One year ago today, the world lost one of its most talented cartoonists — Brad Anderson, creator of my second favourite Great Dane, Marmaduke.
Scooby Doo is of course my favourite of the Gentle Giants, but Marmaduke has always been a close follow-up. A horse-size ball of zany antics, Marmaduke kept his owners, the Winslows, and their neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Snyder, on their toes. Whether he was dragging Phil at top speed down the street, sneaking bones into Dottie’s stew, letting Barbara play dress-up with him, or saying bedtime prayers with Billy, the loveable giant found a permanent home in readers’ hearts.
Anderson served in the Navy during the Second World War (1943-46), and in 1951, he graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, majoring in advertising. For a short while he had a position at the advertising agency Ball & Grier, then moved on to freelancing for Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and other various magazines. From 1954 to 1966, Anderson was responsible for drawing another syndicated comic strip, Grandpa’s Boy. But how could he have known that his greatest triumph would come in the shape of a goofy, monster-sized dog?
Brad Anderson’s beloved canine-centric comic strip, Marmaduke, debuted in the fall of 1954. I’ve heard various stories regarding how Anderson finally settled on the gargantuan Great Dane breed for his comic companion. His mother’s boxer, a Great Dane he remembered from his childhood in his hometown… Who’s to say for sure what the real inspiration was, but in “Cartoonist Profiles” #56 (1982), Anderson had this to say about his creation:
“…during the time, I was drawing various types of dogs in my magazine cartoons, I was also trying to develop a dog character specifically for eventual newspaper syndication [….] you couldn’t see the eyes of my shaggy dogs, so as I thought more about it I decided I wanted a dog where I could have an expressive face…”
From “American Profiles: The Man Behind Marmaduke” (2010):
“I didn’t want to do another shaggy dog, though, because I had no interest in drawing all that floppy hair. I wanted a short-haired dog similar to this big boxer that my mother and stepfather had at the time. He was kind of a funny, clownish dog that I used as a model, but I wanted an even bigger dog.”
Well, he certainly couldn’t have picked a more distinctive-featured breed for Marmaduke: Big, pointy ears; wide, slobbery grin; huge paws and expressive eyes. For a number of years, Brad and his wife, Barbara, had a real Great Dane — a female named Marmaladee. What better way to caricaturize a “thinks-he’s-a-human” hound than having a real one right there for reference?
He’s not a talking dog. He doesn’t have a balloon above his head, he doesn’t walk on his hind legs. He walks and does things a real dog would do.
~ Brad Anderson
According to Time magazine, Marmaduke is syndicated in nearly 400 newspapers, and elsewhere I’ve seen a figure of 600 newspapers and 20 countries at its peak. Anderson was producing Marmaduke strips right up until his death in 2015. In his later years, Brad enlisted his son Paul (also a cartoonist) to help keep the strip alive. According to a live Twitter event hosted by GoComics.com in 2014, Paul has also owned Great Danes — two: Maximillion and Tasha — truly making him the perfect artist to continue his father’s iconic strip with the same talent and spirit that has made it so endearing for the last 62 years.
The National Cartoonists Society recognized Brad Anderson’s incredible talent twice: First in 1978 with the Best Comic Panel Award, and then with The Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. In 1999, he was also the recipient of the George Arents Award: Syracuse University’s highest alumni honor for outstanding contributions in his or her chosen field.
On July 2, 2016, in Brocton, New York, the Brad Anderson Recognition Committee of Portland unveiled a bronze statue (created by artist Don Sottille) to pay tribute to their hometown boy. The sculpture depicts Anderson at his drawing table with his beloved comic creation, Marmaduke, faithfully by his side.
Marmaduke was initially drawn as a mean-ish, scowling pooch which, sure, might have made for some good chuckles. But when his creator transformed him into the grinning, bouncing, exuberantly happy dog we now all know and love, he became something much more than a simple cartoon canine. Brad Anderson gave man’s best friend a soul. Marmaduke represented a feeling and an attitude that’s sadly in short supply these days. He gave us hope, he gave us laughter, and to this day he reminds us that it’s those little moments in life that matter most.
The dog with the soul of a saint, immortalized forever on a few million sheets of newsprint and in countless comic digests. Brad Anderson may be gone, but Marmaduke will live on.