Saturday, June 20, 2009


by Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely
Vertigo 2004

Hillary Brown:
Maybe I really just like Grant Morrison books about animals. I didn't even think I liked animals that much, but the week I read this book also happened to be the week I ended up with a kitty cat, and maybe I'm just getting sappier in my advanced age, but it really kind of poked me in my heart. I have some issues with the book, but it's quite effective in a way I can't really put my finger on. It might just be Morrison's attachment to cats and dogs and bunnies, but it doesn't come off weird or preachy. Instead, it's more like Watership Down, only a lot bloodier. I wouldn't say it's encouraging me to become a strict vegetarian or go into animal rescue or even do anything beyond what I'm already doing (trying to be nice to my cat while also training her not to jump on the counter or bite me), but there's an intensity to the way Morrison tells his story that makes it, like, The Incredible Journey meets The Terminator. And the storytelling is interesting too, mostly visual rather than verbal, and the words there are are minimal. I'm not nuts about Frank Quitely's squishy, dark, gory art, but it gets the job done. Mostly, I think this still has flaws, but I liked it better than almost anything else I've read by Morrison except maybe Animal Man.

Garrett Martin: First off, congratulations on the cat!

Secondly, I love We3. You probably expected that. I promise I don't love everything Morrison's done. Just most of it. But We3 is special in that it's probably the best thing he's done outside the realm of superheroes. Still, it highlights how adept he is at elevating genre fiction into something both personal and universal. We3's maybe just another "science run amuck" story, but the animal rights focus sets it apart from Jurassic Park, or whatever else. It'd be easy for a story like this to come off mawkish, considering most reasonable human beings probably don't like to see bad things done to innocent critters, especially domesticated ones. Despite wringing genuine emotion out of me, though, We3 somehow avoids the overly sentimental. The ocean's worth of blood and viscera probably help with that, I guess.

Do you normally like Quitely's art? I was a bit taken aback with the panel structure when I first read We3 (those pages with the dozens of thumbnail-sized panels confused me on a flight three years ago), but on subsequent reads I realized how vital that layout is to the pacing and story-telling. Those rows of tiny panels somehow lend a cinematic flair while underlining the comic form's particular control of time and space. Or something.

HB: I think I normally like Quitely a lot more, but that's because his stuff is open and bright and expansive, not small and fuzzy and dark. I like the panel layout, though, and the complexity of the thought process you have to go through to put it together. That is, it at least teeters on the edge of annoying v worth the work and probably ends up on the latter. Not quite Chris Ware, but in the ballpark. But I'm not really such a fan of all that blood and viscera, and I'm not sure that that's what helps it avoid excessive sentimentality. I mean, maybe it does, but it's the intelligent writing that really does that work, such as the way each creature has its own strange voice. Um, here's a question: do you think the creators of Up have read this book?

GM: I don't know, I haven't seen Up yet. I need to! Maybe this weekend?

As much as I enjoy Quitely's art, and as solid as the overall concept is, I don't think We3 would work all that well without the animals' "strange" voices and personalities. Maybe it's easy or cliched to make the dog friendly and loyal, and the cat all prickly, but anybody who's spent time with a variety of dogs and cats probably knows that, by and large, those cliches are pretty damn true. That struggle between what they are and what they've been turned into is at the core of We3. It fuels a handful of heartbreaking moments that are hard to watch. It's also, again, a fairly unique take on the "man's perversion of nature" schtick. Or at least was, until Up ripped it off, I guess. Where do housepet assassins fit into a movie about a crusty old guy's flying house?

HB: You'll see. They fit in. Or they seem like they do.

Anyway, yeah, the cat and the dog do kind of have standard cat and dog voices (and it's fun to talk in the voice of the cat for your own cat, I can confirm), but the bunny is utterly new. I never really thought about bunnies before and how they perceive things, how their little brains might work. I'm not sure I know any better, but I like that third animal thrown in there. It's something new.

GM: Did the bunny really have a voice? I had a bunch of pet rabbits when I was a kid, and they never really had much personality. They just sat there and ate whatever was in front of them. The closest thing to an emotion I ever noticed from them was fear, especially when one of the cats would stake out their hutch. The bunny in We3 is pretty similar; other than self-preservation, what characteristics does it exhibit?

HB: One-word thoughts. It has the smallest brain of any of them, and yeah, it does seem to be scared all the time. Not much higher-level thought. Desires for food and safety. It kind of tilts you back toward remembering that they're not human, and they're not even close to as smart as humans, without seeing that as a bad thing. There's a real consciousness of our responsibility to these creatures because they need us. Maybe.

GM: Not maybe, that's definitely a major point of the book. Yes!

So, anyway. Thank God this book came around and made me realize how awful it would be to turn housepets into killing machines.

HB: And otherwise I would've outfitted my little kitty cat with a mini-bazooka! Okay, let's talk about something else.