Shortly after James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small was published in the United States, he—whose real name was Alf Wight—wrote to me. He said he was a great fan of my cartoons.
This began a friendship that lasted until his death. It was a mutual admiration society: I adored his books, and he loved my veterinary cartoons. We finally met in England, and I found him to be exactly the kind of person his books convey: humorous, kind, affable, and completely dedicated to the profession we shared.
In 1985, I sent him a manuscript of a book I hoped to have published. The title was Most of my Patients are Animals. Most of the chapters had originally been published as “Mind Over Miller” columns in Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Carlos Cooper, the publisher at the time, encouraged me to do the book and had even found a publisher for me: Paul Eriksson.
I was at a veterinary conference in the Caribbean when Herriot telephoned me to tell me that he loved the book, but he was disappointed that there were no cartoons in it.
I explained that Mr. Eriksson did not want any cartoons in the book and I didn’t know why.
He said, “You tell Mr. Eriksson that I will write the introduction to the book and that he can put my name on the cover, and that I will not accept payment for this—but only if he includes some of your cartoons.”
Accordingly, I called Eriksson and gave him Herriot’s message. He reacted with excitement.
“His name on the cover will guarantee the success of the book,” he yelped. “Herriot is the best-selling living author in the world! But I don’t want to use the cartoons. Must I? Can you talk him out of it?”
“Why?” I asked. “What difference does it make? Why are you opposed to including any cartoons?”
“Why?” he responded. “I’ll tell you why, but I’m afraid you’ll be offended.”
“I don’t offend easily,” I assured him. “Tell me!”
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“OK. I’ll tell you,” said Eriksson. “Your stories are warm … but your cartoons are sick.”
He finally had to yield to Herriot and include some cartoons in the book. He carefully selected the “least sick” cartoons he could find.
The book was republished in 2010. Because we had omitted some outdated material and added some new things, Amazon insisted on a title change. So I called it Yes, We Treat Aardvarks. And guess what? The book is being made into a major motion picture. I just hope I’m still around when the movie is released!
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.
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