Mark and Humphrey

“With my heart set on getting a Pug, I looked on the Internet and was very lucky for, quite quickly, I found someone nearby whose own Pug had recently had puppies. She had had six, but only two brothers survived.”

Mark Wood, already one of Britain’s most published cartoonists, was recalling the way the little puppy who was to inspire his most famous character had entered his life.

“I arranged to go and see the litter. When I arrived, both puppies immediately came to see me, so I sat on the floor with them and they climbed all over me. Then one of the puppies, the one who was to be mine, decided to bite the back of my pullover and kept tugging it. I arranged to pick him up the following week for his new life.”

This falling in love at first sight is a familiar story to most of us whose lives have been taken over by our dogs.

“For some reason, the very day after meeting that tugging puppy, the name Humphrey came to me, and I knew then that that was what I was going to call him.”

And the rest, as is often claimed, is history.

Mark’s whimsical captioned drawings of his Pug have received international attention. With almost 20,000 followers on Humphrey’s Facebook page and now a popular paperback book, Humphrey the Lovable Little Pug, fanciers of the breed as well as scores of others have taken notice.

“I have always loved animals,” Mark explains, “and growing up we had cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, fish, and even lizards, and then a yellow Labrador called Mikey. It was after Mikey passed away that I found myself reading a lot about Pugs, a breed I had always liked. So much of what was written about their unique qualities and their sense of fun drew me to them. And when Humphrey himself came into my life I found that Pugs had all the qualities that had been written about as well as a great deal more.

“I love everything about the breed and am convinced you could not find a better friend or companion. From their character to their expressions and their attitude, there is nothing quite like a Pug.”

Having had my own life enriched by Mame, Jicky, and now Jane, three of these formidable creatures in succession, I couldn’t agree more.

The artist continues: “Humphrey enjoys car rides where we go to many places for his walks, out in the woodlands, and even the seaside (although he is not keen on getting his feet wet). We’ve also gone further afield on holidays and he enjoys walking through town centers and meeting people.”

Mark Wood was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1977 and continues to live there. This large town in Kent, about an hour outside of London, had at one time the reputation of being the archetypal conservative stronghold and achieved worldwide comic attention through a fictitious complainer—“Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”—who wrote dramatic letters to the press bemoaning the collapse of traditional values. Nonetheless, it was and is a very pleasant place in which to live and to nurture a Pug.

Mark had no formal art training, but delighted in drawing—particularly cartoons—since he was quite young.

“Growing up,” he explains, “I really enjoyed reading UK comic magazines like The Beano and loved comic strips like Garfield, The Wizard of Id, and a UK comic strip called Beau Peep. I would have to say my favorite cartoon back then, and still to this day, is Calvin and Hobbes. I admire both the writing and fantastic artwork of Bill Watterson. As to other artists, I especially enjoy the work of David Shrigley. He works in many fields—drawing, photography, and sculpture—and incorporates humor into much of what he does.

“I myself started sending cartoons to newspapers while I was still at school and had my first work published in The Sun newspaper, a national publication at the age of fourteen. Once out of school, in 1993, I started drawing cartoons full time. Since then more than 4,000 of my cartoons have appeared in dozens of publications around the world.”

An overview of Mark’s output can be seen on one of his websites, www.markwoodcartoonist.co.uk, but it is apparent that his creation of Humphrey catapulted his career. And it has brought him particular joy. “Drawing Humphrey’s cartoons is very special. It combines my love for Humphrey and my love for drawing all at the same time.”

And with those words he has joined a select and prestigious group of artists who have immortalized Pugs in their work.

There is, of course, William Hogarth and his famous self-portrait The Painter and His Pug (1745). That dog, Trump, has been said to have features resembling Hogarth’s own and that he serves, according to the Tate, “as an emblem of the artist’s own pugnacious character.”

Pug fans can also name other artists of more recent vintage who have celebrated the breed: the supremely gifted Hilary Knight who gave life and a sense of humor to Kay Thompson’s Eloise and to Eloise’s Pug Weenie, the dog who looked like a cat . . . the aristocratic Enrico D’Assia, whose exquisite and seriously collectable tome Pugorama, showcases some fantasy examples . . . and currently Victoria Roberts, whose cartoons in The New Yorker often feature Pugs and whose marvelous illustrated novel After the Fall, boasts three of them.

Yes, Mark Wood is in impressive company, is being celebrated internationally, and loves what he does.

What could be better for a young artist or, indeed, for anybody else?

For those who are not familiar with Mark Wood’s chronicles of Humphrey, it is suggested that they visit his website at www.humphreythepug.com or his Facebook page. There they’ll find an excellent sampling of Puggy cartoons as well as more information about him and his book.

Issue Twenty Two