Monday, February 16, 2015

An Artist Among Us

For the first installment of the newly reinvigorated and refocused VetWrite blog, I had the privilege to chat with a wonderfully creative veterinarian, Dr. Dean Scott. Dean is the creator of, and more to the point, a cartoonist. Some of you might be familiar with his art, as it makes its way across the web.
Originally from Orlando, Dean likes to say he survived vet school at UC-Davis and graduated in 1993. A general feeling of lack of support left him and his fellow students floundering in a sea of disinterested clinicians. "I found vet school harder than it needed to be, which is the best way to say it," Dean says. "It seemed like: hey, we got you to school and now good luck."

Fortunately, some vet schools now seem to have recognized the need for support for the very students they cultivate. This and the shift in student body population from primarily male to primarily female are some of the interesting ways that make today's vet schools in the US not the vet schools of yesteryear, which would make for a fascinating retrospective commentary in and of itself, but we digress.

The good thing about Dean's vet school experience--other than it allowing him to reach his childhood dream of being a vet--was that it honed his creative skills. He had fodder for doodles which became cartoons and two books. He had material and a method of therapy. Turns out, vet school is comedic gold.

Dean actually started drawing in 1988, prior to entry into vet school, when he was working at a small animal clinic. "It was a very small practice and I decided to put together some cartoons about things that happened in the practice and they really liked it."

Once in vet school, a small handful of drawings grew into collections. "Vet school was rife with material," Dean says. "During lectures I would doodle and make jokes in the margin of the syllabus. I just sort of wrote stuff down and it went from there." During Dean's junior year, he created a list called 1000 Vet School Stresses. Picking the best off this list, Dean had his first book, From the Back Row.

The late Dr. Sophia Yin was in Dean's class. "She had Cattle Dog Publishing and she was kind enough to throw me a bone, so to speak, and she published my first book." Another reminder that the vet world is a small, delicate world, friends. Let's keep each other close and take care of each other.

This brings us to an interesting tangent into the publishing world, a theme I'd like to explore deeper as these blogs continue. Dean cuts right to the chase when he describes his struggles of finding a publisher for his comedic vet material. "It's really hard. People understand text books but people do not seem to understand humor books in the veterinary profession." The responses he received from numerous publishers for this first book were lukewarm, at best. There simply was no interest.

"A lot of publishers, even if they do veterinary books, they don't do humor. Think about how few people that you can point to that do humor in the veterinary profession. What I see in our profession is that we need to lighten up."

So it's not just a question of how to get our work published. It's a statement of need. "I think at least in part, we deal with a lot of suffering," says Dean. "We shoulder a great deal of burden and we put that burden on ourselves a lot. I think we need to give ourselves a little bit of a break. I think there's a need out there for acknowledging how difficult things are without being morose about it."

Given that, Dean has been incredibly prolific. Hundreds of his cartoons are cataloged on his website; he's recently written a sequel to From the Back Row, Vet Med Spread; published a series called The Incomplete Dog Book on Smashwords; blogs; has a YouTube channel; creates his own vet-related graphics and designs for shirts and signs on Cafepress; and he still cartoons, publishing new ones on his website regularly.

Dean speaks on how to find time for your creative outlets. "Regardless of what profession you do, I think everyone has something in them that needs some kind of expression. I would never have thought cartooning of myself. I have no training. It just grew as an outlet. I think everyone has that. You do it for yourself first and you should never look at what you do as, oh, that's not good enough. It's not a matter of whether it's good enough. It's a matter of: it's what you do, it's how you express yourself.

"You have to make time [to be creative]. As vets, we are geared to do anything and everything animal all the time and if you have something else that gives you energy, you should go do that also. You do have to put a little internal pressure on yourself, but hopefully it's not the same kind of pressure that your clients put on you. But when you sit down and do it, it's relaxing, you find your brain playing with stuff. You have to give your brain play time."

Given the amount of cartoons Dean has produced over more than two decades, it's understandably difficult for him to have a favorite. "I like a lot of them, they're like children to me," he says. Fans, however, tend to have a standout favorite. "Everyone likes what I call the Boo Boo cartoon," says Dean. "It shows a veterinarian on the phone. You can't see his face because he has his hand on his forehead and he's saying: 'No Mrs. Smith, I don't think it would be helpful to put Boo Boo on the phone. Oh, hey Boo Boo.' Everyone loves that cartoon."

Stay tuned. Monday, March 2 is the next post.

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