Few larger-than-life types in history can claim to have inspired a character in a movie or television show. Of course, there’s Citizen Kane and Charles Foster Kane, a fictional tycoon based on publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst; the character of Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown was said to have been loosely inspired by famous Los Angeles water boss William Mulholland. And then there’s Puggo of Cartoon Network’s Squirrel Boy; Puggo is a portly, one-eyed, turban-wearing dog who sports a cape that flaps even as he remains unflappable in the face of a crisis. Making occasional appearances on Squirrel Boy as the star of a TV show that the two main characters—Andy (a boy) and Rodney (a squirrel)—never miss, Puggo is mysterious, aloof, in control and wise. Deeply wise.
And what of Puggo’s real-life counterpart? Is he some heroic figure now lost to time? Perhaps a noble canine from legend? Nope. He barks, naps and piddles today. His name is Jerome, and he is currently yapping his curly tail off at some unseen foe out the front window, unaware that a character he inspired can now be seen on television screens across the land, and that he should behave with a tad more decorum.
How the dog on your couch can inspire a dog on the screen can happen in many different ways, and fur-and-bone Jerome’s journey to color-and-line Puggo happened like this: My husband, Chris, the story editor for Squirrel Boy, mentioned that we had a one-eyed pug at an early meeting during the show’s development. (Jerome’s ocular oddity has a simple explanation—he was born that way.) It should be added here that Chris is quite attached to Jerome, and Jerome to Chris, and they both think the world of each other. I should also add that it is not unusual to spend a good deal of time discussing your pets at office meetings when you work on a cartoon featuring an animal protagonist. In fact, it’s practically a requisite of the job. No one groans and silently prays, Don’t start with the dog stories again, please; often they grab a pencil and start drawing.
Chris told Everett Peck, the creator of the show, and Raymie Muzquiz, the show’s supervising director, about our peculiar little guy, and soon Everett and Raymie were sketching squat, roly-poly puglets with just one eye. Of course, the art of Squirrel Boy is delightfully askew, so the illustrated pug’s eye appeared in the center of his face (think of a cuddlier Cyclops); Puggo also sported a jaunty cape and a tall turban, two sartorial choices our real pug has never made. Not that I’ve ever asked Jerome if he wanted to wear a cape and turban, but after those bunny ears a few Easters ago, it’s best that we never speak of dress-up opportunities again.
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So how has Jerome reacted to being the inspiration for a cartoon canine? Quite coolly. Less than a week after the show’s premiere, he had his teeth and nose done like any self-respecting Tinseltown climber. Of course, it was a basic canine dental cleaning, and he had surgery on his stenotic nares to help air intake (a surgery recommended by our vet that helps brachycephalic—or, if you prefer, smooshy-faced—dogs breathe better), but I thought the timing was suspicious.
Mostly, I want to make sure this doesn’t all go to his wrinkly head. When we sit down to watch Squirrel Boy and Jerome curls up in his usual spot, I’m quietly observing. We can see the “Hollywood” sign from our living room, and I’m well aware that our pug can keep one eye on his television alter ego and one eye on the iconic symbol that has jump-started a million dreams of superstardom. Well, I guess he can’t keep one eye on both, really, but all I’m saying is that if he gets an agent or personal astrologer anytime soon, we’ll have to talk.