Dogs on display: Museum celebrates 200 years of cartoon canines

The world’s largest cartoon museum is commemorating 200 years of dogs in comic strips, editorial cartoons, comic books and animation.

The Dog Show: Two Centuries Of Canine Cartoons is on display at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum until October.

The exhibit includes more than 100 canine characters, from Little Orphan Annie’s dog Sandy to Scooby-Doo and Santa’s Little Helper from The Simpsons.

The genesis for the exhibit came when the late Brad Anderson, the creator of Marmaduke, donated his collection in 2018, including 16,000 original Marmaduke cartoons from 1954 to 2010, other original art, business correspondence, fan mail and books.

That began a conversation about exploring the museum’s extensive collection for dog-related images, according to museum co-ordinator Anne Drozd.

“There were so many comic strips and magazine cartoons and comic books, and so many different examples that have dogs in them,” Ms Drozd said.

“It seemed like a no brainer to bring everything together in one theme that so many people can relate to and love.”

There are plenty of scene-stealing cats in cartoons, including Jim Davis’ Garfield and the stuffed tiger that comes to life in Bill Watterson’s Calvin And Hobbes.

But dogs’ personalities make them a perfect fit for the comic strip form, said exhibit curator Brian Walker.

“Dogs have that eagerness, they aim to please, so they actually make really good cartoon characters,” said Mr Walker, a cartoonist and cartoon historian and the son of Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey.

Though Otto the dog first appeared in Beetle Bailey in 1956, he was a regular four-legged dog until around 1970 when Mort Walker anthropomorphised him, providing Otto with his own uniform and desk, likely thanks to the influence of Snoopy in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip, Brian Walker said.

A new exhibit on dogs in cartoons and comic strips includes vinyl toys of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Dennis the Menace and Ruff, from the private collection of exhibit curator Brian Walker
An exhibit on dogs in cartoons and comic strips includes vinyl toys of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Dennis the Menace and Ruff (Andrew Welsh-Huggins/AP)

The oldest image in the exhibit is a reprint of British artist George Cruikshank’s illustration of weather so bad it is “raining cats and dogs”.

Moving through the years, the exhibit includes well-known dogs such as Sandy from Little Orphan Annie, Daisy from Blondie and Dogbert from Scott Adams’ Dilbert strip.

George Booth’s scraggly New Yorker magazine cartoon dogs show up, as well as images by alternative newspaper cartoonist Lynda Barry, and Shary Flenniken’s Trots And Bonnie, about a girl and her talking dog that appeared in National Lampoon from 1972 to 1990.

There are well-known characters such as Dog Man from the book series by cartoonist Dav Pilkey, but also lesser known dogs, including six strips from a 1940s Dick Tracy series featuring the appearance of a boxer named Mugg that the famous detective temporarily takes ownership of.

The exhibit also includes a video highlighting animated dogs such as Scooby-Doo, Huckleberry Hound, Underdog, Disney’s Pluto and Goofy, Slinky the Dog from the Toy Story films, and even Santa’s Little Helper from The Simpsons.

Brian Walker said his favourite image in the exhibit comes from the classic Disney movie Lady And The Tramp, showing the scene where the dogs eat at an Italian restaurant.

“They’re both eating the same piece of spaghetti and their lips kind of come together and they fall in love,” Mr Walker said.

“It doesn’t get much better than that.”