Anthropomorphizing animals–Morrison and Quitely’s “We3”

We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Commentary by Jason McClain (@jtorreymcclain)

I think the Internet exists at its core for three basic things: seeing people in various stages of undress to ogle beach bodies, looking at photos that proud parents post of their progeny, and single folk and childless couples with their pictures of pets.

When I watched the pilot of the TV series The New Normal, the choice to adopt a child by two men in a committed relationship hit a snag, so the couple at the core of the story looked at pet adoption.  I can’t call that cliché because that truth exists for a lot of couples and single people out there as pets fill that spot in so many lives of wanting to share unconditional love.  Yes, it is a well-trod joke and yes, as a plot device I wouldn’t call it “fresh”, but that’s because just like crazy in-laws or perceived infidelity, everyone can relate to it.  The key is finding the heart behind that moment and making the situation unique while relatable.  In the case of The New Normal, it was pushing around a baby carriage with a puppy inside.

We3 takes putting a puppy in a man-made object to a completely different level.  I recently finished the trade hardback that compiles all three individual issues of this series (written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely) as it tells the story of a dog, a cat and a rabbit outfitted with cybernetic exoskeletons that enables them to fight and battle with just about any enemy.  (Editor – would that make them Aniborgs?)*  Each animal brings its own specific skills to its cybernetic life and how the scientists created and augmented the animals draws out those natural abilities.  To get feedback in both directions, the animals even have automated speech systems to translate thoughts into words.  Their English communication is rudimentary, as you’d expect, but wonderfully written and the concerns of We3 exhibit how I believe animals would think about home, solitude and food.

We3 deluxe edition cover

I love that our imaginations create those personalities for all of our furry friends around us.  There is no right and wrong, it is our interpretation and observances.  As opposed to ourselves, who we know better than anyone ever could, and our friends, with whom we share our thoughts and feelings with the written and spoken words, pets can only purr, bark, snuggle, wag, swish, tuck tail, arch back, flee or use other physical reactions to express their range of emotions to us.  As we live with them on a daily basis, they learn our schedules, our feelings and our attitudes on a similar wavelength that we learn the differences between a yelp and a rowl, a meow and a hiss or more subtle vocalizations and actions.

In writing about this, I begin to see why the deaths of animals get a bigger reaction than the deaths of people, much to the chagrin of people concerned with human decency and that is because of what we know about both.  People can be petty, angry, dismissive, spiteful and ugly and if a random person not relevant to the story gets fried and flattened by a giant robot, we move on to the next scene because there are many of the billions of people on this blue marble that we don’t think about on a daily basis.  We follow the people that the story tells us are important and we celebrate when the heroes are successful and grieve for them when they aren’t.  We cheer when the terrorists lose and throw our hands up in disgust when they win.

With animals, most everyone has seen their love up close.  That’s all we see and if we see a pet on the screen, our hearts go to our own pet experiences and we imbue them with our positive prejudices because we don’t ignore animals as much as we do people.  Those moments that a cat pads its paws on your ribcage to make you feel like a comfortable place to sit or when we feel a dog’s tongue rapidly covering every inch of our face as he welcomes us home after a long day at work sit in our memories as joy.  We feel those rapid heartbeats in our own hearts as we hold, cuddle and envelope our pets in the physical expression of our internal love.

We3 gang

Pets don’t behave in a petty or vindictive manner.  We get to know them and they love unconditionally (and a lot of the time even before we get to know them.)  They just worry about the basic things in life, food, shelter and friendship, whether with the humans in their territory, the humans that visit or the other animals that approach and stay or retreat.  They sniff and mark and we’d like to think that we can tell they like each other or don’t from a couple of actions, but we don’t know.  I meet and know all kinds of people and my interactions with them can look the same, but I know they are different.  If a person smells bad or smells good, I may hang out with them again, but odor exists much further down on the list of how I’d rank people than I’m sure it does for animals.

When we interact with an animal, we take down our facades and have to act and react to basic social cues.  We become more real.  We forget about the daily struggles of the day and just enjoy a friend who loves to have their back stroked or belly rubbed and that is in and of itself fantastic.  Being able to be happy and bring happiness makes it a fruitful reciprocal relationship.

I briefly skimmed C.J.’s review of Hawkeye Issue #11 on Tuesday that made me think of this unfinished essay.  I want to delve into C.J.’s post more, but since he is the second person I know to express how wonderful Hawkeye Issue #11 works, I don’t want to read too closely otherwise, somewhat like Steven Moffat, I may spoil the tale by expecting or knowing too much.  (I’m sure I’ll also have to add my love of Matt Fraction to at some point by writing about Hawkeye TPB #1.)  I just know, from my brief skims at the subject of his essay and the glances at the art C.J. selected to show, it’s about Lucky.  The way they introduced Lucky in issue #1 made me like him as much as any animal in a comic series.  Issue #11 may make me love him, much as I loved the big, happy, hearts of the animals of We3.  Much like I loved the pets in my past and how they talked, smiled, joked, relaxed, played and feasted with me.  I look forward to those interactions in the future as well.

*Editor’s Note:  I like it, Jason–and recall the We3 “aniborgs” are charter honorees of the Hall of Fame.  Haven’t checked out Morrison and Quitely’s superb graphic novel of We3 yet?  You can order it here at

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