Piggy – Saving Others After Being SavedJuly 20, 2015
With so many comic books stocked on shelves nowadays, the lines between who is a hero and who is not gets blurred. And then there are those real life superheroes whose lives are immortalized on the page. In the case of a very lucky pup named Piggy, the saving started with his own rescue. Now that Piggy is fully recovered, he has discovered his own superpowers. His savior, Tod Emko embellishes Piggy’s real-life healing properties in an action packed comic book called A Piggy’s Tale.
I first met Tod and Piggy, at EternalCon in New York. Moving through the throngs of con attendees I spotted something you normally don’t see at a con, a dog. Naturally, I beelined over to the table where Piggy was working the crowd. Tod Emko spoke on Piggy’s behalf and how Piggy became the real-life superhero he is due to some very creative minds and a passion that could not be stopped.
Please provide a brief biographical background of yourself.
I’m a techie, nerd, and conservationist living in NYC with my superhero dog, Piggy. Some people recognize me from the Animal Planet TV show, Whale Wars, where we conservationists from Sea Shepherd Australia do battle ship-to-ship against illegal Japanese whalers in Antarctica. I was the guy on the show who was always talking about Star Wars. Cough.
I’m also co-founder of Darwin Animal Doctors, the only free veterinary hospital that helps all kinds of animals in the UN World Heritage Site of the Galapagos Islands. My latest furry badass at home is Simon the cat, the co-star of A Piggy’s Tale; he was our first patient in that animal hospital!
A Piggy’s Tale actually grew out of our children’s humane education program in the Galapagos; our mascot – Piggy the three-legged super pup – was the cartoon character teaching owners and children in the Galapagos, how to take care of their animals. Love for a three legged flying dog is universal, after all.
Who are the creators of Piggy’s Tale?
Dark Horse’s Ethan Young, and I co-created of A Piggy’s Tale. I met Ethan many years ago, and we bonded immediately because we’re both crazy cat ladies. Over the years, Ethan became a wonder at Animation Domination at FOX, designing characters on shows like Axe Cop and Major Lazer. Then he became a graphic novelist at Dark Horse. His work Nanjing: The Burning City, comes out this year, and critics hail it as a kind of masterpiece we haven’t seen in years. He’s my editor, illustrator, co-writer, and a type of loving parent who hits me with a frying pan when I hand him outlines that are six times longer than the actual comic books would be.
For those unfamiliar with Piggy, please provide a background on Piggy’s story.
In 2009, I volunteered on a veterinary mission to the Dominican Republic. On that campaign, locals brought a puppy in who got hit by a car a month before. He had no veterinary care until we arrived, so he was almost dead by the time we saw him. Basically skin over skeleton, he was covered in maggots and other parasites, and the vets had to give him emergency surgery to amputate his hurt leg.
I adopted him, and brought him back to NYC, where he made a miraculous recovery. I named him Piggy, because he had no hair when we found him, so he looked like a hairless piglet. But after a few months, he grew larger and healthier than every vet’s predictions, becoming a gorgeous dog with a full healthy coat of fluffy fur.
How did the idea to turn Piggy’s story into a comic book come to fruition?
I first asked for Ethan’s help years ago when we made the children’s education program in the Galapagos. He made the drawings and illustrations for all our educational handouts, banners, etc. When I thought about making Piggy into a full-blown comic book, I asked him if he would be interested in helping me bring it to life. He said yes, anything for Piggy! (Piggy is the important one after all)
We did a Kickstarter to see if there would be enough interest to turn it into a comic book, and we were blown away by the response. Editor Hannah Means-Shannon of Bleeding Cool Magazine named A Piggy’s Tale one of the top new all-ages comics of the year. Everyone who reviewed it, loved it, and it even got mentioned in the Huffington Post and National Geographic online!
The feedback once it came out blew us away too. We took a huge chance last year and registered a booth at New York Comic Con, not knowing how people would react to a comic they had never heard of before, in a sea of huge movies and shows and comic giants. But we sold out of our entire 2,000 copy print run of A Piggy’s Tale issue #1 there!
Does Piggy have a real life super power?
Aside from a new healthy coat of fur, we quickly noticed another trait emerge after Piggy came to NYC. He suffered so much as a puppy, that he developed the ability to detect when others nearby were suffering. Even if someone wasn’t in eyeshot, his ears would perk up, he’d veer off the trail or turn down a street, and single out one specific person. He’d stop in front of them, and stare into their eyes, and lay his snout at their feet. The person would immediately burst out crying, start petting Piggy, and say “How did you know I needed that?” When we’d ask what happened, they would respond, “I just lost my best friend,” or “my dog passed away this morning,” or something else tragic. Piggy picked up on it, and came to comfort them.
He had a real life super power! We had to turn his story into a comic book so people everywhere could be as inspired by him as we were.
How does Piggy use his super powers in the comic book and in real life?
Although we’ve never seen Piggy fly in real life, we don’t know how he and his cat Simon spend their nights while we’re asleep. We sometimes wake up in the mornings and find him with a mouthful of fabric from bank robbers’ black and white striped shirts, which may be a telling sign.
His power of empathy lead us to give him service training. His trainer said he was a natural, even though he was older than most dogs who entered service training. He passed his Canine Good Citizen’s test, and then got certified as a service dog, and he’s on the path to become a therapy dog, as children’s hospitals have requested him! So he’s helping people every day in the real world!
In the comics, he and Simon save both humans and the street animals of NYC, while fighting the evils that would victimize both. On their journey, they learn that not all evils can be fought with fists or paws, and that forgiveness and fighting your own nature are just as important to making the world a better place.
How long have you been circulating Piggy’s Tale and how else do you spread the message of Piggy’s Tale?
We have been circulating the comic for a little over a year now. A lot of amazing comic and animal-loving publications have taken notice of us, which we are extremely thankful for! But most of the time, we spread word of the comic by exhibiting at comic cons in the Northeast, and through word of mouth.
We are finishing up the fourth and final issue of the first Piggy’s Tale series, and it is now in Previews. While the comic is available at our website – we also encourage everyone to support their local comic shop and ask for the comic there. Indie comics of all kinds will thank you too!
Has writing Piggy’s Tale changed you in any way?
Writing this comic humbles me all the time. Most people probably don’t realize the amount of work that everyone puts into every comic out there. The illustrator invests just as much into the storytelling, if not more, than the writer. Colorists and letterers are overworked and overbooked to make their rent, but they stay in the business because of their love affair with their work.
It also never ceases to amaze me how many people I meet at comic conventions who are passionate about making the world a better place. Cosplayers who rescue animals and do charity work any chance they get. Little kids who ask their parents to give money to animal shelters instead of buying presents for their birthdays. Military men who are Bronies that teach their kids to appreciate all animals. Sides of people that you don’t usually see when you look at the crowd at large, but a story about a three-legged dog somehow brings it out!
Is Simon, the cat in Piggy’s Tale, based on a real feline? How does Simon aid Piggy?
Simon was a kitten a few weeks old when he became our first patient at our Galapagos animal hospital. He was full of worms, he was so sick he couldn’t eat, and we didn’t know if he’d make it. But he was also full of fight, and he used the paltry amount of strength he had, to crawl onto me to sleep on me at night. After a lot of medicine and nurturing, he recovered, and I brought him back to NYC, where he immediately fell in love with Piggy. I used to call Simon my cat, but honestly he’s Piggy’s cat.
In real life, Piggy has trained Simon to be his helper monkey. They do everything together, including working together to perform all sorts of mischief. Piggy employs Simon to knock down dog treats from the cabinets to the floor so Piggy can munch on them. Once, I fostered an injured bird in my bathroom, and the furry duo worked together to figure out how to open the bathroom door so they could look at the little bird (they didn’t do anything to the bird, by the way; he recovered and was released by the Wild Bird Fund).
In the comics, their relationship is much the same. Simon rides on Piggy’s back, as Piggy flies through NYC. Piggy looks for anyone who needs rescuing, while Simon looks for bad guys to beat up (basically, the dynamic between a dog and a cat). They teach each other a lot, Piggy relying on his virtue and noble spirit, and Simon relying on his cleverness and street cat smarts. As a superhero, Simon can build weapons out of street garbage, which makes him more formidable than most foes would anticipate. Street cats are always underestimated, after all.
You recently used Kickstarter, as a creator how was it like to use a fundraising campaign and what was your aim?
Kickstarter is an amazing platform, and you are almost guaranteed to have the best of times, the worst of times, using it. Compressing a few years of business development and raising capital, into a month, will test your mettle. Running a KS is a full time job, and preparing for a KS is just as much work as running it. Ethan had to talk me down from the ledge plenty of times through the process. Watching it succeed gives you the type of high that follows graduating from your toughest year of school. If you’re a school geek, anyway.
Our aim for the KS was to see if enough people wanted A Piggy’s Tale to become a reality. But along the way, we came to realize that people were dying for more all-ages comics that they could proudly read with their kids. Ones that adults would be proud to read on their own. We hope we can be that comic to many!