Monday, October 5, 2015

Creative Cartooning

It's been a while since we talked to a cartoonist. Remember Dr. Dean Scott? What a hoot. Us veterinarians need to cartoon more. That should probably be a decree from AVMA. I'll write to them. Make a proposal.

Luckily, there is at least one relatively new vet cartoonist in the ranks and I'm thrilled to feature him and his awesome work here on VetWrite. Dear readers, meet Dr. Vishal Murthy, a recent graduate from Ontario Veterinary College. As an artist in the veterinary field, Vishal is using his knowledge and talents to create educational and entertaining media that ranges from study aids for the veterinary student to actual comics about daily life in vet med.
Courtesy Vishal Murthy, DVM
"I've been drawing cartoons ever since I could pick up a pencil," says Vishal of his beginnings in this art form. "Some of my biggest influences have been the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, the Bone series, and of course, the Disney cartoons. But it was only a couple of years ago that I really realized that I could combine my passion for cartoons with veterinary medicine and I'm still exploring all the avenues before me. I tend to draw a lot of my ideas from my own experiences in practice, or those that my colleagues share with me."
Courtesy Vishal Murthy, DVM

With an interest in small animal neurology, Vishal is currently on a rotating internship. While this leaves little time for cartooning, Vishal continues to plunge ahead and build his brand. He currently categorizes his work into three main groups:
  • "Vet Tails" are comics highlighting the lighter side of the veterinary profession (he's been invited to contribute some of these to The Scalpel, the bi-annual newsletter of the Toronto Academy of Veterinary Medicine); 
  • Cartoon Vet School: comics geared toward vet students (think illustrated fun times with infographics and scientific wordy-gurdy); and 
  • Veterinary Infographics: comics aimed at the general public, providing basic information on a range of diseases.
Courtesy Vishal Murthy, DVM. For full cartoon on heart block, see

"I've got some big plans for my website that I'm slowly working towards," says Vishal. "I'm interested in both education and entertainment."

It's interesting to me to notice how a certain artist has a certain style and Vishal's work is certainly very stylistic. "My art style is constantly evolving, so its hard to describe," he says. "I tend to stay away from realism and make things quite cartoony. I find that I often tend to adjust the style to match the content - something you'll sometimes see on my website. For most of my comics, I try to keep a focus on strong silhouettes and shapes with simple lines, expressive features, and building character. Simplicity is key these days, especially given my time constraints."

Courtesy Vishal Murthy, DVM
Contextually, Vishal's work reminds me of Pasquini's Anatomy of Domestic Animals. Almost every member of my vet school class, including myself, had a copy. The drawings and cartoons helped me learn anatomy and physiology. In fact, there is one drawing, on page 565 of the tenth edition, that made me finally understand how to locate spinal cord lesions based on upper motor neuron versus lower motor neuron signs:

from Pasquini's Anatomy of Domestic Animals, 10th ed.
Seeing this drawing was my one and only eureka moment of my life. Too bad it hadn't happened before the exam... 

Courtesy Vishal Murthy, DVM
Vishal says that since many people are visual learners, cartoons can just be an extension of that learning process. "Along with all the handwritten notes I made to get me through school, I drew out a lot of the concepts, made flowcharts and more. Cartoons can help serve the same end. Often a fun cartoon can make a dull or complex concept more relatable, memorable, and allows for better understanding," he says.

Courtesy Vishal Murthy, DVM
Drawing to educate veterinary students may be one thing, but illustrating complex biological processes for the lay public is an entirely different challenge and Vishal seems keen to build this bridge. "We have a lot of complex concepts and diseases to present to an audience that often doesn't have the background to fully understand them. I think visual aids, and comics in particular, are great in helping bridge that gap to both educate and entertain."

Vishal discusses OneHealth and collaboration with other medical professionals as being some key challenges that veterinary medicine faces over the next few years, but in his own way, he's already making an impact on that: user-friendly information for all.

"Its an exciting time to be a veterinarian - there's much to be done, and lots of us ready to meet the challenges that arise," Vishal says. His ambition and enthusiasm are contagious. Follow Vishal on Twitter: @vetcartoonist and @VishalMurthyDVM.

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