Short Story: The Puppy Who Lost His Swing

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go I do agree you tend to go a little over the line into "too dark for kids" territory. Your last story about the little beauty queen included not only bullying to the extent of making the girl openly sob in class, but even more distressingly the teacher not protecting the student and joining in with the cruelty and bullying themselves.

    In this one, I disagree that this will resonate with kids' disappointment at getting a toy thrown out. This story is about parental neglect and cruelty. And that's a bit heavy! Kids who suffer minor disappointments like the loss of a toy will not resonate with such abandonment and abject disinterest from a parental figure. This may have worked better if the story was the dog breaking the swing and the owner not wanting to replace it. But adding the element of the owner ignoring and not caring for the dog in the first place makes it probably a few steps too far. Neglect or abuse from adult figures seems to be a recurring theme in your work, and that's not something publishers are eager to put into stories for very young children. It can be distressing for children experiencing it, and confusing/stressful for those who don't. Starting 10 years old and up we sometimes see more of these themes start appearing in fiction, but not in children's books

  • I’d have to agree with the others. I think I remember in a podcast episode from 3pt that someone (I think Will) said that publishers won’t take risks on certain topics. This seems like it’s a very important theme for you, but I don’t see this as being a common thing for the children’s book market, which given your style seems like what you’re aiming for. As Ness said, maybe the YA market?

    I also noticed that you describe your story in a bit of a lighter tone on the Freelance Illustrator page. “When the owner refuses to fix the swing it turns the puppy’s whole world upside down”. That leaves it open-ended. I think a lot of your potential endings are too dark and mean (would a publisher really want to promote revenge as the ending of a children’s book I wonder?). As a dog owner myself, I also wonder why the owner seems so abusive of an innocent animal?

    These are just my thoughts. The designs are beautiful, but I wonder: if you can’t give happy, could you at least give a hopeful ending?

  • Pro SVS OG

    @Michael-Angelo-Go hi, I really hope you won’t feel discouraged by this, but yes, it is too dark.
    I mean - the owner is design to look really sinister (Lord Voldemort vibes), other characters are too “adult” (boobs, sexy appearance, flirting, drinking alcohol, etc) and the dog doesn’t look cute, he’s a bit scary looking too.
    The illustration is carefully designed, the textures are great, colours amazing, rendering with so many details! I think you are just targeting the wrong market here!

    The story it self might work I think but you would have to change a lot. Firstly - the owner should not be neglecting the puppy, more so, he probably should provide some solution for the puppy. In my experience, if you want to go dark with your premise, you have to come up with good ending, solution for the young readers to feel somewhat good about it in the end. No sane parent will buy a book that teaches a kid that when their favourite toy is broken, the cruel parent will toss it in the bin, the end. That’s just wrong. And I don’t think that the endings you wrote above are good either - as a parent I personally would stay away from this story, I’m really sorry.

    What if you would step away from the story a bit? I think your style (and taste for storytelling) might really fit in YA! You might be trying too hard to step into a market that you actually don’t want to work In? I m saying so because I my self was in the same position years ago. I was trying to do YA and comic illustrations and I totally sucked. Because I just didn’t fit into the market! Now I’m in picture books and I’m so happy finally finding my voice that actually suits the market I’m targeting. You just might have the same problem here...
    Please, take all this as an encouragement. Because you clearly Have a good hand, there’s a lot of potential in your work!❤

  • Hi @mag, no I'm not discouraged. I have had people in the past comment that some of my visual development work would be great for a webcomic and that it might be popular with more middle-grade children. I was thinking about adding a middle-grade section to my portfolio website, but only after I had 30+ illustrations of children-oriented illustrations. I like dramatic scenery and drawing scenes that carry a lot of emotional weight to them so that the image has lasting more memorable impact. But I guess instead of being memorable, they end up becoming too distressing instead.

    And just to clarify, I didn't want to portray the pet owner as 'abusive', neglectful maybe, but I was going for more a "thoughtless" pet owner. This story is actually a word-for-word recreation of my own childhood traumas (with the exception of the puppy, who is a placeholder for moi).

    Basically to make a sad story short, when I was 2 years old my parents hosted a party and invited a lot of people, but I was not allowed to come inside. My only guess is the adults just wanted to be by themselves. Nobody brought any other kids, so it was just me in the backyard, and the only thing that kept me from feeling bored/lonely/isolated was to play with this swing from Fisher Price. What happened was for some reason one of the straps snapped on my swing and when I asked my dad to help me fix the swing, he shooed me away. I waited until the party was over and then my dad finally came out to check out me and saw the swing. I was hoping that he would reattach the swing, but instead he threw it away. The chair wasn't damaged, the strap was the only thing that broke, but then he threw the entire thing away. And I was very devastated. I would constantly come back outside in the backyard hoping that magically there would be a new swingset, but it never came.


    Here's the deal. What if we had the pet owner turn around and see the distress he caused the puppy, and we see remorse on his face. He then grabs a phone and makes a phone call to invite his friends to bring their pets. He later brings the other pets to the puppy, and they have their own little party. It seems like the pets having a party is the most popular vote, so what if the owner tried to do the right thing?

    What would be the most ideal way of resolving this situation as to put the pet owner in a more human light?

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go I think you may be a little "too good" at dramatic visuals, because you end up overshooting your intent of "bored puppy and thoughtless owner" and instead end up with "devastated neglected puppy and abusive, cruel owner"

    Character design wise, the owner looks like a hitman! The dark sunglasses are especially creepy because we can't see his eyes and he's expressionless. Add to that the all black clothes, he gives super villain vibes.

    Color wise, the very dark tones, gray and black and red are very dark and dramatic. Even the angles, low to the ground make the adults seem imposing and ominous. All put together it's kind of overkill.

    I suggest checking out some children's books form the library or book store and see how they tackle darker subjects, both story wise and with the visuals. Many times, a darker theme will be offset by light, soft and soothing visuals. When all elements (colors, character designs, composition, etc) scream terror and devastation, it's very unsettling for children.

    Have you seen @Elizabeth-Rose's project "The moment before I lost my mom"? It's obviously a devastating story, but she uses beautiful soothing visuals of flower gardens and soft glowing light. It makes for a poignant and tragically beautiful project. Yours is going more into "shock value" territory.

    I'm not 100% certain using your own childhood traumas as stories for your portfolio is such a good idea. If it was traumatic for you, it certainly will be for other children as well. Either subconsciously or consciously, you've portrayed exactly how you perceived this event deep down - the adults callous and cruel, the child abandoned and neglected. The images speak of a devastating and scarring story, and your own bias makes it impossible for you to give it the lighter tone (bored and thoughtless) that you say you were going for.

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go I would like to see the story end how you wish your sad swing story ended. Maybe the owner could see the puppy's sadness and dig the swing out of the trash and fix it, and they would have a better relationship in the future. Maybe the owner could see how lonely the puppy is and then bring him into the party and all the guests would pet and spoil him

  • I love children's stories that are dark and push boundaries. That isn't what's going on here, though. Maybe if there were some comedic elements added?
    As it stands, it's just... odd.
    If you're comfortable making this funny, I'd go for that!

    Some good drawings here!

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go as others have said, illustrations inspired by a traumatic childhood event are probably not a story you want to put in your portfolio. This story is WAY too dark for the children’s book market.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t children’s books that address tough topics, there are. As @NessIllustration suggests, go to the library and spend a few hours in the children’s section reading picture books and studying how the illustrators approached those books’ subjects. If they’re available in your corner of the world, I highly recommend looking at the following books — they all deal with serious themes and are illustrated brilliantly.

    • Stormy by Guojing (about adopting an abandoned dog)
    • The Rough Patch by Brian Lies (about loss of a pet — have tissues ready!)
    • A Stone for Sasha by Aaron Becker (wordless, one of the first illustrations actually shows the family burying their pet!)
    • Ida, Always by Caron Levis & illustrated by Charles Santoso (about best friend polar bears in a zoo and one becomes terminally ill—you’ll need more tissues)
    • Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney (dealing with bullying)
    • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson & illustrated by E.B. Lewis (a girl regrets not being kind to a classmate—one of the few picture books without a happy ending)
    • Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack & illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (about a girl coming face to face with segregation, based on the author’s experience growing up)

    In the above books, though they all deal with heavy themes, there is a feeling of hope, even in the one without a happy ending. The illustrations don’t shy away from the subject matter or emotions, but they are not heavy handed. They are handled with sensitivity and there is a gentleness to most of these illustrations. There is as much light as there is dark (both literally and figuratively).

    As far as building your portfolio: keep in mind that most art directors want to see 10 to 15 illustrations. They’re busy people — 30 portfolio pieces might make them lose interest. If you are aiming to demonstrate your ability to illustrate a range of emotions, make sure to display the full range of human emotions, happy and positive as well as sad and dark.

    As it stands now, I do agree with the feedback you’ve been getting — the illustrations in their current state are not the best choice for your portfolio. However, if this story is one you feel strongly about and feel the need to finish, do it! A personal project like this could be very cathartic and you can illustrate it any way you want without worrying if it will fit a specific market. Not everything we create needs to be a portfolio piece.

  • SVS OG

    @Michael-Angelo-Go hi Micheal! I like your concept. But that puppy in that first piece looks like he’s going to start murdering people at any moment. He has those serial killer eyes. 😂😂😂 Really creepy. Definitely a strong choice.

  • Not going to repeat what it was said, but wanted to add something, from someone who had childhood traumas that took more than 10 years of adult life to overcome. I'm talking about traumas that made me had high levels of anxiety, depression, phobias...

    From that experience I can say for sure that although your objective was to make some people who have gone through it feel represented, it is not done this way. If I read a story of someone just going through things that traumatised me, the only thing it would do would be bringing the pain again to me.

    I've been thinking how to explain how it can be done in a way that actually achieves what you intended, and the only I came up with was with an example from my life. Trying to avoid going to deep, one of my issues was that I was always pointed out as weird. Kids in kindergarten would keep me away and beat me, and even my mother would say to me that the only thing she wanted was a normal child, and instead had a weirdo like me. A story just showing this would only wake up my childhood wounds but... This is the thing, one day, I was with 2 friends by the river. They were talking a lot with each other and I, as normal at the time, was completely silent. After an hour or so, one of them suddenly stopped, turned to me and asked "are you ok?". I felt all that "I'm a weirdo" thing and the other friend just said that I was quiet like that. And the person who asked said something that changed my life. She simply said "Oh, I have no issue with you being quiet. You can be talking non-stop, not saying a word for hours, making a handstand or roll yourself in the sand for all I care, as long as you are well. That's the only thing that matters to me." That was the first time in my life I felt I could be accepted and loved for who I am.

    Now, if I wanted to do a story about this trauma that resonated with people who went through it, I would dedicate maybe 2 or 3 spreads in the beginning about the trauma itself, and the rest to that moment, how it changed me, and how I grew from the trauma to being a person who is not only social but also so much loves being me as I am.

    I am not saying this is the only way, and you have entire (adult) genres dedicated to seeing dark themes as dark. But those are not aimed at the people who actually had the traumas, those people will avoid those themes. For instance, women who were raped tend to not like to read a story where there are rapes, at least if they are descriptive, is just too traumatic to them. So, I think this is something you have to define I think. If you want to talk to people who have the specific trauma, you should avoid creating a story that will just hurt them more, and go more for a story that gives them hope, and sometimes even a way to help them deal with it. If you want to go for the full dark (and as it was said, is not very good for children's books), then your target public can't be the people with the actual trauma.

    I think this distinction is really important to make.

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