What do comic books and animals have in common? They are both dismissed as having nothing intelligent to say. Perhaps that is why comics are one of the most prolific sources of animal representations in popular culture. Or it could be that illustrating an animal is a lot easier than trying to get a real one to perform in front of a camera or audience. It is certainly easier to draw an animal talking than to get a real one to do it. This essay will discuss the use of anthropomorphism (animals with human traits) and reverse anthropomorphism (humans with animal traits) in comics1. Murray Ball's Footrot Flats will provide an example of anthropomorphism which succeeds in giving the animal a voice. While Grant Morrison's Animal Man provides insight into why reverse anthropomorphism innately silences the animal. To successfully gauge whether such portrayals speak about the non-human animal rather than just the human we must look at how animals are given 'agency'. This essay will, as Armstrong writes2, 'locate the "tracks" left by animals in texts' (Armstrong 3) or as Philo and Wilbert write3, 'give credence to the practices that are folded into the making of representations, and to ask how animals themselves may figure into these practices' (Philo and Wilbert 5). The results of this analysis will show that anthropomorphism has the potential to portray the animal as possessing agency due to the use of a discourse of agency and the formulation of beastly places within the text, while reverse anthropomorphism uses a discourse of theory that confines animals to human constructed categories thus silencing the animal.
When analysing animal agency in comics the first step is to ask why animal representations are so prolific in comics. Animal icons represent stereotypes which allow the quick and easy communication of concepts. Generally icons are more effective than realistic drawings because they are more easily received due to what comic creator Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics calls 'amplification through simplification'. 'When we abstract an image through cartooning we're not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential "meaning," an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't' (McCloud 30). Animals are frequently used in comics because they are universally understood icons4. As Will Eisner explains in Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative 'While words are a vital component, the major dependence for description and narration is on universally understood images, crafted with intention of imitating or exaggerating reality' (Eisner 1-2). Comics rely on stereotypes to convey concepts quickly and easily. Comics 'depend on the reader's stored memory of experience to visualize an idea or process quickly. This makes necessary the simplification of images into repeatable symbols. Ergo, stereotypes5' (17). Stereotypical images of animals are culturally coded to represent ready-made concepts such as the lazy cat, the loyal dog or the crafty fox. They 'evoke a viewer's reflexive response... the use of animal-based stereotypes speeds the reader into the plot and gives the teller reader-acceptance for the action of his characters' (20). But stereotyping is also known as a way to establish and reinforce prejudiced attitudes; in the case of animals it tends to generalise them into categories. Although this may be true in general there is a noticeable degree of difference between anthropomorphic and reverse anthropomorphic portrayals.
Animal characters must be portrayed anthropomorphically to some degree in order to participate significantly in a narrative. The degree of personification varies. This can be shown on an anthropomorphic scale6; at one end is the animal and at the other the human. In the graphic novel Laika, the dog Laika or Kudryavka is only minimally anthropomorphous. For the most part she behaves as a dog only. Other human characters imagine her talking but there are no direct speech or thought bubbles. The next step in the anthropomorphic scale is talking animals, such as Dog from Footrot Flats. Dog does not talk directly to humans instead the reader is privy to his thoughts expressed in thought bubbles. As the scale advances the shape of the animal's body begins to become more human. The third anthropomorphic level is that of the bipedal animal character such as Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck who stand upright, wear human clothing and speak out loud often directly to human characters. The fourth level is the hybrid animal character whose body is much closer to that of a human. Examples are Goofy or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hybrid characters tend to be more human or at least as human as animal. The fifth level is the beastly character who is human in almost all ways except for cosmetic features such as a tail, animal ears or fur covering. The far end of this scale is the human animal. The more human-like the animal the more anthropocentric it is. But anthropomorphic characters are still better equipped to show animal agency than their reverse anthropomorphic cousins.
Beyond the point of human is reverse anthropomorphism where the human takes on animal characteristics. For the most part this is apparent in superhero comic books. The first level of reverse anthropomorphism is that of the fetish whereby the character does not really posses any actual animal traits but chooses to identify with animals through a costume, name or insignia. Catwoman wears a cat suit which is sometimes portrayed with animal claws. She does not take her name because of any actual cat powers but because she identifies with cats and she is a cat burglar. At the next level are those characters with augmented animal powers such as Batman who uses technology or gadgets to simulate traits of the animal. He uses a cape to glide, spends much of his time in a cave and on occasion uses sonar devices. Much of his identification with the animal is on the level of a fetish or a 'bat' theme such as his use of the iconic Batmobile or Batarangs. The final level of reverse anthropomorphism are those characters with intrinsic animal powers such as mutants. Wolverine has real animal claws, enhanced tracking abilities due to his heightened olfactory senses and the ferocity of a wolverine. Other means of acquiring animal powers may come from magical sources such as the Black Panther who has a mystical connection to a Panther God or Spider-Man who is created by a scientific experiment gone awry. This essay will demonstrate that reverse anthropomorphic representations do not show animal agency.
For an animal to transcend beyond an purely anthropocentric icon, which says little about the actual animal and more about the human, it must show some kind of agency. One way in which we can measure animal agency is through the degree to which the animal resists and / or transgresses the human-made animal spaces and creates their own beastly places. Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert in Animal Spaces, Beastly Spaces: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations defines these terms. Animal spaces are constructed by humans and work to categorise animals. One of the most common is the zoo which functions as 'a space (or set of spaces) specifically put aside for wild animals no longer ‘in the wild’, thereby leading many people to ‘naturalise’ the zoo in the sense of accepting it unproblematically as an appropriate location for many animals' (Philo and Wilbert 12). The farm too is an animal space in which animals are positioned in 'special, enclosed and policed enclaves' (12). The animal is expected to conform to human classifications because the 'emphasis is on the setting up of classificatory schemes wherein each identified thing has its own "proper place" relative to all other things, and can be neatly identified, delimited and positioned in the relevant conceptual space so as to be separate from, and not overlapping with, other things there identified, delimited and positioned... The result of such classifications, systems and tables is to fix animals in a series of abstract spaces, ‘animal spaces’ (6). Beastly Places are created when it is the 'animals themselves who inject what might be termed their own agency into the scene, thereby transgressing, perhaps even resisting, the human placements of them. It might be said that in so doing the animals begin to forge their own "other spaces", countering the proper places stipulated for them by humans, thus creating their own "beastly places" reflective of their own "beastly" ways, ends, doings, joys and sufferings' (13). Animals create beastly places by either transgressing or resisting. Transgression may occur when animals end up 'evading the places to which humans seek to allot them, whether the basket in the kitchen, the garden, the paddock, the field, the cage or whatever. Such evasions can occur at an individual level' (13). Transgression is a more mild form of animal agency while 'resistance is generally taken to entail the presence of conscious intentionality, seemingly only a property of human agency in that only humans are widely recognised to possess selfconsciousness and the facility for acting on intentions with a view to converting plans into outcomes' (14).
The animal characters is Footrot Flats actively resist rather then simply transgress the animal spaces allocated to them because they do so with 'conscious intentionality'. Dog's allotted animal spaces are his kennel and at his owner's side, but he also wanders around the farm doing as he pleases. He often wanders out of the farm to visit neighbours or the township. A common scenario in Footrot Flats is for Dog to try to meet with Jess when she is on heat. In order to do this he must resist his own enclosure in the farm and the attempts of Coach to lock Jess away. In Footrot Flats 22 (fig 1.1) we see Dog wants to cross a river to Jess but he is stopped by a 'dog eating pig' (Ball 26). Dog, Jess and the Pig are all resisting their animal spaces. Dog is trying to escape the farm, Jess has evaded her dog box and the pig is living in a river. Dog then decides that he must cross a bridge outside the farm. On his way he spies another pack of dogs who are all evading their animal spaces in an attempt to get to Jess. When Dog finally completes his journey Coach has locked Jess away in her dog box. Although it is 'natural' for male dogs to be attracted to a female on heat the lengths they have gone to shows how animals actively resist their animal spaces and possess their own agency. It may be said that this scene is still allocating dogs to a category of beasts unable to resist their urges to mate. But what makes this scene operate as an example of resistance is that Dog is not frustrated when he cannot reach Jess rather his is happy that the other dogs were unable to reach her. On page 29 Dog has almost reached Jess and cries, 'I'm coming Jess, don't let that bag of rat bags have their way with you!!'.'When Dog finally reaches her and sees that she is safely locked away he jumps with happiness and says, 'Thank Heavens!' 'Victory is in the opposition not winning!!'. There is more to this relationship than an urge to mate. Dog would rather Jess was locked away than be taken by the other dogs. They care about each other in a way that goes beyond mere human theoretical categorisation of animal relations. Jess in turn looks back lovingly at Dog with love heart icons surrounding her to represent her own emotion for him. This scenario allow us to explore the notion that animals do not operate solely on base instinct but have similar emotions to humans. In another scene (fig 1.2) we see a rabbit who decides to shelter from the rain by running into Coach's house and jumping in his bed. Coach says, 'Look I an't soft on noxious animals mate! Only one night, right?' In his bedroom we see a tree growing out of the floor with a magpie sitting on a branch. Both the animals and the tree have transgressed from the spaces allocated to them. Coach's willingness to let these non-human others share his space shows that it is humans who decide what is the 'proper' place for both animals and nature. Animal spaces are not 'natural' they are human constructs which may be subverted by either the animal or the human. Footrot Flats presents a discourse that accepts animals have their own agency by portraying them as consciously resisting their prescribed animal spaces.
Animal agency can be measured by the type of discourse employed within a text. In 'The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)' Derrida identifies two types of discourse regarding the animal. The first and most common discourse, which I shall call the theoretical discourse, is by those who see the animal but deny that they are seen by the animal. The animal is reduced to a theorem or passive object of theoretical knowledge and his or her own perspective is ignored:
In the first place there are those texts signed by people who have no doubt seen, observed, analysed, reflected on the animal, but who have never been seen seen by the animal. Their gaze has never intersected with that of an animal directed at them... They have taken no account of the fact that what they call animal could look at them and address them from down there, from a wholly other origin... everything goes on as though this troubling experience [being seen by the animal] had not been theoretically registered, supposing that they had experienced it at all, at the precise moment when they made of the animal a theorem, something seen and not seeing' (Derrida 382-383).
Derrida believes at some level humans do recognise that they too are seen by animals but ' they have denied it as much as misunderstood it' and the logic of this immense disavowal 'traverses the whole history of humanity' (383). Because humans cannot ever fully understand the animal's perspective; because it exceeds the systems of knowledge many simply ignore or deny it. Derrida claims the entire concept of what it means to be human is founded on this disavowal. 'This figure could not be the figure of just one disavowal among others. It institutes what is proper to man, the relation to itself of a humanity that is above all careful to guard, and jealous of, what is proper to it' (383). The human is able to maintain its perceived superiority by denying the animal looks back . A theoretical discourse justifies the use of the animal as a tool or resource and means the human does not have to engage the animal as an equal being or fellow 'earthling'.
The second type of discourse, which I shall call a discourse of agency, accepts that the animal looks back, that the human is seen by the animal. 'As for the other category of discourse, found among ...those men and women who admit taking upon themselves the address of an animal that addresses them, before even having the time or the power to take themselves off' (383). The animal is not merely a tool or a resource but a being with its own perception and agency. This discourse of agency shows an alteration in humanity's perspective of the animal 'in the being-with shared by man and by what man calls the animal' (393). A discourse of agency does not create a dichotomy by focusing on our differences from the animal. Instead it reveals our shared modes of consciousness. As Rowe summarises in 'No Human Hand?': 'epitomes are formed by vision and the experience of being in a world with these non-human others... recognizing that modes of consciousness, desire and suffering transcend species boundaries' (Rowe 125). This discourse shows an understanding of the active role animals play in the shaping of our shared space and presents the animal as possessing agency.
Footrot Flats actively employs a discourse of agency; ideas are formed by being in the world with non-human animals. The stereotype of a farm dog is as a working animal. In Footrot Flats Wal works with Dog to complete jobs around the farm; all activities are shared. In figure 2.1 Wal is trying to move a goat he tells Dog, 'Look, I want to move the goat - you go and attract his attention while I undo the chain...' There is an acceptance in this portrayal that human and animal must co-operate to achieve tasks; the task cannot be completed without shared agency. Dog has his own agency; he obeys the commands of Wal not because he is a passive object but because he too is a caretaker of the farm. In the final panel we see that the goat too has his own agency. After Wal unchains the him, he chases Wal and Dog who cries 'He seems to be ignoring me, Wal'...'. The goat is not an 'it', the goat is a 'he'. He is not a passive object but shows the emotion of annoyance as would many earthlings upon being barked at and shifted against their will. A discourse of agency accepts modes of consciousness, desire, and suffering transcend species boundaries. In Footrot Flats #22 there is a sequence of cartoons which deal with animal courtship between ewes and rams. In the first cartoon (fig 2.2) Wal explains animal courtship to his niece (Janice 'Pongo' Footrot) using a theoretical discourse. 'It's pretty basic really... The ram is put to the ewe and makes her pregnant... she cares for the baby until it's big enough to look after itself... then the ram makes her pregnant again' (39). This discourse labels the animal as an 'it'. A passive object that mates in order to reproduce with little room for emotion. After hearing this explanation Janice replies 'It all sounds very 1950-ish!'. There is an awareness in the text that this discourse both objectifies the animal and promotes a wider ideology of sexism (or at least essentialism) in which the female (both human and non-human) is a passive object whose main role is domestic - to care for children and be impregnated. In the next two sequences we see that the ram Cecil is having trouble finding a mate because he desires love. Dog tries to console him, 'No Cec', I don't think it is too much to expect some show of mutual respect and affection from ewes... I'm sure you'll find some nice sensitive female who'll understand and respect your delicate sensibilities...' (40). To further stress the point that such desires and longings transcend species boundaries Dog takes Cecil to talk to Coach for advice. But Coach suffers from the same longings as the ram, he too is sensitive in matters of love. As Coach explains 'Look I don't know that I'm the best person to ask about this... I'm not married you know... My knowledge of sexual matters is pretty limited... Well... I understand mutual trust and respect come into it - I believe there is an element of foreplay...' (40). After this Coach becomes embarrassed and cries 'Why bring the ram to me?!!' The awkwardness about love and finding a partner is shared by both the ram and the man; it transcends species boundaries. Finally Dog becomes frustrated with Cecil and resorts to a theoretical discourse, 'Cmon Cec' Rams don't fall in love with ewes! Rams flit from ewe to ewe sipping here, sipping there. Ewes aren't that fussy either...' (41). But as we see at the end of this sequence Cecil has found a partner who loves him. A theoretical discourse would say that love is not important to animals. But in this sequence we see Cecil and a ewe rubbing each other tenderly and walking together. Love heart symbols also add to the notion that there is more to their relationship than an urge to mate. These animal characters have their own agency which is no different than a humans. Undeniably there is an element of anthropocentrism in this portrayal. But the degree to which this portrayal is true or false depends on the ideology of the reader. If the reader follows a theoretical discourse and believes animals merely mate without emotion then this portrayal would seem totally anthropocentric. But if the reader approaches it as someone who has shared space with the animal, accepts that the animal looks back, has their own agency and individual characteristics, then this behaviour would not seem improbable.
Reverse anthropomorphism, in contrast, cannot help but adopt a theoretical discourse. It shows little in the way of animal agency because the animal is not present. Even when the story is sympathetic towards the plight of animals a theoretical discourse permeates the text which causes the animal to become no more than a symbol which signifies a set of conventions. In order to understand how reverse anthropomorphism operates we must first investigate its use of the animal totem. Almost every superhero sports a logo of some description; a symbol which defines them and establishes their 'brand'. Reverse anthropomorphic characters have animal symbols such as Batman's bat insignia or Spider-Man's webbed costume or they may simply dress like an animal such as Catwoman. The animal becomes a totem which defines the character in some way. In Totemism Claude Lévi-Strauss writes that animal symbols are used to organize clans; to define one group as separate from another. The totem represents a 'mode of thought. The connection between the relation of man to nature and the characterization of social groups' (Lévi-Strauss 13). The tribe who adopts an animal symbol is adopting the perceived characteristics of that animal. Lévi-Strauss notes that 'the idea of totemism made possible differentiation of societies... if not by regulating certain of them into nature, at least by classing them according to their attitude toward nature, as expressed by the place assigned to man in the animal kingdom' (2). Totemism can be used to classify a people as lower in the 'chain of being' or less than a civilized human and closer to an animal. The use of totemism in superhero portrayals tends to do the opposite. The superhero adopts the totem to show that they are different from the ordinary human; they are 'super', they possess abilities and characteristics that go beyond the norm. Through the adoption of the totem the superhero become a post-human possessing abilities or characteristics of the animal which allows him or her to transcend the average human and become closer to a god. The focus of such portrayals is rarely on the actual animal but on the (often imagined) 'animal powers'.
Animal Man by Grant Morrison provides a specific example of totemism. Animal Man is a superhero who has the ability to call upon the 'powers' of any animal. Morrison portrays Animal Man or Buddy Baker as a vegetarian and champion of animal rights. But even with these intentions the innate nature of reverse anthropomorphism means the actual animal lacks concreteness and individuality. In Animal Man #18 (fig 3.1) Buddy meets his totem, a fox, during an out of body experience in the desert induced by a hallucinogenic drug (peyote) and learns that his animal powers come from the morphogenetic field. '"This is where your animal powers come from! From the field itself!" "The Field is a mesh of countless smaller fields..." "Every species is represented by its own field. Its own ideal form! It's like Plato's archetypal reality, only more subtle. " "This is where the idea of totem spirits derives from! And you're connected to the essence of every creature that has ever existed. You don't need to be near an animal to absorb its power! The power comes from here! From the life field itself!"' (Morrison 17). The problem with totemism is that the animal becomes regulated to a classification, and indexical symbol which points to generalised abilities rather than individuality. 'At the same time as the nature of the animal seems to be concentrated into a unique quality, we might say that its individuality is dissolved in a genus. To recognise an animal is normally to decide what species it belongs to... An animal lacks concreteness and individuality, it appears essentially as a quality, and thus essentially as a class' (Lévi-Strauss 93). Under reverse anthropomorphism the animal is not present only its powers remain. A discourse of theory is adopted which portrays the animal as a passive object or a resource. A metaphysical vivisection occurs: the human imagination becomes a laboratory where the animal is mined for symbolic meaning. The animal is broken into parts which are assigned a use value. The useful traits of the animal are kept while the rest is discarded. An animal space remains but it is hidden deep in the non-conscious. I say non-conscious because even in the unconscious the animal is reduced to a symbol or metaphor. The animal’s individuality is forgotten or deemed irrelevant. Non-presence means no beastly place is created. The animal is restricted to an non-conscious animal space with no chance of transgressing or resisting.
The use of animals as symbols or totems means the actual animal does not have a chance to speak instead the human puts words in their mouth. As Jean Baudrillard explains in ‘The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses’: They, the animals, do not speak... Certainly, one makes them speak... They spoke the moral discourse of man in fables. They supported structural discourse in the theory of totemism. Every day they deliver their "objective"... message in laboratories. They served in turns as metaphors for virtue and vice... In all this - metaphor, guinea pig, model, allegory - animals maintain a compulsory discourse’ (Baudrillard 90). Under reverse anthropomorphism the animal is a human construct; a set of conventions or ‘powers’ which are used to augment the human subject. The human turns the animal into a symbol which represents qualities the animal may not even posses. In Animal Man #21 (fig 3.2) Buddy absorbs the powers of a fly which allows him to slow down time. The explanation Morrison gives for how this works is as follows: ‘Time! All animals experience time at different rates. The smaller the animal the shorter its life, the more slowly it experiences the passage of time. Reach into the field. Absorb the time perception of a fly. And the world goes into slow motion. Like a film running down. My reaction time is multiplied by ten’ (Morrison 21). A compulsory discourse is forced upon the animal. The animal does not speak or share its own experience rather one is made up for it by a human; the human speaks for the animal. As Baudrillard explains: ‘Nowhere do they [animals] really speak, because they only furnish the responses one asks for. It is their way of sending the Human back to his circular codes, behind which their silence analyzes us’ (Baudrillard 90). Reverse anthropomorphism has no real interest in understanding the perception of the animal. The animal is a part of a circular code. The human wishes to find a pre-determined meaning and so constructs the animal as a symbol of that meaning; the signified comes before the signifier. Under reverse anthropomorphism the animal lacks both presence and a voice.
Reverse anthropomorphism silences the animal, if a text is to show animal agency then it must employ (anthropomorphic) animals. It would not be fair to describe Animal Man as a harmful form of animal representation. Morrison did attempt to make the reader aware of many animal issues such as the plight of laboratory animals, the senseless slaughter of dolphins for recreation and the general support of vegetarianism. But the reverse anthropomorphic character Animal Man cannot speak as an animal he can only speak about animals. A final analysis of Animal Man supports the thesis that anthropomorphism allows animal agency while reverse anthropomorphism does not. Issue #5 of Animal Man called ‘The Coyote Gospel’ examines the use of anthropomorphism in popular culture. At the beginning of this issue Buddy is throwing out his households supply of meat because he is turning vegetarian. This is a clear example of speaking about the animal. ‘“Buddy what are you doing?” “I’m getting rid of all this meat and stuff. I think its time we went vegetarian... Ellen, these are dead animals! Have you any idea of the kind of terrible conditions these animals live in before they get dragged down to the slaughter house and turned into somebody’s “groceries”’ (Morrison 8). Buddy’s concern for the suffering of animals in contrasted with the suffering of an anthropomorphic coyote, called Crafty, who is analogous to Wiley coyote from the cartoon Road Runner (1949). In this cartoon the Wiley frequently suffers for the amusement of the audience (mainly children) by being run over, blown up with sticks of dynamite, and dropped of cliffs. All these tortures are inflicted upon Crafty in Animal Man but, unlike Wiley in Road Runner, this coyote feels the pain and is miserable. His ability to resurrect after each ‘death’ only brings him more anguish. As Crafty explains in his ‘gospel’ he comes from a world filled with anthropomorphic beasts who continually fight each other. ‘No one in those days could remember a time when the world was free from strife. A time when beast was not set against beast in an endless round of violence and cruelty. With bodies that renewed themselves instantly, following each wound, no one thought to challenge the futile brutality of existence. Until Crafty’ (18). One day Crafty ‘wept at last and said “no more”’ (19) and decided to visit God (who is a cartoonist with a paintbrush). God is angry that he has questioned him but offers to let the other animals live in peace if Crafty will agree to ‘spend eternity in the hell above [the human world]... while you live and bear the suffering of the world, I will make peace among the beasts’ (20). Crafty is then teleported to the human world where he is immediately run over by a truck and has his entrails eaten by vultures until he resurrects again to suffer more punishment. Although the driver feels guilt he drives on without stopping saying to a hitch hiker, ‘”Forget it. Don’t look back.” “Keep your eyes on the road and don’t look back”’ (3). Since this incident the driver suffers a string of bad luck; his best friend is run over, he loses his job, his mother dies of cancer and finally he discovers that the hitch hiker he picked up became a prostitute and was killed. The driver blames the Crafty for this bad luck and returns to the desert a year later determined to kill him. Like the Road Runner cartoons, the driver shoots Crafty, causes him to fall off a cliff, drops a boulder on him and blows him up with dynamite before finally killing him forever with a silver bullet. All Crafty wants to do is return to his home world and ‘overthrow the tyrant God’ (21) but instead he dies in Animal Man’s arms. Crafty desires agency to act, he wishes to escape his animal space; his category of an animal who is tortured for amusement. Through this portrayal Morrison is showing that the animal looks back even from the cartoon; he is not simply a passive object but has his own perception. Baudrillard compares the treatment of animals to the torturers of the Inquisition who demanded that their victims admitted they acted evilly. But more importantly the victims had to admit they were ‘not guilty except by accident, through the incidence of the principle of Evil in the divine order. (Baudrillard 85). In this way evil was exterminated through torture. Baudrillard then asks: ‘when we use and abuse animals in laboratories, in rockets, with experimental ferocity [or in cartoons] … what confessions are we hoping to extort’? (82). His answer is that ‘Animals must be made to say they are not animals’ p. By this he means that ‘Bestiality, and its principle of uncertainty, must be killed in animals’ (82). This uncertainty arises when we admit that animals look back, that they have a perspective we cannot understand. Rather than admitting an animal’s perspective is as valid as our own, we reduce the animal to ‘physiological mechanisms’ that do not work as well as our own. We force animals to confess that they are not a fellow earthling but a lower and less intelligent resource which justifies our treatment of them. The same dynamic happens in many anthropomorphic portrays of animals. Wiley Coyote, from Road Runner, is stupid and his suffering is the result of his lack of intelligence, his lack of foresight and his inability to resist his category of ‘victim’ and this means his suffering is both justified and amusing. In Morrison’s story, Crafty the coyote is not stupid, he is noble, self aware and filled with emotion. This story shows animal agency, the coyote resists his animal space and creates a beastly place that resonates with the reader. A discourse of agency is used in which the animal looks back and questions our justification of his torture. Reverse anthropomorphic characters can only speak about the animal, but, as the example of Crafty shows, anthropomorphic characters can show animal agency by speaking as an animal.
This essay has analysed the use of anthropomorphism and reverse anthropomorphism in comics. Animal icons are used in comics because they allow quick identification through stereotyping. Although this may lock the animal into a predetermined category the closer the representation is to the animal end of the anthropomorphic scale the more potential it has to speak as an animal. Although this analysis is limited to two texts, Footrot Flats and Animal Man, I would argue that all anthropomorphic representations must show animal agency to some degree. Because the animal protagonist must act in order to move the narrative forward an element of agency must accompany his or her representation. To measure agency we need to look at how the animal is categorised and more importantly how he or she consciously resists animal spaces to create their own beastly places. A discourse of agency accepts that the animal looks back and has his or her own perspective in contrast to a discourse of theory which only sees the animal as a passive object. Once we move into reverse anthropomorphism the animal as an individual is lost and becomes a symbol or totem which signifies a set of conventions or powers. Although the intentions of the author may be sympathetic towards real animals the innate nature of reverse anthropomorphism means the animal is not present. This silencing ignores the animal's own perspective and supplants a human one in its place. The reverse anthropomorphic character may champion animal rights but he or she can only ever hope to speak about animals. Only anthropomorphic characters can speak as animals and show agency. Although anthropocentrism is almost impossible to avoid, by adopting a discourse of agency traces of the individual animal do exist. As Lisa Brown explains in Antennae #16 'By providing other animals an outlet for their voices, artists simultaneously allow them a forum to air their grievances, and provide humans an arena to hear what they might say' (Brown 3).
Armstrong, Philip. What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity. Routledge (2008)
Ball, Murray. Footrot Flats 22. Hodder Moa Beckett. 1991.
Baudrillard, Jean. 'The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses', Simulacra and Simulation. The University of Michigan, 1994.
Berger, John. Why Look at Animals? Penguin. 2009.
Brown, Lisa. 'Lisa Brown - An Introduction to the Illustrated Animal'. Antennae. Issue 16. (Spring 2011). 3-6.
Brown, Lisa. 'The Speaking Animal Nonhuman Voices in Comics'. Speaking for Animals: Animal Autobiographical Writing. Routledge. 2012.
Carmack, Betty J. 'Realistic representations of companion animals in comic art in the USA.' Anthrozoos 10(2/3): 108-120.
Chaney, Michael. 'Animal Subjects of the Graphic Novel'. College Literature. Vol. 38. No. 3. (Summer 2011). 129-149. West Chest University.
Derrida, Jacques. Wills, David (trans). 'The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)'. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Winter, 2002). 369-418.
Eisner,Will. Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Poorhouse Press. 2006
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Totemism.Beacon Press. 1973
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics The Invisible Art. HarperCollins, 1993.
Morrison, Grant. Animal Man. DC Comics. 1988.
Philo, Chris and Wilbert, Chris. Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations. Routledge. 2000.
Rowe, Stephanie. 'No Human Hand? The Ourang-Outang in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"', Animals and Agency. Brill. 2009.
Shapiro, Kenneth (ed.) Animals and Agency. Brill. 2009.
1The word 'comics' will be used because as McCloud explains in Understanding Comics 'comics... refers to the medium itself. Not a specific object as "comic book" or "comic strip" [or graphic novel] do.' p4. Comics are 'juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.' p9
2What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity.
3 Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations.
4At this stage is is important to make a distinction between the real embodied animal and the constructed concept or stereotype of the animal to which icons tend to represent.
5 Eisner believes stereotypes evoke a viewer's reflexive response due to retained instincts developed as primordials but I would argue these responses are learned when the subject enters the pre-existing means of signification or langue.
6The anthropomorphic scale I described is a refined version of that presented in 'Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism' from the website tvtropes.org. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SlidingScaleOfAnthropomorphism