I imagine for many Dogster readers, “the love of dog” extends as far back as any of us can remember. It may have been born of a childhood pet or, like me, inspired by the love of dogs in cartoons and comics. My first dog, a hound mix named Violet, was named for a lead character in the animated Pound Puppies franchise of the mid-to-late 1980s. There have been many famous cartoon dogs; you can probably name at least five off the top of your head! I’ll start!
And those are just ones that Dogster has covered in the past! Cartoon dogs get their start in any number of outlets, from comic strips, books and graphic novels, to mascots or logo designs for commercial products, to traditional cel or computer animation. Let’s take a look at five cartoon dogs, created between 1929 and 2007, that we have yet to cover in these electronic pages. Are any of your favorites here?
Predating Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo (1969) by 40 years, Hergé’s Snowy is also an adventuring, mystery-solving canine. Originally named Milou after the creator’s first love, Snowy shares many other qualities with Scooby, including the ability to speak and an irrepressible love of food and drink. Those surface similarities aside, Snowy has a unique and enduring character all his own.
Brave, sly and action-oriented, the white-coated Wire Fox Terrier is a much bolder character than the more anxious and easily frightened Scooby. Getting his start in comics, Snowy transition to animated adventures in Belgium during the 1950s, and a Canadian cartoon in the early 1990s, before making the jump to CGI in Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (2011).
Beginning in 1954, Brad Anderson’s Marmaduke is unlike many of the most popular cartoon pets in our survey. The Great Dane doesn’t speak, doesn’t sport outlandish garb, and his adventures are both mundane and domestic. Much of Marmaduke’s lasting charm — Anderson’s daily one-panel comic and longer Sunday comic strip ran nearly continuously until his death in 2015 — is due to his situational realism.
The comedy of the Marmaduke comics, and the cartoon adaptation that aired in the early 1980s, comes from scenarios many owners of large or giant dog breeds recognize as authentic. It’s a truism that some little dogs have confrontational big-dog personalities, and their larger counterparts act always want to set their entire bulk on your lap while you’re watching television. Just as Hergé’s Snowy was an obvious antecedent for crime-solving cartoon dogs like Scooby-Doo, so too did Marmaduke set a pattern for future comically outsized canines like Clifford the Big Red Dog (1963).
We now move from the realistic to the surreal. Introduced to me by my friend Vicky, Roobarb the green dog is a British cartoon character developed by Grange Calveley for the BBC in 1974. The series revolved around the bizarre adventures of the dog and his neighbor, Custard the pink cat. The animation style, as you can see below, is frenetic and herky-jerky, a fine complement to the hare-brained insanity of the five-minute plots.
Richard Briers’s voice-overs give each episode an extra punch of absurdity. Roobarb using bones to ice-skate on a frozen pond is rendered even funnier when Briers relates that the dog believes he has invented golf. This is British humor through and through, slotting in nicely given that Roobarb debuted the same year the original run of Monty Python’s Flying Circus concluded. It’s popularity across the pond led to a 2005 revival, with updated animation, but the same wild sense of humor.
From the considered to the more commercial, Brad McMahon’s Rude Dog was initially developed as the mascot for Sun Sportswear in 1986. Like many things in the 1980s, the skate- and surf-inspired clothing line featured a loud, neon-influenced palette. In an era where marketing opportunities begat more marketing opportunities — the plush Pound Puppies became cartoons, or cartoons like He-Man were used to market toys, for example — it was natural for Rude Dog to make a similar cross-promotional leap.
Rather than reinforce skateboarding or beach culture, Rude Dog and the Dweebs, the 1989 cartoon adaptation, set the Pit Bull and a cast of misfit mutts as attendants of an auto-repair shop. My personal favorites were Tweek, a tiny yellow Chihuahua, and Reggie, a streetwise Smooth Fox Terrier with a sense of humor as severe as his underbite. Unfortunately, this dog cartoon show was short-lived, since the late ’80s were also the era of Bull Terriers selling beer, a confluence of pets and products that family-values advocates could not long permit.
Perhaps the most famous modern cartoon dog in this survey, Jake the Dog is also easily the strangest. Making his debut in Pendleton Ward’s immensely-popular Adventure Time short in 2007, the series proper took off in 2010. Jake is the best-friend, mentor and brother to the series’ lead, Finn the Human. Where most of the animated dogs we’ve looked at are at least somewhat based in the real world, Jake is resolutely outlandish. I mean, in the program, he’s married to a rainbow-unicorn!
Like Athena, sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus in Greek mythology, Jake emerged from a boil on his father’s head. In the fantasy universe of the series, Jake the Dog is a shape-shifting, viola-playing, dancing magical creature. As a voice of wisdom and counsel, Jake is much more like the cryptic and inconsistent beings Alice confronts in Lewis Carroll’s nonsense fictions than a traditional fantasy mentor.
In a survey of this length, I tried to look at a range of animated dogs, from the fairly realistic to the patently absurd. The spectrum is by no means comprehensive — I can hear some of you saying, “What about Odie from Garfield?” or “Where’s Poochie from The Simpsons?” — but I wanted to make sure to give some coverage to dog cartoon characters that have slipped under Dogster’s radar.
Now’s your chance! Let your favorite cartoon dogs have their day! Who are your favorite dogs from cartoons and comics? Whether they’re from the distant past or the cutting edge, rendered in traditional cel animation or the latest computer-generated processes, stars of a 30-minute series or major motion pictures, share your picks in the comments!