Dovetail Inhalants fact sheet poster

In late 2013 I was commissioned to create a poster about inhalants use for Dovetail, a government-funded organisation which works to reduce youth alcohol and drug abuse in Queensland. I had caught their attention due to my recent comics War on Drugs, and Rat Park, which both deal with the social impacts surrounding drugs.

Dovetail logo Queensland

The brief: a ‘fact sheet’ about refusing the sale of inhalants

Dovetail was putting together an information pack to send to Queensland stores which sell inhalants. Many Australians suffer from inhalant use, or ‘sniffing’. This includes certain people from some Aboriginal communities, and certain people from disadvantaged social backgrounds. People inhale substances such as petrol, glue, paint and aerosol deodorant to become intoxicated. This creates health problems for the person inhaling the agent, and it also creates social problems within the person’s family and community.

The broader campaign engages with business owners in Aboriginal communities. Encouraging their businesses act responsibly in their community. The campaign was titled “A retailer’s response to inhalants”. The tag line was “Practical advice that is good for your business, good for your community.”
A retailer's response to inhalants.

The specific problem: staff selling inhalants to friends and relatives

Dovetail had spoken to a grocery store manager who indicated that her staff sometimes felt under pressure to sell inhalants to family members with substance-abuse problems. The staff members were reluctant to refuse sale to someone who they are so closely related to.

Dovetail specifically asked me to create a poster targeted to the staff who work in their stores. This tool would be written from the perspective of a staff member who is torn between ‘doing the right thing’ and keeping her relative happy.

Cartoon intoxicated aboriginal man entering store. Red eyes, dizzy spinning head. Fumes above head.

Telling the story: a character-based scenario

Dovetail gave me a general brief of how this A4-sized poster would fit into their broader campaign. i.e. the fact that it would be specifically targeted towards retail employees. It was up to me to determine how to fill the A4 page and tell the story.

Rather than a ‘fact sheet’ approach, I chose to draw a character-based comic strip. The message would be conveyed through the interactions of three characters:

  • The store employee, Kirra. The character who the readers should identify with the most.
  • The intoxicated cousin, Jack. Kirra is shocked to realise that Jack is using inhalants.
  • The store boss, Mick. The boss is not shown until after Kirra has already refused sale to Jack. He approves of her decision.

Things to get right

I made deliberate choices with aspects of the artwork and story of this comic:

  • As with my Geoscience Australia Papua New Guinea booklets and animation, the people I drew had to look like Aboriginal people in the communities which the posters would be sent to. Dovetail mentioned that this was often a tricky thing for cartoonists to handle appropriately.
  • Jack’s intoxication had to be drawn in a certain way. He couldn’t look too comically ‘drunk’, nor could he look too morbidly affected. I think the ‘red eyes’, ‘fume lines’ and ‘spinning head’ are effective ways of showing inhalant intoxication.
  • Aboriginal boy petrol sniffing cartoon. Trying to buy deodorant drawing.

  • Kirra had to discover that Jack was under the influence of inhalants before refusing sale. An early draft had Kirra saying “so the gossip is true, he must be sniffing!” This line was rightfully rejected by Aboriginal community workers who reviewed a draft version of the comic. The reason: they don’t want to encourage gossip in their community.
  • Aboriginal storekeeper looking at shopper in grocery store shelves. Cartoon thought bubbles.

  • Kirra rejects sale to Jack because of her personal convictions that it is the wrong thing to do. She doesn’t want her cousin to harm himself through inhalant use.
  • Cartoon aboriginal characters. Intoxicated from inhalants. Dizzy head.

  • The boss support Kirra’s decision to refuse sale. Kirra sees that, even though her boss is missing out on the money from Jack’s sale, he is glad that she is not selling substances to a community member with intoxication problems. He also points out that the law supports her decision to refuse sale.
  • Cartoon aboriginal community store. Drawing of aboriginal elder boss and young female store worker.

The finished artwork

Cartoon poster about inhalants. Sell Smart; Stop Sniffing.  Comic strip about stopping inhalant abuse in aboriginal communities.

I wrote the text and drew the line art for this comic. Colouring was done by Danny Stanley a.k.a. Avon Garde. Danny and I have been in touch since 2013: around the period I released Rat Park (about the science of drug addiction) and he released One Rabbit, Two Worlds (a picture book for children whose parents are going through divorce).

Testimonial from Dovetail project manager

We contracted Stuart McMillen to work on a comic as a part of a kit developed for retailers around inhalant use. From the outset Stuart was professional and quick in responding to the project’s needs. He very easily transformed an abstract idea into a visual narrative, communicating precisely what was required for this project. I would have no hesitation in recommending Stuart for future projects that require elements of visual communication and/or visual narrative.
Benjamin Dougherty, Dovetail Queensland