Rhetorical Context: My Life, My Health, and My Service Dog
Ever since the third week of class, I knew exactly what kind of comic I wanted to create for my final project. After reading Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies, I felt inspired to speak up about my health experiences. In Fies’s work, he depicts his mother’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, along with how his family dealt with these dramatic changes. What struck me as important is how Fies details the experiences that many people overlook about cancer, such as his mother’s feelings about Prednisone and depression. Being someone who has many medical conditions, such as endometriosis, it is rare to see accurate media depictions that make me feel heard or understood. The first page describes how I was diagnosed with endometriosis, what it is, and how it led to me getting a service dog. This serves as the introduction of the plot to the audience. The second page goes into more depth about the daily tasks my service dog provides for me, allowing the audience to understand what my daily life looks like. The third page follows a much darker narrative, depicting the unavoidable cons of having a service dog. Finally, the fourth page is a more personal narrative about my thoughts on invisible disabilities and why it is important to lend some understanding to others.. Additionally, my article also provides a deeper understanding of my daily struggles and thoughts regarding the subject, much like Brian Fies wrote in his own work.
A PDF of the comic is available here.
The purpose of this comic is to connect with others who have invisible disabilities and make them feel heard, as well as to build an understanding with readers who may not know about service dogs, invisible disabilities, or endometriosis. This is inherently tied into the target audience, which is people with medical conditions who do not see accurate depictions in the media and my peers. This is because, without the comic form, it is very difficult to effectively communicate everything about my condition to my peers. Without a general understanding, it can be easy to make assumptions or create a social divide. This ties into the reason for the type of text and lettering found in this comic. In order to not sound condescending or to ‘talk down to’ my reader, I incorporated handwritten text and simple lettering, as if writing a letter to my friends. This creates a calmer, more down-to-earth tone that puts the audience at ease. An example of this can be found on page 2, panel 2, where I use informal language and mention something cute regarding my service dog, Canela. Additionally, these overall personal choices tie into the audience. For people who do not see accurate depictions of their conditions, it is easy to feel that the media is talking to them about something or someone that is not realistically accurate, instead of for them. To combat this, I made myself the narrator and portrayed my actions in a realistic way that this audience can relate to. This can be seen on page 2, panels 4–6, where I note my actual reactions to certain events, such as brain fog.
To find this audience, this comic could be posted on apps such as WEBTOON or Instagram. For my intended audiences, these publication sites have gained a strong following in these communities. For example, the webcomic, Staying on Task, by shrimpball is about an Asian American woman living with a service dog. In episode three of the webcomic, the narrator describes the tasks that her service dog performs by using a diagram to show instead of telling. I took inspiration from this on page 1, panel 6, where I describe my dog’s tasks via diagram as well. I chose to use the same show instead of tell method as it provided a quicker and easier way to convey Canela’s tasks to the audience without taking too much time. Through the WEBTOON app, this comic has gained an audience of people who have similar health conditions, or peers that are being educated through these comics. Additionally, this artist has mentioned the same disconnect I feel with my peers and draws these comics to promote better understanding. On this platform, the audience consists of many college-aged students. On Instagram, the account @obelis.art has posted various comics depicting her mental health struggles and uses the platform for education as well as to connect with others. On this platform, the audience is more varied with college-aged students to olderadults who may not have medical issues but seek understanding of them. I believe fans of these two artists would be the perfect audience for this comic.
This comic is necessary because it builds a community for people like me, while also allowing for a better understanding in others. Although my purpose is to depict what it is like to live with endometriosis and a service dog, I believe others with invisible disabilities can also relate. For example, on page 4, panels 1–3, I describe the struggle of not being able to see an invisible disability and being doubted for it. Unfortunately, many others with disabilities can relate to this struggle. However, this comic may provide solace for those who are doubted so that they can feel heard and connect to someone else who has gone through this. I believe this comic is necessary due to the extreme lack of media coverage on this topic. As briefly mentioned on page 4, panel 5, the only media depictions of service dogs are extremely fictitious and are not relatable to those who do have service dogs. When choosing what to portray in color, I took inspiration from Erin Williams and the illustrated memoir, Commute. On page 110, Williams’s colors only the objects that she distinctly remembers being a certain color. This allows the reader to focus on the same images she did in the moment, providing a more realistic telling for a memoir. I took this same principle and applied it to the comic, specifically on page 2, panel 5, where I color my service dog’s boots, jacket, and mat, which are all colors I distinctly remember.
For the overall visual style, I took heavy inspiration from Brian Fies’s previously mentioned comic, Mom’s Cancer. On page 5, the visual style is a mix of words, arrows, and pictures depicting the medical process. I applied this same principle on page 1, panel 2 of my comic, using arrows and pictures to describe the order of events. By using this visual style, the information becomes more easily digestible and more visually pleasing to the audience. As previously mentioned, my intention to speak to the audience in a down-to-earth style is amplified through this technique, as it does not over complicate the events but explains them in a simple way. Additionally, in order to get the information across in an easy-to-understand yet realistic way, I studied pages 2–3 to develop my page arrangement style. As seen in these pages, Brian Fies arranged the panels in a typical box pattern and chose to make the shape fit the scene. On page 3, he decided to use one large image to convey a different tone, such as a foreboding feeling. In my comic, I applied this to page 3, panels 7–12, in which I choose to use smaller boxes to convey smaller moments, then transitioned to two larger boxes to portray a deeper tone.
By keeping the audience and purpose in mind throughout the comic, making these rhetorical choices came easily. Through the creation process, I applied my own experiences to better understand the audience I wanted to connect with. This allowed for stronger rhetorical choices, such as the visual style, coloring, and page arrangement. Overall, I feel proud of my final comic and believe that it can achieve its purpose.
Fies, Brian. “Mom’s Cancer.” Abrams ComicArts, 1 March 2006.
@obelis.art. “The Recloseted Lesbian.” Instagram, 2020.
@Shrimpball. “Staying On Task.” WEBTOON, 2022.
Williams, Erin. “Commute.” Abrams Comic Arts, 8 October 2019.
Bio: "Cecilia Hernandez is a Junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a minor in English. To help strengthen lab skills such as hand coordination and precision, Cecilia strives to learn many different crafts, such as crochet, sewing, and miniature clay creation. Her submission is a heartfelt piece depicting what having a service dog is like, aiming to inform a greater audience on what lies behind those rose-colored glasses and promote better understanding in the community."