Celebrating the Dog Days

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Aliso Viejo cartoonist Mark O'Hare wanted to keep things simple when he decided to create a syndicated comic strip a few years ago. The result: "Citizen Dog," a cartoon about a man and his dog.

"You can't get any simpler than that," O'Hare, 29, said with a laugh. "I love simple ideas; they communicate quickly and easily to people."

"Citizen Dog," which was launched by Universal Press Syndicate in May 1995, now appears in nearly 100 newspapers, including The Times.

Fans of Mel (the man) and Fergus (his all-too-human dog) will get a kick out of "Citizen Dog: A Comic Strip Collection by Mark O'Hare" (Andrews McMeel Publishing; $9.95). Mission Viejo cartoonist Kevin Fagan did.

Fagan, who draws the "Drabble" cartoon strip, wrote the foreword for his pal O'Hare's book, a collection of the first year's worth of cartoons. A big fan of the strip, Fagan writes: "I laughed so hard at 'Citizen Dog' one day that I actually got the hiccups."

In creating Mel and Fergus, O'Hare relied on a comedy staple.

"I wanted to do a comedy routine with a straight guy and his comedic partner, like a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or an Abbott and Costello kind of a classic comedy," said O'Hare, who had experience with that type of humor.

Before launching his strip, he spent four years as a storyboard artist and writer on the Nickelodeon cartoon series, "Rocko's Modern Life," in which "Rocko was a straight guy and had a lot of crazy friend characters. Working in TV taught me a lot about contrast and characters and conflict."

In designing his two main characters, O'Hare said, "I wanted to bring the man and the dog closer together, to make the man less human and the dog less dog so they kind of meet in the middle."

Mel, according to O'Hare, is "the nice guy who can't say no. He's an optimist and he's always trying to win. He likes things calm and quiet, and he's gotten this dog that isn't fitting in with his plans."

In one strip, Mel happily sets out the dog dish and announces, "Dinner time!!!" But Fergus bypasses the dog food, picks up the wall phone and says: "Hello, Pizza Hut?"

O'Hare didn't model the clueless Mel and the savvy Fergus after anyone, but "there's a piece of me, of course, in all the writing and what they go through. If I go through an experience, they go through it as well."

O'Hare added that a third character, Cuddles the cat, is "very much like myself: He's the underdog of the strip. . . . The irony of it is just gripping, isn't it?"

O'Hare, who works at a drawing table in a spare bedroom, acknowledges that coming up with a constant stream of ideas is the hardest part of doing a daily cartoon strip.

"It can get very thin at times," he said. But like Mel, O'Hare is an eternal optimist. "There's always a new idea around the corner."

A "big fan of Snoopy and Pogo" as a kid growing up first in Rancho Palos Verdes and then the Midwest, O'Hare said cartooning was always something he wanted to do.

He entered Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., as an aeronautical engineering major but switched to graphic arts after creating "Art Gallery," a "Bloom County"-inspired comic strip that ran in the student newspaper for three years and earned several Indiana State Collegiate Press awards.

"It was my true calling," said O'Hare, who went on to study character animation at the California Institute of the Arts, during which he worked on Ralph Bakshi's production of "Cool World."

Since starting his cartoon strip, O'Hare has continued to freelance storyboards for Nickelodeon cartoon shows such as "Hey Arnold!," "The Ren and Stimpy Show," "Dexter's Laboratory," "Life With Louis" and "Hyperman."

He and Julie, his wife of three years, moved to Aliso Viejo from Burbank in late 1994. On what prompted the move O'Hare said: "It's just so nice down here, what can I say?"

O'Hare will break away from his drawing board long enough to sign copies of "Citizen Dog" at 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble, 26751 Aliso Creek Road, Aliso Viejo.

Also This Week

* Rochelle Krich, author of "Fertile Ground," will speak at an author's brunch at 11 a.m. today at the Jewish Community Center, 250 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa. $7 for members; $10 for nonmembers. For more information, call (714) 755-0340.

* Sophie Dunbar, author of "Redneck Riviera," will speak and sign at 2 p.m. today at Coffee, Tea & Mystery, 13232 Springdale St., Westminster.

* Sharon Drew Morgen, author of "Selling With Integrity," will speak and sign at 7 p.m. Monday at Borders Books and Music, 429 Associated Road, Brea.

* Poets Marco Vasques, Tim Perez and Neil Miranda will read at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Alta Coffee House & Roasting Company, 506 31st St., Newport Beach.

* Stella Togo Crawley, author of "In Honor of Women: A Revolutionary Approach to Preventing Breast Cancer," will speak and sign at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes & Noble, 13712 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

* Sue Oleson, author of "El Nino Survival Cookbook: Cooking Without Conveniences," will speak and sign at 7 p.m. Friday at Borders Books and Music, 429 Associated Road, Brea.

* Carmen Berry and Lynn Barrington, co-authors of "Daddies and Daughters," will sign at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble in Metro Pointe, 901 South Coast Drive, Costa Mesa.

* A meeting to select a board of directors for the new Orange County chapter of the California Writers Club will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Glendale Federal Bank, 100 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. For information about the club, which was founded by Jack London in 1908, call John Farmer at (714) 871-7322.

* Philip Reed, author of "Low Rider," and Martin J. Smith, author of "Shadow Image," will sign at 1 p.m. Saturday at Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin Ave., Orange.

* Cartoonist Kevin Fagan will sign copies of his collection, "Son of Drabble," at 1 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble, 13712 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

* KNBC weatherman Christopher Nance, author of "If Not for Weather We Would All Be Naked," will read and sign at 11 a.m. Saturday at Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe, 4199 Campus Drive, Irvine.

* Su Falcon, author of "The Mechanics of Poetry," will conduct a free poetry-writing workshop at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Borders Books and Music, 429 Associated Road, Brea.

* A used-book sale will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Crown Valley Library, 30341 Crown Valley Parkway, Laguna Niguel.

Send information about book-related events at least 10 days before the event to: Dennis McLellan, O.C. Books & Authors, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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