“Things are always changing," says singer and cartoonist Rachael Pollard, who's spent the past few years documenting Denver's music scene in a series of animal-themed cartoons. "I’m glad I’m doing this as a way for me to remember Denver.”
Pollard has been telling stories since the late ’90s, capturing small moments that reflect something much larger. In 2017 she decided to make a small comic panel based on her own experiences as a musician in Denver. As a solo artist, a member of bands such as Riverside Drive and Den IvIother, and co-founder and former co-host of Syntax Physic Opera’s weekly open-mic night, she had a wealth of experience to draw from. The comic series would be her love letter to the city, as well as to the many people who have made the music scene a warm and welcoming place for her.
“I have so many stories to tell and [am] such a fan of the scene here; I just love all the music and musicians,” says Pollard. “I love folk. I love rap. I love everything in between. I feel so lucky, and would always be telling these stupid stories — and then one day it just clicked.”
She started sketching, but as enthusiastic as she was, the drawings did not turn out as well as she had hoped. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna write about this scene, I’m gonna write a comic — and I drew a person and it looked like crap,” she recalls.
There were several different iterations of her drawings, but Pollard concluded that none of them would work; it appeared she was more musician than illustrator. Still, she remained hopeful that there was a way to bring her project to life.
“I kept trying to draw these people, and had a thousand ideas and couldn’t make it happen," she says. "I was hanging out with my kids and was just goofing around and drew Hot Sauce, our dog, and she was just so cute. It just clicked right then. Like, oh, my God, that’s my main character. She’s going to tell all my stories. She’s going to have a guitar in her hand. I redrew the original little panel and then began reading books on how to draw.”
After that, the project took off. The result: Pollard’s self-published fanzine, Hot Sauce the Dog, a series of stories about the Denver music scene in which everyone is depicted as a dog, or occasionally, a cat. The stories are usually small. In one, musicians decide to collaborate on future projects; in another, they try to buy edibles for a Red Rocks show. But occasionally she ratchets up the stakes: One comic is about a musician who has a gig at the Bluebird Theater and has a panic attack before the show.
Pollard’s zines can be found at independent stores including Mutiny Information Cafe, Remixed Gifts, Kilgore Books and Wax Trax. The comics do not include superheroes fighting supervillains, coming-of-age tales, dark and moody dialogue or, for the most part, even color. Instead, they focus on the lives of Denver musicians.
“It’s a way to tell my story," Pollard says.
Her fanzine is charming and her illustrations delightfully simple. Many characters have floating, edge-less faces, and some are big-name local artists, such as the Milk Blossoms, Joe Sampson, Julie Davis of Bluebook, Sister Grotto, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Wheelchair Sports Camp's Kalyn Heffernan.
“I was kind of paranoid: What if people hate their dogs, because I make them all into dogs? What if they’re like, 'Well I’m really a cat person'? I was kind of obsessed about that for a minute," Pollard explains. “My husband was like, ‘Just quit trying to call people to get their permission to make fan art for them.’ That was a really good turning point for me — to stop needing somebody’s permission to just gush and talk about my favorite song ever in one drawing.”
In her music and her art, Pollard has made it a point to not let herself get hung up on the imperfections in her work. She still draws her comics by hand while sitting on her porch. She recently released a collection of rough cuts of songs on her Bandcamp page; even after more than two decades of playing live, she struggles with performing in front of audiences.
Pollard is often her biggest critic, but she remains committed to the idea that her art is not meant to reach perfection, or anything like it. “I used to co-host an open mic, and we would have guests and interviews, and Steve Faceman once said, ‘Don’t worry that your music isn’t perfect. Just keep making it. Don’t stress when you’re recording. Everything doesn’t have to be flawless or a masterpiece.’”
That's the ethos she brings to her comics. And what began as a way to fawn over her friends has now become one of Pollard’s most rewarding projects to date. After all, she has become a historian of the wild and ever-changing cultural scene in Denver.
“I’ve always been around, doing something. But I feel like I’ve really hit my stride with these comics and with my music. I’ve been really happy with what I’ve put out into the world," she says. "It’s still fun. It makes me happy. Fuck it, it’s so much fun. It’s so stupid. I love it.”
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