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Funny? Animals? The Problem of We3 by Alex Link

There can be no doubt as to the importance of the representation of the animal body in comics history. This, of course, is not to say that comics, with talking dogs that walk on two legs and the like, have traditionally aspired to realism. Rather, the anthropomorphized animal pervades comics, and typically, in the history of “funny animal” comics, “the ‘animalness’ of the characters becomes vestigial or drops away entirely.” [1] Even so, “comics and graphic novels are a virtually untapped source of insight into cultural paradigms about animals” [2] when the comics animal is considered qua animal. Recent comics such as Pride of Baghdad (2006), Duncan the Wonder Dog (2010), and others have returned to this legacy of the funny animal with a critical gaze, doing so at a time that coincides with the development of critical animal studies.

Critical animal studies takes as one of its aims the exploration of the manner in which “ ‘the human’ and ‘the animal’ . . . must be continuously reimagined and reconstituted” [3] and We3 (2004-5), by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, seems to do precisely that. Wanting “‘to do to funny animal comics what Alan Moore did to superhero comics,’” Morrison—who ended his time writing Animal Man (1990) with an explicit call for animal rights—and Quitely invite a reappraisal of the comics animal. [4] While it is true that Art Spiegelman’s Maus famously takes caricatural anthropomorphism beyond humour, it leaves intact the role of comics animals as proxy humans, and/or as metaphors for qualities based on “understandings of animal behavior that circulate . . . in . . . culture” [5]. These practices have always ultimately “celebrate[d] and naturalize[d] the superiority of the human,” [6] and elided animal alterity. Rosi Braidotti calls for the direct examination of animal alterity in narrative, by asking that we approach the animal as animal, or “neoliterally.” [7] Perhaps surprisingly, when one approaches We3 with this “neoliteral” recognition of the animal in mind, one quickly encounters the difficulty with which the animal might clearly be separated from additional cultural categories that serve as others to the always-contested definition of the “human.”

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Posted by on 2015/05/30 in Guest Writers

 

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