“I’ve been lucky in my career,” says Raeside. “I started without realizing it was a billion-to-one shot. It was part luck, part stupidity, maybe tenacity – and being no good at anything else.” To prove his point, Raeside tells the story of applying for a sales job as a young man. He appeared at a location – “sort of a dodgy place” – for an aptitude test. He wasn’t offered the job. Only then did he ask what he would have been selling: vacuum cleaners.
The evolution (some might say devolution) of print newspapers over the past thirty years has had an enormous impact on Raeside’s work and the satisfaction he derives from it. Raeside, age 60, grew up when one watched the nightly news with Walter Cronkite, and filled in the details of those news stories by reading the newspaper the next morning. Back then, newspapers featured lots of cartoons, and many had editorial cartoonists on the payroll. Cartoonists used to host conventions, although as Raeside notes, they could be quite boring. “Cartoonist humor is on paper, not wearing funny hats and big shoes. The conventions were mostly about drinking and sharing how awful it is.” Good friends with Jim Unger, the British Canadian cartoonist best known for his widely-distributed Herman strips, Raeside got to know him when he had a sailboat in the Bahamas, where Unger lived at the time. Raeside fondly remembers Unger remarking on some absurdity, saying in his deep, Cockney-accented voice, “Adrian. This will make you laugh.” Unger died at his home in B.C. in 2012. Raeside misses that camaraderie between two cartoonists who shared not only a profession most don’t understand, but keen senses of humor as well, seeing the absurdities in mundane, everyday things and reflecting them back to us in laugh-out-loud comic form. Sadly, the number of old-school cartoonists still producing is fast dwindling.
Today, says Raeside, cartoons aren’t valued as much, especially as newspaper budgets are shrinking due to lost advertising and subscribers as the markets move online. It’s challenging for cartoonists to find and acquire younger audiences who consume virtually all of their media content online.
Along those lines, the way cartoonists deliver their content has also changed dramatically since the seventies when Raeside started. In his early days, cartoonists would draw a “rough” and send that out as gag content to magazines, hoping one would pay to publish it. In 1978, before the internet was even thought of, Raeside would hand deliver his editorial cartoons to his editor at the Victoria Times Colonist, driving from his home on Salt Spring Island. After ferry fare and gas, he was losing money. Slowly, what he was getting paid increased and Raeside started making a profit. Next came fax machines, followed by modems and the internet, and suddenly his work could instantly be sent far and wide. His editorial comics were soon syndicated to hundreds of papers around the globe.
Raeside remembers the first cartoon he sold. It was for a forestry magazine in 1977; he was paid $2. The comic showed a forestry worker planting seedlings, muttering to himself, “Green up, brown down….” It’s that ability to see the gag, to know what works and what doesn’t, that has propelled Raeside’s career across the decades. It’s not always easy. The trick is knowing whether the gag works, and often that means changing the captions several times (and driving his editor mad in the process). In fact, getting the captions right takes as much time as drawing the strip, Raeside says.
Sometimes – despite the best efforts of Raeside and his editor – an error sneaks through into the published comic. “I never blame the editor for not catching my error before publication,” says Raeside. “But the error’s there forever; that’s the worst part. Most people won’t notice, but there’s always the one who will and points it out.” (Raeside adds, “There are good people, and there’s the designated asshole. It’s a law.”) Then there are the critics, especially when doing editorial cartoons. “I’ve been told my stuff sucks,” says Raeside. And rejection slips – actual form letters on four-by-three-inch paper – were so common early in his career that he once papered the walls of his studio with them. Clearly cartooning is not an occupation for the overly-sensitive.
The Other Coast cartoon strip started under a different name and was initially about an artist. “There were no dogs in the strip at the start,” says Raeside. “But it’s no different from real life, you bring a dog into the house, the next thing you know, they take over… After the first strip with Koko, they took it over. We humans are fascinated by animals, they’re interesting to us. We put our thoughts into their heads, anthropomorphize them, give them personalities. They must think we’re two-legged strange things. Animals are smarter than us – they know when it’s dinner time! They communicate through their body, their eyes, ears, tails; it’s fascinating how much they can tell without saying a word. Adding words in the strips is just one more way to communicate.” Raeside doesn’t always try to keep The Other Coast funny. “Some of my personal opinions are there, for example puppy mills; I’d like to take those people out and hit ‘em with a stick. And sometimes I’ll point out the benefits of adopting dogs from shelters.”
The Other Coast strips prove that Raeside is a keen observer of canine behavior and the human-canine bond, often featuring a dog’s viewpoint on everyday human actions and foibles. Some strips, though, will elicit negative comments. “Some people take it too seriously, or the wrong way. Ninety-nine percent of people are great, but there’s that one percent who react negatively. It’s just black ink on white paper! Some complain that Koko isn’t on a leash or wearing a collar. I tell them The Other Coast is an off-leash strip. Some people overthink, and everyone has an opinion.” Raeside regularly heard opinions from readers when he was doing editorial cartoons. “That’s what has changed,” he notes. “No one writes letters to the editor now. Back then, they’d take pen to paper and write an angry letter. Often, during the lag time between writing and posting, they’d lose their anger and not send it. Today, it’s instant reaction, no reflection. If Mother Theresa were alive and had a blog post saying ‘I saved ten orphans from drowning in a well’ she’d get instant comments like ‘Kids shouldn’t be playing near a well’ followed by a string of comments until the last one has nothing to do with the post. It’s like a tree with a solid trunk that grows branches until eventually you’re in another forest!”
Dogs aren’t the only animals that appear in The Other Coast. The comic also features wolves, bears, eagles, deer – just some of the wildlife Raeside is familiar with, living in Whistler, B.C. Raeside says that with animals as subjects, he never runs out of ideas. Each strip starts with “the rough” as Raeside plays with a gag. “I’ll get an idea and start the rough. I think through the idea, draw a good scene, but have no ending. It might take a while. I try for action, making it as visually appealing as possible. After drawing the rough, I ink it. The captions are now added by computer rather than hand; in the past, changes to captions required a lot of cutting and pasting letters. But sometimes, the gag doesn’t work, the strip dies and I throw it away. I should have discovered it during the rough.”
When asked how long a typical strip takes from start to finish, Raeside responds, “It just depends. Sometimes the idea is right there and draws itself. Other times, I stare at blank paper; I can spend an hour and…nothing. I know when to let an idea go. A cartoon equals putting two normal things together with a twist, for example a wolf and search and rescue; the wolf finds but eats the lost snowboarder.” Many ideas come from simple observation of the people and dogs around him. Raeside can see neighbors and their dogs interacting from his studio window and finds watching them fascinating. “I get the biggest laugh when I see a dog traveling in a car in the front seat next to the driver, looking out at everyone they pass like Marie Antionette observing the groveling masses and saying, ‘What a shame you’re walking.’”
Since 2015 Raeside has been posting his daily strips and Sunday panels on his Facebook page so he can reach a larger audience, especially those who don’t read print newspapers but instead get all of their news and entertainment content online. Raeside often responds to comments to his strips on Facebook, comments that are refreshingly and overwhelmingly positive. He enjoys interacting with his audience that way. “I read the comments on Facebook. If I respond, and they respond, I wonder do I have to respond back? Should I respond to every comment? It can be hard to balance, but I read and appreciate all of the comments.” Raeside is unfailingly polite and respectful. “If someone writes to me, I always respond, unless they call me an asshole! We’re a tribal society, yet nobody speaks to each other. Everybody matters, and there are some fascinating people and stories out there.” Of course, it’s nice getting affirmation for your efforts. “If even one person says ‘I like what you do’ it’s like a dog’s tail wag, a happy thing. Affirmation is key. Cartoon work is a solitary profession; we don’t talk much about what we do, and there are fewer of us around today.”
Two of Raeside’s own dogs feature prominently in The Other Coast – Sakura and Koko. Sakura (the word means cherry blossom in Japanese) was a Papillion who died in 2010, and Koko, a large dog of indeterminant breeding (but mostly Border collie) rescued from the Prince George area of B.C. who died a year later. Both dogs live on in The Other Coast, which Raeside admits includes a fair amount of autobiography. Raeside and his wife Mari have delayed rescuing more dogs because they’ve been traveling a lot but are now giving more serious consideration to adding a dog to their lives. When that happens, readers of The Other Coast will likely see another regular character.
In addition to producing The Other Coast, Raeside has several book projects in the works. The Dennis the Dragon children’s books that his mother wrote in the 1960s and which he illustrated, starting his cartooning career, were originally published in New Zealand. In the late 1980s Raeside re-illustrated the books and added two more. They were re-published to great fanfare – Dairy Queen USA did a promotion – selling over a hundred thousand copies. “Sadly, Mom died just before those were published,” says Raeside. Raeside has regained the rights to the books and plans to re-issue them soon. “They’re good stories. One (Dennis, the Dragon Who Came to Stay) is about how being different is cool.” Another about preserving trees (Dennis and the Tree Guzzler). The best of The Other Coast dog-themed strips have been collected into two books: Tails Don’t Lie and Tails Don’t Lie 2. Raeside is also working on a young adult book with a different illustration style, one he’s been working on for years. All told, Raeside has authored eighteen books. Having many projects going at the same time has its benefits, he says, finding that it’s often good for him to step away from something for a time, coming back to it with fresh eyes.
Raeside eventually extended his cartoon drawing skills into animation, creating, directing and producing dozens of animated shows for Turner Broadcasting and Children’s Television Workshop in the 1980s and 1990s. After leaving animation production, he continued to write scripts for animated series such as Atomic Betty and Kid vs. Kat. On a more serious note and delving into his own family history, Raeside researched and wrote Return to Antarctica, an account of his grandfather’s role in the famous 1910 race to the South Pole. He also wrote and produced a TV documentary based on the book.
The Rainbow Bridge – A Visit to Pet Paradise is an illustrated story authored by Raeside in 2012, meant to help those of us who have lost a beloved pet process our grief and loss. Raeside poignantly tells the story of seven-year-old Rick and his dog Koko, inseparable companions. Grieving after losing Koko to old age, one night while asleep Rick is visited by Buster, a Pet Paradise messenger seeking Koko’s favorite toy. Rick gets to help Buster deliver Koko’s toy to Pet Paradise, catching a reassuring glimpse of the meadow across the rainbow bridge where dogs and all pets cavort, happily awaiting eventual reunions with their people. Even though it has been four years since my last dog loss, my eyes leaked – profusely – while reading this colorful, beautifully illustrated book. I also laughed out loud. Those tears and laughs are testament to an artist and writer who thoroughly understands the topic, having experienced it, a cartoonist who is in his prime, using cartoons and humor to remind us of the power and beauty of the human-pet bond. Thank you, Adrian.[All cartoons published with permission of Adrian Raeside. You can learn more about Raeside, his comics and his books by visiting his website.]