Pup Culture: Dogs in Media Panel at WonderCon 2024

Alice Ly

Nearing the end of a 3-day WonderCon show, you’d expect energy levels to be low, but there was a genuine air of eager anticipation for the Pup Culture: Dogs in Media panel that took place late Sunday afternoon in Room 208.

With dog documentarian, Rachel Nelson, moderating for a fun and educational roundup of guests featuring Tony Fleecs (co-creator of comic, Stray Dogs), Matt Corrigan (dog makeup FX artist, I Am Legend), Alex Collier (GA-Cert K9 Search and Rescue) and John Anthony Shahor (RRK9 Dog Scientist aka Cynologist), you just knew it was going to be a paws-itively good time.

This is especially true when John Anthony brought along his search and rescue K9, Crixus of Gaul, seen on A&E Network’s America’s Top Dog. Judging from the dog’s name, I can fathom that someone was a Spartacus fan!

John Anthony Shahor with Crixus of Gaul. Photo credit: Alice Ly.

The panel started with introductions, but there was a missing guest speaker, Matt, with his seat empty. As slight concerns rise, the audience comes to find out that it is part of a live demo for Crixus to do a “scent-specific search” to find the missing guest hidden in the crowd. After sniffing a t-shirt left behind by Matt, Crixus started searching the room, and even with the heavy A/C constantly shifting the air, he successfully found Matt rather quickly on the complete opposite side of the room from where he started. 

This was a simple demo, but Crixus had recently saved a life when law enforcement was unable to find a missing person after 5 hours, but the K9 was able to within 30 minutes via scenting. What a good boy! 

With the “missing” guest speaker found, the panel officially started.

All smiles after Matt was found and Crixus settled down in the back with a treat. Photo credit: Alice Ly.

As someone who is attracted to all things canine, I was instantly intrigued when Tony Fleecs started talking about the comic he co-created with Trish Forstner called Stray Dogs. Centering around a yellow papillon named Sophie, it’s a 5-issue run or trade paperback psychological horror/mystery thriller read, initially inspired by the science of how a dog’s memory works.

Forbes described it as “What do you get when you crossbreed Silence of the Lambs with All Dogs Go to Heaven? Well, you get Stray Dogs.” 

Stray Dogs Issue 1 cover variants @trishforstner.

Since the comic starts with a veterinarian explaining to Sophie’s owner that dogs suffer from very short-term memory, we get confirmation from panelist John Anthony that it is indeed true and that the memory span can be 2 seconds to under 2 minutes depending if the dog cares about said moment. 

More heartbreakingly, he revealed that when a person dies and never returns, and when a person leaves to go to work, the dog has the same emotional experience. 

So if you plan on leaving your furry friend behind for an extended period of time, be sure to leave a heavily scented article (perhaps after the gym?) so that your pet can feel comforted.

Switching gears from comics to movies, let’s talk about Sam, the last surviving dog on Earth in the 2007 film I Am Legend. The dog role was played by 2 different real dogs, Kona and Abbey, and panelist Matt Corrigan, the SFX artist, explained how he worked with Abbey.

Will Smith in I Am Legend. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

As Sam fights off zombie dog attacks in the movie, she gets injured and that’s where Matt comes in to make it look like she’s suffering while working with the dog handler.

Here is an example of the TRAUMA MAKEUP. Remember, no dogs were harmed!

The trauma makeup added to the dog actor. Photo credit: Alice Ly.

It looks real, doesn’t it? 

Matt also explained another movie magic revelation on how Sam (spoiler alert) takes her last breath on Robert’s (Will Smith’s character) lap. The death scene called for the dog to breathe rapidly until stillness and since you can’t train a dog to do that, they did the next best thing and created a vest that had air pumps that were hand-cranked via a pipe disguised as part of the tail.

The vest worn to create the death scene before fake fur was glued on top. Photo credit: Alice Ly.

While on the topic of zombies, dogs that are trained to be scent-specific can hypothetically be given a zombie-scented article, and they’d be able to track them down, confirmed Alex Collier, who has trained her Boxer dogs for search and rescue, including cadaver searches.

Potentially, even the virus that causes you to turn into a zombie can be tracked. Since dogs can smell what cancer, diabetes, COVID, etc. is doing to the human body, different samples of the zombie virus can hypothetically be collected and trained upon! 

This fascinating and entertaining panel ended with a fun game where Rachel, Matt, and Tony each picked a pop culture dog that they’d love to go home with and here are their choices:

Rachel: Dogmeat from Fallout to carry her bazooka and to get showered with unconditional love.

Matt: Old Yeller because of the lasting impression of him fighting off the wild boars to protect the boy.

Tony: Rover Dangerfield for humor and that he’d probably come with the sexy showgirl owner, Connie.

Pop culture dogs featuring Dogmeat from Fallout 4, Old Yeller (1957), and Rover Dangerfield (1991) 

Paws up to the wonderful moderator and the panelists for ending the WonderCon show with a fun and highly educational discussion!

Crixus with the panelist crew. Photo credit: Alice Ly.

WonderCon is produced and operated by Comic-Con International, the fans who organize San Diego Comic-Con, the largest comic book and popular arts convention in the world, according to Guinness World Records. 

WonderCon’s 37th year will return in 2025 and will be held from March 28 – 30 in Anaheim. Unlike this year, the convention will NOT be on Easter!