The comic strip Citizen Dog is something you need in your life RIGHT NOW! It’s utterly brilliant and with everywhere in lockdown (from Manchester to LA) I can guarantee it will brighten your day. You’ll definitely be familiar with the work of 2-time Emmy award winner Mark O’Hare.
Having graduated from California Institute of the Arts in 1992, let’s reel off some of the outstanding animation shows he’s been involved with during a long association with the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon (various roles including animator/storyboard artist/writer/director/producer):
- Rocko’s Modern Life (1993 – 1996)
- The Ren and Stimpy Show (1995 – 1996)
- The Angry Beavers (1997)
- Hey Arnold! (1996 – 1998)
- SpongeBob SquarePants (since 1999)
- Dexter’s Laboratory (1998 – 2003)
- The Powerpuff Girls (2003 – 2004)
- Camp Lazlo! (2005 – 2008)
Depending on your age, for most of us it’s basically a list of all our favourite cartoons. But like many successful people working in television, soon enough the movie industry came calling. Working on each of SpongeBob’s feature-length adventures but notably with Dreamworks and Illumination:
- Cool World (1992)
- Shrek 2 (2004)
- Despicable Me (all 3 plus Minions, plus new film The Rise of Gru delayed to 2021)
- The Lorax (2012)
- The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
- The Grinch (2018)
CITIZEN DOG BY MARK O’HARE
But what of the outstanding Citizen Dog? A delightful comic strip which details the adventures of Mel (man) and Fergus (dog), it is both beautifully drawn and hilarious. Printed nationally from 1995 to 2001 there are three books in total. The typical tale of 2 best friends and those curious moments in everyday life played out across 4 panels with hilarity ensured. At times it was poetic, with an ever-growing cast which also included a giant dog called Bruno and a cautious cat who somehow managed never to land on his feet. But despite having everything in order, the comic was short-lived and we here at The Journalix always felt it, and we as fans, deserved so much more! With Mark O’Hare’s success in Hollywood we’ve been waiting for the day when Citizen Dog was announced as the new cartoon on Nickelodeon. Adult Swim, maybe. But alas, it never came.
Following the launch of the official Citizen Dog Instagram feed, which includes some wonderful sketchbook exclusives showcasing Mark’s ideas for all his work from conception through to the final piece, we were able to set up a telephone interview to talk all about his long and successful career, his inspirations and music too – these are all to come in Part 2 – but first, we wanted to talk all about Citizen Dog, and just where the hell that TV inception is up to…
View this post on Instagram
MARK O’HARE: INTERVIEW – PART I
THE J: How do you usually set up to work?
MO: I have a home studio which I work in. It starts off with a notebook, always. I just have to sit down and start physically drawing. I can think of ideas but like strumming a guitar, and after a few cups of coffee, I have to sit down putting pen to paper. Start scribbling down things, thoughts, and do the physical act of drawing. Doing that for a while, I have tons of notebooks full of ideas and scribbles and that’s the same for TV, film or a comic book.
THE JOURNALIX: So how were Mel and Fergus conceived?
MARK O’HARE: I wanted to do an odd couple comedy at the time I was working on Rocko, learning a lot about conflict and I really wanted a simple space so it was always just going to be a man and his dog. Which a lot of people told me was dumb, it’s been done a million times – but it’s been done a million times because it works! There’s nothing new under the sun, but if you pack it in your own way you will come up with something new. And it felt fresh, you know?
It was called Spot when I first pitched it but that was already taken so I had to come up with another name. I wanted simple shapes. I knew that with the dog being the underdog that he would have to be the active one. The active member of the comedy team that would create the chaos, the catalyst, and Mel would be the straight one and that was off to the races, but then I did that for a while until I discovered the cat.
THE J: Ah we love Cuddles!
MO: Cuddles suddenly became a part of it. He was a prop for a bit but then he became something else and moved to another level. Each of the characters are a part of your personality. Fergus the dog is how I wanted to be. The person that would smash the window out of the car, but I can’t, I’m not gonna do that. I’ve got to be honest, my wife is more like that than me, she’s more likely to say something than I will. But Cuddles was more of the person that I was. The overly naive, too nice, passive aggressive… That’s very much me.
THE J: I cherish these books and it travels really well, I hope the Instagram feed shows that, no doubt it will get a lot of love.
MO: My favourite thing would be to get a response from overseas, I was trying to cut through language and not be too local, so that’s nice to hear.
View this post on Instagram
MO: The notebooks on Instagram have been cool, some look like hieroglyphics completely undecipherable. It’s like a whole mind space and I remember the hum of it. You really just need an ink-pen and paper. I also need to be in public sometimes – my youngest son thought I worked at Starbucks for years because that’s where I always went to work! They had free WiFi and I need people around me. You can have all the built-in shelves with books around me but at the end of the day you’re completely alone! It’s not my thing!
THE J: Would we expect to see a Mel and Fergus lookalike behind the counter?
MO: Haha I think it’s the noise, it allows me to concentrate.
THE J: Have you ever owned a dog?
MO: No. I had a dog for 6 months. We brought a stray dog home and my folks did not like animals but my Dad agreed to keeping him in the backyard but he was a complete nightmare, we had to give him away. I think I ran out of ideas after about 2 months of doing the comic strip and I was just going “good God what will I do?! What have I got myself into?!” but it quite quickly turned into my wife and I living in our house, it’s quite interpersonal stuff. All the conflict between 2 people.
Most of the time it wasn’t completely what was happening, but a few times it was! We bought a new couch and I wrote about it. My wife was a teacher and I would go and I was working from home, lonely as heck. She was meeting parents and then with kids all day long… I would go have lunch with her and I’d be like “whats’ going on? Tell us a story” and I would get ideas! And for some reason I would get ideas in grocery stores, I don’t know why. But those would play out in the comic because that’s what everybody does.
A CHANGE IN STYLE
THE J: I noticed the cartoon style of Citizen Dog changed slightly, almost tidied up from the halfway point of book one.
MO: Maybe it loses something? I prefer the rounder version, when I was working with brush. I like a year or two in are my favourites, and year 3/4. As it went on I started to draw smaller and tried to get faster with it and started to get tedious, falling out of love with the efficiency of it.
THE J: I love the detailed covers of the books, too.
MO: Ah, they are oil paintings by Nick Jennings, he’s art director on SpongeBob! He did those for me, I have one hanging on my wall here now!
THE J: Wow! That’s an exclusive!
MO: Yes, I treasure it. I really wanted to challenge myself, there was a period I wanted to do everything but no that was a big decision for me! I felt funny about it. My friend Derek Drymon (showrunner on SpongeBob) who is a great artist and is so used to collaborating having worked on so many great shows told me I should have Nick do it.
THE RETURN OF CITIZEN DOG…
THE J: Is there any chance it could return?
MO: I’ve always wanted to make a TV show, I would love to try to figure out how to make an animated television show.
THE J: That would be amazing!
MO: I would do that. I was really lucky when I pitched Citizen Dog, I didn’t need anything else. It came at a time of Seinfeld and what I loved about that is that it wasn’t locked into anything that would get lousy and Rocko was the same way. It’s just the way and so I’ve always had trouble to find a hook with them, to make it into a show. I’ve never been able to convince people it’s a story about a guy and a dog and a cat. I’m going to try and do it. There’s something about the broadness of comedy. I’ve always been a fan of the Warner Bros cartoons, Bugs Bunny. If they last only 7 minutes long or whatever if they make you laugh, it doesn’t matter, that’s fine.
View this post on Instagram
WHAT DOES MARK O’HARE READ?
Are you a fan of any other comic books?
MO: Yes, Peanuts and my father was a big fan of Pogo – Walt Kelly the cartoonist is one of the all-time greats. But not lately no, I know there’s a lot but I’m not as in tune with webcomics. I like The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) which is amazingly funny. There’s a lot of great art in graphic novels and there’s a lot of great comedy happening in things and when they’re scaled up into TV shows and movies it works well. I still love print. A comic strip like what I did with Citizen Dog I never tried to launch it online and with the Internet. It’s endless, you know? But I’m strangely uncomfortable in a world without limits!
I was lucky when I started. I had a job for life, I mean how could I complain? Being paid to write a joke a day, I was in heaven! I hoped it would pay the bills but after a while it didn’t and that was OK.
THE J: Well thank you for bringing it into our lives.
MO: Thank you.
If you liked this, you’ll be interested in reading our interview with Aardman’s Will Becher director of 2019’s Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon and lead animator on many more classic films from the genius British stop-motion animation studio.