I began drawing cartoons when I was a teacher, using a rabbit to express the feelings of the high school kids in my classes. On a day when I was giving a test, I’d come in, plop my books down on the desk and draw a rabbit on the blackboard. He might be lying on his back, holding a daisy, his eyes little crosses to show he’d died. Or he might look worried and the balloon over his head would say, Oh, no, I forgot to study. After a while, I began to put the rabbit right on the test and one morning when I was late and forgot the rabbit, the kids went on strike. They wouldn’t take the test until I drew the rabbit on the board.
It was easy to see the power of cartoons, particularly ones that showed emotions not always that evident in “real life.” But there was something else going on. Because the rabbit stood alone against a plain background, because there were no extraneous distractions, the message was always clear and memorable. More than that, it was funny, and humor, I discovered, is a great teaching tool.
It was natural to continue cartooning when I became a dog trainer and began to write articles and books about dogs. Here was a way to show the foibles of the human in a memorable and non-insulting way. Here was a way to show the emotion a dog might be feeling to give the information more punch. Here was a way to avoid the distraction of everything else that would be in a photo, things that had nothing to do with what I needed to say. And here was a way to let the image do the talking – to remind dog owners, say, that a leash should be loose, not tight, by drawing it that way. Or not. All the better when I made myself the human who was doing everything wrong.
The interesting thing about graphic presentation is that it requires a different kind of engagement from the reader. It is more like a brain game, a game in which you need to see the elements in the drawing, the distractions the dog must ignore, the loose curve of the leash, the simple buckle collar, the body language of dog and human or dog and dog, the connections between species – mental, physical and emotional, the shared affection – now made visible in “art,” the humor involved in raising and training a dog, and the love, all clear if you take a moment to look.