Joyful news! I created a comic on the canine afterlife and launched it at the Homecooked Comics Festival 2019.
Content: a semi-silent story based on both fact and fiction (as is everything). It contains extractions of real life scenes from my time as a veterinarian, and extrapolations of the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ poem. Begins at the end (with euthanasia), and ends at the beginning (of an eternal sleep).
death : joy : what-the = 1 : 1 : 1
Bringing this comic into existence has given me the hugest dose of fulfilment (!!) as it’s the product of both my vocations, vet/illustration and is a tangible printed thing that I can hold in my hands and give to you ^_^ I’ll walk you through some of the behind-the-scenes. Suffice to say: spoiler+++ alert.
Euthanasia is a unique, deliberate kind of ending that some of us have been both lucky and unlucky enough to consent to on our pets’ behalves. During times of grieving, or when attempting to console, it can be comforting to imagine a place existing on the other side of death. In the vet/pet world, the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ is frequently referenced as a place of this kind—and is what inspired much of the imagery in this story.
The Rainbow Bridge is a popular poem oft-referenced in the pet and vet world. Here’s an excerpt from our friend, the Wikipedia:
The Rainbow Bridge is the theme of several works of poetry written in the 1980s and 1990s that speak of an other-worldly place where pets go upon death, eventually to be reunited with their owners. One is a prose poem whose original creator is uncertain. The other is a six-stanza poem of rhyming pentameter couplets, created by a couple to help ease the pain of friends who lost pets. Each has gained popularity around the world among animal lovers who have lost a pet or wild animals that are cared for. The belief has many antecedents, including similarities to the Bifröst bridge of Norse mythology.
The Rainbow Bridge story is one of consolation, waiting and reuniting—reassurance for the human(s) left behind. Frankly, it always sent a gentle shudder down my spine due to its saccharine and indulgent manner of conveying to humans: you are remembered, you are loved, things will be okay. When it’s difficult to find the right words during such a devastating time, mention of the Rainbow Bridge can bring solace to some and many. I wanted to reimagine the Rainbow Bridge by bringing focus back onto the experience of the afterlife-traversing pet. And to tell a story that offers a non-waiting, soft-closure, less human-centric end-of-life experience.
I compiled some of my favourite Rainbow Bridge references from Google images to show the main design aesthetic that this poem often manifests in. Honest work—with heart.
With the exception of the template black-and-white example in the middle-right, I loved that the creators of these rainbow bridge printables went beyond just a copy and paste (although they all started with that). The extra decorative elements they added are equivalent to adding an extra bow or two to a specially wrapped gift, or using their ‘special occasion’ cursive handwriting in the card to accompany. These extra embellishments show that a human had a hand in it, and this was too sweet not to include in the addendum of the printed zine.
In honour of all of this previously made work: Good Boy literally has a rainbow ‘thread’ running through it.
Good Boy occurs in 3 (un-named) acts, which I shall hereby name:
Act 1: Euthanasia
Act 2: The Afterlife
Act 3: The EverAfterlife
I poured feelings from my body into these drawings, and hence went through an emotional rollercoaster during the work-in-progress. There were so many different states, contexts and hats to wear while my hand worked onwards and the clock kept ticking.
Gut-wrenching loss; clinical professionalism and protocol; tricky interpersonal territories navigated; deciding what’s ethical to include and not include; indescribable joy; gentle relief; childhood memories; adulthood memories; being so happy for my main canine character; hilariousness; quiet closure.
If you’re super curious, you can click on any one of the storyboard pages above to enlarge it to a shameful degree of legible, but not necessarily comprehendible detail.
Each page was drawn on A4-sized 80gsm (thin!) paper that somehow survived frequent erasing and rough handling by grubby-graphite-stained hands. Storyboarding is intended (and universally/professionally supposed) to be quick and rough, rather than slow and detailed. Alas, I relish (and self-sabotage) in the details, and with naive optimism pursued them early for quick little bouts of hopeful wins that this labour of love might turn out good.
Within the storyboard you might spot things like: various sprinkler configurations; dosage calculations for how many millilitres of euthanasia solution should be drawn (excuse the pun) into a syringe for a 20kg dog; a string of sausages; and procrastinating on the cover design before even writing the rest of the story :-P
Merijn Hos creates the most mesmirising colour combinations in his work, which also happen to be on rotation as my desktop background. I also gave the apple loading icon (the spinning ‘wheel of death’) an analogue reincarnation—whereby it cameos as section breaks. I drew it still/static to offer some pause between contexts.
Conviction is not my strong suit, so there was a lot of fussing on my behalf at this stage of the process. I wanted to use some of the colours of the rainbow, but not all of the colours of the rainbow!
The whole comic was illustrated digitally using Procreate app on my 10.5” 2017 iPad pro, the apple pencil (wrapped in the death grip of my eager right hand) and these 3 brushes:
Using Procreate is always a delight. It’s a super user-friendly and straightforward interface that provides a close to real-life lush drawing experience overall. I highly recommend it, and it’s one of my favourite drawing apparati outside of black muji pen + paper.
However, there are 3 key things currently a-lacking in this app, that if you’re as stubborn as I am, can be overcome via various manual processes and workarounds:
The ability to create of multiple pages in one document. Each 2-page spread was a separate single image that needed its own export process. The final print-ready file was created in InDesign.
An option to include visible printing guidelines (bleeds/trims/gutter for ‘safe zones to draw in’). I drew these in manually, and not quite accurately either. This had consequences that thankfully my designer whizz studiomate was able to help out with later in InDesign…not without some trial and error.
And lastly: although I don’t use them as much as other comic artists do—the ability to set up panels and edit panel layouts with ease. This could be overcome by creating your own template, but time+++
For these reasons, I’m going to give Clip Studio Paint a whirl next time!
That freshly printed new-book smell. Yes, I did bury my whole face in it when it first arrived. Yes, I did take a selfie with it. Yes, I was marvelling for a long time in the carpark with Good Boy against the steering wheel, gazing at its cover like a new mum.
And the satisfaction of seeing 100s of hours of digital drawing in printed form…is ultimate.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! And if you have any questions, comments or interesting factoids, feel free to email me: email@example.com
Give Good Boy (and other pets) a home:
I’ll be donating $5 from each sale of Good Boy to support the work of pet rehoming charity Pet Rescue. Thank you in advance for helping me do this!
You can find copies of Good Boy in one of these places:
Online in my shoppe
Sticky Institute, Degraves Subway, Melbourne VIC
Happy Valley, Collingwood VIC
Pink Ember Studio, Coburg VIC
The All Story, Newcastle NSW
Cheers! To Life, and To Death ^_^