Nothing brings people together quite like pets do… and nobody captures their antics quite as brilliantly as cartoonist and writer, Rupert Fawcett!
Rupert is the brains behind Off the Leash, the dog cartoon series loved by an online community of nearly a million dog lovers worldwide. To find out a bit more about the man behind the ink pen, we sat down with Rupert for a chat on all things Off the Leash…
How did the idea of Off the Leash first begin?
I was walking along the river one day and I saw a man throw a stick into the water, and say ‘Fetch!’ His dog just stood there and looked at him, and I just imagined the dog saying, ‘You threw it — you fetch it!’ and that sort of set something off. I then began thinking about what dogs might be thinking and how they communicate, and I began drawing up a few ideas from there.
How did you go about bringing these cartoons online?
I was out with some friends one day, both of whom work in social media, and they said ‘Rupert, you are so out of date — you need to get online!’. At this point, I’d been doing cartoons for many years but had nothing online, and thought I could do something with these new dog cartoons. My wife started a Facebook page for me the same day and we started posting them daily, and it just took off.
Why dogs — and not cats, or any other kind of animal?
Dogs are very accessible. So many people have pet dogs and they are such a big part of the family. In fact, some people probably love their dogs more than their family members! Also, they’re so expressive, so it’s quite easy for me to get into their thoughts and get ideas.
You capture pets and pet ownership so brilliantly. Where do you get your inspiration from?
The experience of growing up with dogs, and seeing friends and family member’s dogs and their behaviour, gives me a lot of inspiration. Seeing dogs and humans interacting can be very funny, I now find myself studying dogs and people a lot more than I used to!
Do you have any pets yourself?
Yes, I have a Whippet and two Burmese cats.
Was there ever a moment in your career when you felt like you’d ‘made it’?
The short answer is no! I think if I reached a point where I thought, ‘well that’s it, I’ve reached the pinnacle now’, that would not be a good thing. I feel very lucky I’ve reached a level of success where I can now spend my days doing something I love. But I don’t ever have a feeling of ‘well that’s it, I’ve made it’. I’m always looking to do more, to do the next thing.
Off the Leash is now a huge online community. Is that something you expected when you started cartooning?
I didn’t, but from the word ‘go’ I really started to enjoy that aspect. Dog lovers are such nice people, so enthusiastic with such love for their dogs. They’re great people to be around and communicate with.
We have loved working with you and @DogsofInstagram. How have you found the partnership?
What I like about working with TrustedHousesitters and @DogsOfIstagram is that it feels like more of a long-term, ongoing relationship. TrustedHousesitters is a great company that gets such good customer feedback, so I immediately felt like it was a company I could work with.
Is pet sitting a topic you’d ever explored before in your cartoons?
I don’t think I have, but as soon as I became involved with TrustedHousesitters I realised it could be a great fit. The thing about pet sitting is that it’s got an emotional aspect to it — it’s not like going out and buying a car, you’re talking about people’s much-loved pets and homes. So it’s quite different, there’s a much more human aspect to it all.
We’ve looked at some more serious topics during our collaboration, including pet anxiety. How do you inject humour and light-heartedness into these topics?
We had to be careful to get the tone right. I soon realised that it’s ok when the humour is at the cost of the human — if it looks like the dog is winning and getting on over on the human, that’s funny. But it’s not funny if it looks like the human has the power and the dog is losing. The dog always has to come out on top, that’s what people want to see.
For example, if it’s a competition between a dog and the human over who gets a spot on the sofa, you want the dog to be the one to win. Whenever I do cartoons about that particular dynamic and the dog wins, people find that funny. They identify with it… probably because that’s what happens in their house!
What are you working on now?
I have a few ongoing projects, such as my Off the Leash and On the Prowl greeting card ranges. I also get a lot of dog portraits and commissions.
Right now, I’m developing a new idea for a children’s picture book, which is something I’ve never done before. The principal character is a dog, so it’s there’s quite a lot of Off the Leash influence in that.
What medium of work do you enjoy working with the most?
I’m lucky in that I enjoy all of the work I do, but I think the thing I enjoy the most is coming up with new ideas and working on a new project. Like this new children’s book I’m working on — I’ve never done anything for children before, and I’ve also never worked with colour before, so it’s all quite new to me.
Thank you to Rupert for taking to time to chat with us! Find out more about Rupert and Off the Leash by visiting his website, OffTheLeashDogCartoons.com. You can also follow Off the Leash on Facebook.
In the mood for more?
Check out the 5 Things to Avoid When Leaving Your Dog Alone, as told by Off the Leash.