How dogs helped ‘Seattle Walk Report’ cartoonist get her groove back | Entertainment

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Seattle cartoonist Susanna Ryan’s newest book, “Dog Days,” is a departure from her previous work. Ryan’s witty Seattle Walk Report cartoons, which document her long walks around Seattle neighborhoods, garnered a cult following on Instagram. Her first two books — “Seattle Walk Report” and “Secret Seattle,” which offers historical walking tours through the city’s history — have become perennial bestsellers in local bookstores around Puget Sound. Readers fell in love with her dense, joke-heavy strips documenting the mundane wonders of pedestrian life.

“Dog Days” is minimalist in comparison with Ryan’s other work. In fact, the vast majority of the pages are blank. That’s because “Dog Days” is a memory book for dog owners — a canine-coded version of the baby books in which parents record the story of their child’s first smiles, first steps and first words. In it, Ryan encourages dog owners to document the life stories of their pets, using prompts including “how you got your name,” “how you like to play with other dogs” and a page of little scales asking owners to depict how much their dogs are frightened by stimuli including “fireworks,” “cats,” “blenders” and “people wearing socks with sandals.”

For Ryan, the shift away from Seattle Walk Report was always part of the plan.

“I had intended to take a break after my first book came out,” she says on a rainy fall afternoon at Genesee Park Off-Leash Area. “And then I just so quickly found the inspiration for what ended up becoming the second book, and I just couldn’t resist that.”

But when “Secret Seattle” debuted in the middle of the pandemic, Ryan decided it was a perfect opportunity to slow down for a bit. After going from “a complete unknown” to the locally beloved author of two books in less than four years, Ryan needed some space.

“I’m going to go on some walks, not tell anybody about them, and just reconnect with myself,” she recalls thinking.

But the public’s adulation for “Secret Seattle” took Ryan by surprise. “It was hard for me to truly disconnect,” she says. “All I did was walk around and feel like, ‘Am I being silly by not continuing to ride this wave? What if I never get this opportunity ever again? Am I doing the right thing?’”

Then the decision to slow down was taken out of Ryan’s hands. “About two months into this not-so-break-y break, I injured my foot in an unfortunate chair-moving accident,” she says. “I had to wear a boot and I couldn’t walk at all.”

The serious injury evolved into an identity crisis. “I suddenly don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to walk in the same way that I have ever again,” Ryan says. “And walking is the basis for my entire creative life, and a big part of who I am, how I take care of myself, and how I connect with the world.

“I thought I was going to be the first cartoonist ever to be sidelined by a career-ending foot injury,” she laughs.

As Ryan slowly began to recover from the foot injury, “a bunch of different dogs came into my life and friendship circles,” she says. Dogs have always played a big role in Seattle Walk Report cartoons — Ryan always makes note of particularly cute dogs she encounters and recommends the loop around Seward Park as an especially good dog-spotting venue — but she’s never owned a dog or, really, been much of a dog person.

“I didn’t grow up around dogs and I had some scary dog experiences as a kid,” she said, “so I preferred to see them from a distance and appreciate them.”

As part of her recovery, Ryan walked her friends’ dogs at a leisurely pace. On those walks, “sometimes we would notice the same stuff — like, ‘Ooh, there’s Swiss cheese on the sidewalk,’” Ryan recalls. “But sometimes they would tune into something totally different and I’d be forced to slow down and connect with my environment in a new way.”

So when Ryan’s publisher, Sasquatch Books, reached out to her with the idea of doing a pet journal, Ryan happily accepted. She started to research the lives of modern dogs, reading pet books, studying baby journals and eavesdropping on owner conversations at the off-leash area at Magnuson Dog Park. “It’s surprising how often dog park conversations are entirely about dogs,” she says.

“Dog Days” contains plenty of Ryan’s trademark observational comedy and silly humor — little gags about “the weird old towel” in every pet owner’s arsenal and cute cartoons of Andy Warhol-style paintings of cans of dog food. And, unlike many of the generic pastel blue-and-pink baby memory books you can find at big box stores, Ryan has hand-drawn every page of the book, which invites the reader to chronicle their dogs’ lives as a kind of collaboration between cartoonist and reader.

So now, after an unintentional break, Ryan is just starting to get back out into the world as an author. She’s debuting “Dog Days” at the Short Run Festival at the Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center on Saturday, Nov. 4, where she’ll be signing all three of her books at a table during the event. And as a walker? She’s feeling optimistic. “Only in the last couple of months have I felt like my foot is in a position where I can get back, a little bit, to the walking routine that I had before.”

Ryan confirms that she couldn’t have gotten to that place without her four-legged companions.

“I really credit dogs with reconnecting me with walking and getting me back out there,” she says.

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