You know, I’m really having trouble with this post. First of all, the Olympic hockey finals are on and the American team just scored a goal in the last twenty seconds of the third period, tying the game. Cheese and crackers! Now we have to go into overtime. However, as distracted as I may be by a little rubber puck, the real reason this entry is proving so difficult is that Patrick McDonnell is my hero, and I don’t know how to write about heroes.
One could argue that all of my posts thus far have been about hero worship, but my feelings for Patrick McDonnell go beyond an admiration for his extraordinary talent as an artist and humourist. This is a man who exemplifies kindness. It informs and connects all of his beastly projects, from his comic strip Mutts to his work on the board of the American Humane Society. And it’s kindness that permeates his latest book, Guardians of Being.
Guardians of Being is not quite a picture book, but neither is it a typical inspirational offering. There are no platitudes, and you will not see ‘Chicken’ or ‘Soup’ in the title. Eckhart Tolle’s quietly reflective words are the sort of thing one finds in contemporary new age philosophy, but channeled through fur and whiskers (and conceptualized by McDonnell’s illustrations), they are given a bit of oomph and a whole lot of charm. Guardians of Being is a celebration of the spiritual gifts our animal companions bestow upon us. It is Zen with furballs and slobber.
“I have lived with many Zen masters, all of them cats.” Eckhart Tolle
It is true that I am prone to a certain amount of idealization. When I was a kid I thought that if I had a pink canopy bed, all my troubles would disappear. However, after many hours of therapy, I am almost certain that a pink canopy bed would not have solved my problems. The real panacea is money, of course. Oodles of money.
Nevertheless, I remain steadfast in my adoration of Patrick McDonnell.
Although primarily a cartoonist, in recent years…starting with The Gift of Nothing in 2005, McDonnell has ventured into the realm of picture books. I was going to say, picture books for children, but his gently inspirational tales reach out to a broader audience. Of these, my favourite is South, a lovely story of a bird who sleeps through the autumn migration and is taken under wing by a small cat named Mooch, who helps the little bird find his way back to his clan. It’s entirely wordless, painted in loose and simple watercolour on beige paper. It exudes sweetness, but not the cloying, sicky type you often see in children’s books.
McDonnell’s cartoon strip, Mutts, is not serialized in my local newspaper, so I subscribe to it online. Over the years, I’ve come to love Earl (the dog) and Mooch (the cat) and the quirky little world they inhabit. They are not anthropomorphized to the degree where we no longer recognize their essential feline and canine selves, and yet they also serve as windows into the vulnerable world of animals.
Both Earl and Mooch appear in Guardians of Being, as do other characters from the strip. We see them staring quietly out windows, chasing dandelion seeds across several pages, spooning with their human companions. When the final page is flipped, we understand that the title of the book has a layered meaning. The animals we share our lives with do guard our beings, but they also serve as reminders to live simply, be present, and to appreciate a good lap.
Oh! And a good goal! Thank you Sydney Crosby. Ohmmmmmmmm………………
Guardians of Being, words by Eckhart Tolle and art by Patrick McDonnell, New World Library 2009 ISBN: 978-1577316718
I would recommend all of Patrick’s Mutts collections, but especially: Mutts: The Comic Art of Patrick McDonnell (Abrams 2003), and South (Little, Brown 2008) (Check out my blog for other Patrick McDonnell reviews.)
Me…Jane (Little, Brown 2011)
South (Little, Brown 2008)
Hug Time (Little, Brown 2007)
Guardians of Being (New World Library, 2009)
– See more at: http://32pages.ca/2012/10/08/the-monsters-monster/#sthash.LTN2G9g3.dpuf
Also, check out his website at www.mutts.com