, though, comes from South African author J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, in which a shamed college professor retreats to the countryside and takes on a position at a small veterinary clinic, which he discovers exists primarily to euthanize unwanted street dogs. Like White God, Coetzee’s novel traces the subterranean networks that link the mass extermination of neglected South African strays, and the looming specters of ethnic cleansing and mounting political extremism that have plagued the region.
The film also draws parallels between social attitudes condoning the routine abuse and extermination of domesticated animals, and the embedded institutional prejudices which allow racism and other forms of structural inequality to persist. “That first time in the dog park,” Mundruczó recalls, “I said, ‘Such a shame!’ I just looked around, and I watched the dogs’ eyes behind the fences, and I said, ‘I really would like to talk about that … I don’t want to live in a world where dogs have no rights.’ So of course this is about human rights and animal rights.”
The “mutt tax” and subsequent confinement, starvation, abuse and ultimately, extermination of mixed-breed animals in White God, in one sense, is an obvious metaphor—socially marginalized people are often crassly compared to animals to justify their mistreatment, and the concept of ethnic “purity” is the bread and butter of any toxic nationalist movement.
More to the point, though, it was very nearly a reality in Hungary. Though it was ultimately struck down, a proposed law in Budapest, very similar to the one in the film, would have effectively consigned almost all of the city’s mixedbreed dogs to kill shelters. What White God leaves out is that a similar tax, though slightly less prohibitive, would have been applied to “foreign” purebreds as well. Basically, the only dogs not subject to taxation would have been purebred dogs of a breed historically traceable to Hungary, a bizarre and chilling stipulation considering Hungary’s recent groundswell of politi cized racial antipathy.
Naturally, the genocidal extermination of “impure” housepets, and actual, human genocide can’t be compared in terms of moral equivalency. What’s disturbing in this scenario is the deeper pathos it suggests—the extreme devaluation of individual lives for the sake of an abstract ideal. It’s hard to imagine a more poignant symbol of the human wreckage caused by the quest for ethnic purity than the execution of thousands of beloved pet dogs as an enforced gesture of national solidarity. There is a singularly grotesque vulgarity in extending such notions of national purity to creatures who aren’t even cap- able of having political consciousness.
Mundruczó sees these parallels in terms of treachery and moral failure. “Dogs are universal,” He says, “Dogs are ‘human.’ Dogs are part of the human family. That’s the way it was for thousands and thousands of years, and then we betrayed them. And then they have, of course, anger. So they symbolize that anger for any minority who is kicked out of our family.”
It’s hard to come away from such a film without fully considering the relationship between human and animal cruelty, even outside the context of blatantly sinister totalitarianism. Even in more progressive parts of the world, most people think nothing of euthanizing domesticated animals for the sake of population control, public health, etc., and an eerily similar rationale tends to pervade public dialog regarding violence against human citizens. “Protecting the public welfare” can become a justification for just about any form of large-scale civil abuse, so long as a public majority is scared or hostile enough to allow it.
Mundruczó’s goal is to strip away the particularities of these threads of suffering and unify them into a single narrative that anyone can immediately identify with. “[Dogs] love humans more than humans themselves,” he observes, “and of course in this way, you can follow a story much more easily.”
This article was originally published on Guff.com © 2015 by Devon Ashby, reprinted with permission.
This week marks the centennial (April 7, 1915) of one of America’s greatest and most individualist artists, Billie Holiday. Considered the greatest jazz vocalist of all time, Holiday’s distinctive vocal style made her musicianship equal to the titans of the golden era—Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Lester Young—all musical collaborators with the great “Lady Day.” Her troubled life, drug addiction and arrests, could not overshadow one of the most creative legacies of the 20th century. Holiday’s influence still reverberates today. A constant presence in her later years were her dogs—Mister, a Boxer and Pepi, a Chihuahua. They no doubt provided comfort during uncertain times, and the love that echoes throughout many of her songs.
Mister and Billie Holiday, 1946. William P. Gottlieb/Libray of Congress
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loving this trend!
My keys have two personal items with them: a miniature Kong and a keychain from Run Flagstaff, my local running store. That pretty much sums up my two main interests in life—training dogs and the sport of running. Any time the two of them come together, it makes me very happy, which is why I was so pleased to see their new window display.
In addition to making me happy, it made me think, too. Dogs have become ubiquitous in advertising by businesses both large and small. Of course, the recent Budweiser puppy commercials are extremely popular now, but Bud Light began using Bull Terrier Spuds Mackenzie in their marketing campaign almost 30 years ago. Beer is far from the only industry to call on dogs to promote their products. Perhaps the most famous dog in recent advertising history is the Chihuahua who appeared in so many Taco Bell ads.
Though both these famous dogs were represented as male dogs in their commercials, they were actually females. The real name of “Spuds” was Honey Tree Evil Eye, while the Taco Bell dog’s real name was Gidget.
In recent years, dogs have appeared in about a third of all television commercials, and always figure prominently in the ones appearing during the Super Bowl. The appeal of dogs to consumers is the main motivation for casting them, but it also save companies money because dogs are not paid nearly as much as human actors in most cases.
One of my favorite commercials (at least at this moment—I do change my mind regularly) with dogs is the one for Volkswagon called The Bark Side that had dogs barking the Imperial March from Star Wars and one dog dressed as an Imperial Walker. I particularly love the shout-out to Chewbacca at 36 seconds.
Another truly excellent commercial featuring dogs also includes a host of other species, but the dog moments, especially the ones with a dog and an orangutan, are my favorite.
This commercial, Android: Friends Furever, celebrates diversity and differences with the tag line, “Be together, not the same.” I love it (even if I do have an iPhone.) In addition to dogs, this ad features cats, ducks, a lion, a rhinoceros, elephants, a dolphin, sheep, horses, a baboon, goats, deer, a hyrax, a tortoise, a tiger, a bear, a meerkat, and a cockatoo. However, it is worth noting that no species gets greater air time than the dog, who is in two-thirds of the commercial, probably because it elicits the happy, favorable response that companies want people to associate with their products.
Do you have a favorite commercial that features a dog?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
True friends always have your back
Cuteness reigns! Budweiser is sticking with their ads about puppies and horses because it’s a winning combination. This year’s Super Bowl commercial stays with the theme of real friends always being there for each other, and that is its strength.
Opportunities to pull at our heartstrings are certainly not in short supply: the puppy in a pile of hay, waiting out a rainstorm in a metal box, returning home filthy with the horses following him, licking the man’s face after being bathed. There’s a nice reference to last year’s commercial when the man puts up a “Lost Dog” poster with a photo of the puppy and horse.
In this 60-second story, the farm’s Labrador Retriever puppy gets lost, and suffers through some hazards before the horses who love him come to his rescue. One danger is traffic, but the main threat is a wolf. It looks to be the end of the dog until his horse buddies show up and scare the predator away. If I could change one thing about the commercial, it would be the depiction of wolves as the enemy. I thought that the “big bad wolf” stereotype had faded away, so Budweiser’s attempt to revive it is unfortunate.
Still, the commercial is about friendship, and you can feel the love on that farm in so many scenes: when the horse and man seek comfort from one another while their beloved puppy is missing, when the horses rush to the aid of the puppy, the expression on the man’s face when he first sees that his dog has come home and when the horse and puppy play together at the end.
I’ve always been impressed with how well these commercials capture happy dog behavior in the scenes that require it, which is not easy on a set with huge horses, a lot of people, cameras and other equipment. (The one miss I noticed in this commercial is at 52 seconds when the puppy tongue flicks—a sign of anxiety—right before he licks the man’s face, supposedly joyfully.) Showing dogs looking forlorn in the rain or other sad scenes seems an easier task, but I give them credit for accomplishing it anyway.
This commercial has been viewed over 17 million times already on YouTube. Do you consider it a winner?
Today’s inbox brings us a special bit of eye-candy (also known as publicity pitches) that we think is worth sharing. It’s a video featuring NFL quarterback Tom Brady playing fetch with his dog Lua. This short contemplation on hard work, success and man’s best friend is a promotion for UGG, the Australian shoemaker who employs Brady as their official pitchman. We don’t know if it will make people run out and buy their shoes, but maybe a few will be inspired to adopt a Pit or Pit-mix ... like Tom.
News: Guest Posts
My last blog post included a bit of ranting about puppy mills and the importance of purchasing puppies responsibly. While it’s unusual for me to rant two weeks in a row I simply can’t resist given what I just viewed in the September 8-15 edition ofTime magazine.
The Time cover states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids”? Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.
My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.
IF I WERE IN CHARGE
While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing will shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.
My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders believe that “designer hybrids” detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.
Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. He did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated,
I’ve done a lot of damage. I’ve created a lot of problems. Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in. For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a Poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a Poodle with a Rottweiler. How could anyone do that? Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen.
In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!
Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.
How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?
Nancy Kay, DVM
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