I’ve spoken before about A Piggy’s Tale, a very loveable animal adventure comic that is currently in the last week of its Kickstarter campaign, written by Tod Emko and illustrated by Ethan Young. I loved it so much that I wanted to chat to Emko himself, a known conservationist featured on the popular TV show Whale Wars, and remind people to go and check out the comic.
Emko is known as a conservationist world wide, both from Whale Wars and as the founder of Darwin Animal Doctors, the only animal hospital in the Galapagos Islands. Remarkably A Piggy’s Tale is based on the true story of Emko’s own dog, Piggy, who may not be able to fly but does indeed have a special gift.
Tell me a bit about A Piggy’s Tale – it’s a bit of an origin story isn’t it?
A Piggy’s Tale is a superhero adventure tale, starring rescue animals! The origin story part of it is based on the true story of my tripod rescue dog, named Piggy. He and his smart-alack cat named Simon discover amazing abilities, fly throughout New York City, fight crime, save victims in need, and inspire other animals to become heroes too.
Piggy is based on the real life story of a dog you rescued in similar circumstances to those we see in the book. Is it fair to say that the real-life Piggy has been a real inspiration?
Piggy is indeed the inspiration. He’s like a real life superhero! I found him as a puppy in the Dominican Republic after he got hit by a car; he was almost dead by that point, and he was so sick that all his hair fell off. He looked like a hairless piglet, so I named him Piggy. When I brought him to New York, he fought through his illness, his pain, and his injury to become a strong, proud, and happy dog. But that’s just the start of the story. His trials and ordeal gave him a special gift: the ability to sense the suffering of others. He seeks out and gives compassion to those who just suffered a tragedy. It’s a trait that’s inspired me, our friends, even his dogwalkers. By sharing his story in an adventure comic, he can inspire people around the world!
Obviously the real-life Piggy has been in your life for a few years now, but was this project one that has been in the works for a while or did it come to you more recently? What was the spark that lit this project alight?
I had the idea in my head for a while, but it only started to take real shape this summer. Just prior to this summer, I was a crewmember on the Sea Shepherd Australia ships, chasing the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica. Most people have heard of this annual campaign from the TV show Whale Wars. Sea Shepherd Australia takes ships down to the Southern Oceans to stop the Japanese whaling fleet from illegally killing whales in an international whale sanctuary. The battles get intense, as the Japanese military throws grenades at us and fires water cannons at us and rams us with ships twelve times our size. I’m very lucky to be part of such a brave organization that stands up to such a well-funded killing machine.
During this last Antarctic campaign, I saw countless amazing stories unfold in front of me. And I started to realize that amazing true stories need to be told, so that everyone can feel moved and motivated by them. Whale Wars tells the story of the Antarctic whale campaigns, but someone still needed to tell the story of my super dog!
What made you pick comics as your medium for this particular story? Are you a comics fan, and if so, who are your inspirations?
I LOVE comics. I grew up learning to read through comics. When I was a little kid, I wanted to make comics for a living. While I loved a lot of standard superhero comics, like Spider-Man or Batman, I always gravitated towards comics that starred animals, like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes. Smart animals, with animal insights, being companions to humans who are enriched for having these animals around. However, there was never a good superhero comic that starred rescue animals. A Piggy’s Tale aims to fill that gap.
How did Ethan Young, creator of the popular Tails webcomic, come on board the project?
I’ve been friends with Ethan for a long time. We’re both Asian American vegan New Yorker crazy-cat-lady comics fans. Let’s just say we see eye to eye on a lot! I would have collaborated with him on any comics project just based on that alone. But as luck would have it, he’s also an amazing, accomplished, and recognized cartoonist.
As your first comic, how did you find the whole experience of collaborating?
I can say wholeheartedly that I couldn’t do this without Ethan’s help! Not just in illustrating. He’s helped me through the whole process. Helping me see how characters would see. Letting me know where we need to inject humor or action into the story. Giving his experience in each part of the comics creation process. He also knows Piggy, so he knows this story well and is quite close to it. His illustrations relay this story a lot better than words ever could.
In my previous article about A Piggy’s Tale I described it as being suitable for all ages, because it is appealing and suitable for children while still engaging for adults – is that the line you were trying to stay on, or are you happy for it to mostly be for kids (or adults!)?
I’d love for both kids and adults alike to enjoy this story! All the best adventure stories are suitable for both audiences. Star Wars, Superman, Lord of the Rings, these are not age-specific tales. Overcoming great odds to become a hero, discovering inspiring traits inside you that allow you to accomplish the incredible, standing up to powerful evil. I think these are universal to storytelling regardless of age. A Piggy’s Tale can entertain adults just as much as children.
I think it’s quite important to note that the main character of the comic has a very obvious disability being three-legged. Obviously we’re talking about a dog character here, but still, it’s not something we often get to see in comics – much less in ones with superpowers! This comes very much from the real story of Piggy, but is it also something you feel is important as a creator?
The fact that Piggy is differently-abled – and of course, not a human – is central to the story. Being different and having obstacles to overcome is the reason people strive to become more. It’s the reason people often discover their inner powers and abilities. Being different, you often have to prove yourself twice as much as someone “normal.” And through that, you become an inspiring story. Anyone who meets Piggy realizes in an instant that he’s not “handicapped” at all. He’s just different.
As well as two issues of the comic, the Kickstarter campaign also promises a Piggy video game for iOS and Android – how important was this multimedia approach to you as a creator?
I thought that to engage people today, it was vital to explore all ways to reach people’s attention. Games, music, images, they’re all paths to reaching people and keeping a story in people’s minds. If people take Piggy’s journey in the form of a game, and fight evil alongside him, they’ll “walk in his shoes,” all three of them, and appreciate tripod rescue dogs as much as if they read his story in depth. If they hear his puppy-hood story and thoughts in a song, it will ring in their heads all day!
The Kickstarter is to fund the first two issues – are there plans to continue the series beyond that?
I would love Piggy’s story to continue for a long, long time, as he has countless stories to tell! After these two issues, there are more character friends to meet, more obstacles to overcome, more abilities to discover, and more evil to confront than you’d ever think possible in one lifetime.
So many people who have joined this Kickstarter have said how much they can’t wait to hear more of Piggy’s story. The people who want to read A Piggy’s Tale are waiting to be inspired. And we have plenty of stories to appease them.
The Kickstarter campaign has 7 days of funding left, so if you fancy supporting this comic – or getting it for the youngsters in your life – go and check it out!
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.