Pet project on the cutting edge 

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Shannon O’Leary knows. In the quirky comic anthology "Pet Noir," the San Francisco-based cartoonista reveals — or rather, revisits — twisted tales of true crime that speak of critter-kind.

Remember the bizarre dog-mauling saga that titillated San Francisco and eventually became national headline news? How about the legend of Leo, the fluffy bichon frisé launched into traffic by the hands of an enraged motorist?

On Saturday, O’Leary dishes about these strange-but-true pet-inspired yarns while discussing the role of comics as a mode of societal discourse at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. She’ll appear at 12:30 p.m. in "Socially Relevant Comics," a panel discussion with moderator Shaenon Garrity and cartoonists Keith Knight ("K Chronicles"), Gene Yang ("American Born Chinese"), Abby Denson ("Tough Love"), Mario Hernandez ("Love and Rockets") and Paige Braddock ("Jane’s World").

Inspired by the media’s obsession with such cases, the self-professed animal lover and true-crime enthusiast decided to chronicle these tales in sequential art form with a pinch of dark humor. She found that the comic medium brought a different sensibility to the stories.

"My original intent was to show an ironic take on the media’s fascination with true crime. I also really love animals and wanted to present the stories in a way that would be compassionate to animals, but also entertaining," says O’Leary, who worked closely with the Animal Legal Defense Fund on the project.

O’Leary, who lent her hand to "Pet Noir" as a writer, illustrator and editor, enlisted local comic cohorts to help complete the project, which resulted in an eclectic mix of artistic styles across two categories of stories: Pet Noir — "Notoriously strange but true tales of pet crime that made sensational headlines," and Pet Crime Confidential — "Hair-raising personal stories of everyday crimes against animals."

The story that sparked O’Leary’s creative juices involved Marilyn Barletta, better known as the "Petaluma Cat Lady." As the moniker suggests, Barletta had quite the affinity for felines and was estimated as having more than 170 cats before authorities slapped her with animal cruelty charges.

"I was looking at the mug shot of Marilyn Barletta and she just looked so deranged. There was this whole spinster angle in the news about her being this middle-aged, crazy cat lady who lived alone. From a feminist perspective, I wanted to address what was going on with that. I had a lot of fun working on it," she says.

Initially, O’Leary’s self-published version of "Pet Noir" in 2003 had just three stories. The response from the animal rights community and interest from Manic D Press to put out an entire book prompted her to revisit the project; it was released as a full-length anthology in 2006.

Next on her plate is the autobiographical comic "Crimes Against Shannon" and a new installment of the serialized graphic novel "Fortune’s Bitch," a collaborative effort with artist Eric Koepfle.

"Comics aren’t just about elves, super heroes and ninjas — they’re also about social issues," O’Leary says. "It’s a really exciting and innovative time for comics right now."

Alternative Press Expo

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Concourse Exhibition Center, 620 7th St., San Francisco

Tickets: $7 one day; $10 two-day pass

Contact: www.comic-con.org

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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