Q: Tell us about Guardians of Being and how the project came about.
A: Guardians of Being reminds us why we love our companion animals. While we are lost in our thoughts and busyness of everyday life, they have become the key to the present moment, our guardians of being.
In his books, Eckhart Tolle often says that true happiness is found in simple things, but you need to be present. He says that animals and all of nature can teach us that presence. That same teaching is at the heart of MUTTS. Seeing a photo of Eckhart with his new dog, Maya, gave me the impetus to pursue this project. I thought combining my art with Eckhart’s teachings on how animals and nature can bring us into the present moment could be a good entry point “into the Now” for some people.
I created a proposal and Eckhart graciously agreed to collaborate. He edited quotes I selected from his prior talks, interviews and books, and wrote new material. He created a passionate, humorous, enlightening meditation on the power and grace that animals can bring into our lives.
Q: Why is it important to connect with animals?
A: Animals are our link back to nature. Walking a dog, petting a cat or simply watching birds outside a window can all take you outside yourself and into the bigger picture. Our companion animals remind us of the responsibility we have in the stewardship of our planet and all its creatures. The simple everyday choices we make—what we eat, wear, recycle and think, and how we treat each other—can help make the world a better, friendlier place.
Q: When did you decide to become a cartoonist?
A: I wanted to be a cartoonist as far back as I can remember. I’ve always loved the simplicity, immediacy, intimacy and absurdity of the comic-strip medium. From the start, I was enchanted by how a few simple pen-and-ink lines can come to life on the page, which is, for me, the magic of cartooning. Many great comic strips (such as Peanuts and Krazy Kat) spoke to me directly and I always wanted to give back some of the joy and comfort I found there. And, at its best, the humor and truth of a comic strip go beyond the obvious.
MUTTS, my comic strip about a dog, Earl, and his unlikely friend, a cat named Mooch, started in 1994. MUTTS focuses on experiencing the natural world (gentle rain, quiet flurries, full moons…) and that special bond that forms between companion animals and their guardians. My own Jack Russell Terrier, Earl, was my inspiration. Earl was my teacher; he constantly celebrated life. I tried my best to convey his joie de vivre and good-hearted spirit in my strip.
Q: How does your work on books compare to your process producing a daily comic?
A: Books and comic strips are different mediums, but my books are in some ways similar to my comic strip. I’m still telling stories with words and pictures. But books allow me to expand artistically and to tell a longer, more formal, story.
Q: You have won numerous awards, not only for cartooning, but also for your work surrounding animal protection issues. Can you speak about how your animal and earth-friendly philosophy influences your work?
A: I’ve been on the board of directors of The Humane Society of the United States for nine years. The mission of The HSUS is to create a humane and sustainable world for all animals—a world that will also benefit people. Through education, advocacy and public policy reform, the organization works to prevent animal cruelty, exploitation, and neglect, as well as to protect wild habitats and the entire community of life.
Doing a strip about animals reminds me that all life on this planet is fragile. As I became more of an environmentalist, it was natural that I would create MUTTS themes centered on those issues. We all need to be more responsible when it comes to our environment.