Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for March, 2009

Interviews with Grant Morrison and Jessica Joslin

Posted by lisagbrown on March 23, 2009

Animal Inventory readers may be interested in two interviews I conducted for the Spring issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. Read selections from these interviews below. Please visit Antennae to download the entire issue of the journal, along with the full length interviews.

My first interview is with Grant Morrison, the legendary graphic novel author, about his influential comic We3. Morrison is one of the most inventive and successful contemporary comic writers. He has won numerous comic awards, including the Eisner, the Harvey award, and the Eagle award, among others. He is the author of many original, groundbreaking works, including The Invisibles, Seven Soldiers, and many many others. He recently got worldwide attention when he killed off Batman in the comic, “Batman, RIP.” I interviewed Morrison on behalf of the journal Antennae, about his groundbreaking comic We3, which examines what could happen if animals were transformed into cyborg weapons by the U.S. government.

Selection from Grant Morrison interview:

we3_mediumAntennae: Early on the animals [in We3] endear themselves to the reader — even as they viciously kill humans and other animals. How did you manage to make them sympathetic, and why was this important in the larger context of your story?

Grant Morrison: They’re sympathetic because we all have a certain degree of empathy for the underdog – especially when it’s a literal underdog! We understand that they’ve suffered and we want to see them escape and survive because they deserve to. There’s a ‘Frankenstein’ or ‘King Kong’ element here and I think we all have a place in our hearts for the idea of the poor, misunderstood brute on the run from forces he barely understands.

At the same time, I didn’t want to sentimentalize the world of the animals any more than I had already, so it was important to portray them as real animals, capable of bloody violence when necessary. These are animals which have been brutalized to become weapons of war, so a big part of the story is about what happens when a product of scientific hubris goes wrong and turns against its creators. II described it as ‘Disney with fangs’.

Jessica Joslin is a three-dimensional artist whose sculptures are built from found objects, flea market finds, animal bones, antique jewelry, hardware, and other obscure artifacts. Joslin began creating her menagerie of creatures in 1992, and has birthed a collection of lovable, haunting ‘animals,’ who are as beautiful as they are strange. Her work has shown in galleries nationwide. I interviewed Joslin on behalf of the journal Antennae, about her collection.

Selection from Jessica Joslin interview:

gustavAntennae: You have said that you think of your pieces as pets and friends. If these animals did exist, do you imagine this is the relationship they would have with humans (as opposed to food animals, wild animals, etc)?

Jessica Joslin: None would be food animals; they have no flesh. Many of them are performing animals, although some might be wild (at least occasionally) because they lack the signifiers of domesticity: collars, cuffs and caps. Although they are animals, I see them as something “other” because they are primarily mechanical constructions. They might give the illusion of life, but they are built of parts either dead or inanimate. In their current manifestation, their relationships with humans need not be as troubled as if they were flesh and blood animals. They cannot feel pain or fear. Those may have been present in their first life, but in my world, they are content. They enjoy doing tricks and wearing costumes. Their interactions with humans are infused with affection, whimsical humor and quirky charm. They make me want to protect them and keep them from harm; somehow, that feels appropriate. They have died once and been brought back out of love. I don’t always know what their first life may have been like, but this time around, I want them to be protected and appreciated.

To read the full length interviews, along with the entire issue of Antennae, click here.



Posted in Animals, Art, Comics, Representations | Leave a Comment »

New York Times writer Charles Siebert: The Complete Works

Posted by lisagbrown on March 12, 2009

To read my interview with Charles Siebert, click here.

06oped1901One of the challenges of writing with an agenda — that is, writing for the purpose of helping animals, or bringing greater awareness to animal issues — is that sometimes it seems as though lyricism and the beauty of words must be sacrificed. It can be difficult to imbue the language of public policy, welfare and rights, with the cadence of poetry.  I started my career as a writer — not as an animal advocate, that came later — and so the weight of words matters to me. I am as much concerned with how I say something, as I am with what I am saying.

Therefore, when I find someone who manages to advocate on behalf of animals, while also creating worlds of imagery with his words, I become … shall we say … enthralled. Charles Siebert is becoming increasingly well known for his New York Times Magazine editorials, and below I’ve gathered a bibliography of his writings. Within each article, book and radio piece, you’ll find a searing analysis of human-animal relationships that is hidden inside the folds of personal, accessible, and above all, poetic writing. He manages to educate readers about the plight of animal sheltering in the United States, the inherent conflicts in caring for adult chimps, and the complex relationships between humans and the environment, all in the context of visceral autobiographical writing that engenders rawness and self-discovery, without becoming remotely saccharine. Enjoy the works below, and don’t forget to check out my interview with Siebert


2009 The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals (Scribner)

2004 A Man After His Own Heart (Three Rivers Press)

2000 Angus: A Novel (Three Rivers Press)

1997 Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral (Three Rivers Press)



7/21/09 Charles Siebert: The Wauchula Woods Accord The Diane Rehm Show

6/13/09 The Surprisingly Social Grey Whale Fresh Air

3/06/09 350: Human Resources, Act three. “Almost Human Resources” This American Life

10/06 Are Humans Causing Elephants to Go Crazy? Day to Day



06/09 Watching Whales Watching Us New York Times Magazine

03/09 Something Wild New York Times Magazine

05/07 Falling Down Green New York Times Magazine

 04/07 New Tricks New York Times Magazine

10/06 An Elephant Crackup? New York Times Magazine

01/06 The Animal Self  New York Times Magazine

06/05 Planet of the Retired Apes New York Times Magazine

09/04 The Genesis Project New York Times Magazine

03/03 Making Faces New York Times Magazine


Click here to see four articles by Siebert published in Harper’s Magazine:

(Please note: You must be a Harper’s subscriber to access the full text.)

05/97 Our Machines, Ourselves

02/93 The Artifice of the Natural

05/91 Where Have All the Animals Gone? The Lamentable Extinction of Zoos

02/90 The Rehumanization of the Heart: What doctors have forgotten, poets have always known

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Cats, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Fish, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Guest Blogger Katie McCabe

Posted by lisagbrown on March 10, 2009

I’m pleased to introduce a new Animal Inventory guest blogger.  Katie McCabe has worked with marine animals for the past seven years, and has experience in marine mammal behavior, training, rescue, and rehabilitation, as well as educational outreach. She also examines the ethics and policies surrounding human relationships with other animals. She has a Master’s in Science from Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy.


Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Katie McCabe

Over the past couple of days, there have been several reports from various news outlets about a chimpanzee named Santino in a Swedish zoo who is known to throw rocks at zoo guests.

Santino gathers the stones in the morning before the zoo is opened (presumably in an un-agitated state) and collects them in a pile. Throughout the day he adds to this stockpile by chipping away at some of the concrete in his enclosure to create more objects he can throw. When zoo visitors arrive in the afternoon, Santino becomes “agitated” and begins throwing rocks towards them. Santino only throws these rocks during the summer when visitors are present at the zoo.

All of the accounts I have read about this focus on the idea that this situation presents new, and possibly the first concrete, evidence that animals other than humans demonstrate planning and forethought.

Personally, I have never questioned that chimpanzees are quite intelligent and have the capacity both to strategically plan and to later implement these plans. What I have questioned, however, are the ethics surrounding keeping such an intelligent animal captive in a zoo environment. In addition to being evidence of advanced intelligence, doesn’t this say something about a chimpanzee’s experience in a zoo environment – or, at the very least, about Santino’s experience in the Swedish zoo?

Santino has been engaging in this behavior for ten years. Maybe in the midst of all of this research, someone should hypothesize about what Santino might be communicating through this behavior. I sincerely doubt his primary goal was to demonstrate to humans that he is capable of forethought and planning.

Oh, and anyone concerned about the welfare of the humans in this situation should rest assured because the zoo officials maintain that chimpanzees don’t have very good aim.

For more information, read Discover Magazine’s article, “Chimp Gathers Stones for ‘Premeditated Attacks on Zoo Visitors.”

(Katie McCabe)

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Guest Blogger, Primates, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

The Watchmen: Nite Owl’s Lament

Posted by lisagbrown on March 2, 2009

Alan Moore’s The Watchmen is not about animals. However, when I recently reread the brilliant graphic novel in anticipation of the Warner Brothers film version (opening March 6), I was entranced by the passage below, which is written by the character Nite Owl, and is “published” in the fictional Journal of The American Ornithological Society. It is a passage that succinctly, eloquently and poetically confronts the challenges of studying animals — in this case, birds.

Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the length of its tarsus, we somehow lose sight of its poetry? That in our pedestrian descriptions of a marbled or vermiculated plumage we forfeit a glimpse of living canvases, cascades of carefully timed browns and golds that would shame Kandinsky, misty explosions of color to rival Monet? I believe that we do. I believe that in approaching our subject with the sensibilities of statisticians and dissectionists, we distance ourselves increasingly from the marvelous and spellbinding planet of imagination whose gravity drew us to our studies in the first place.

This is not to say that we should cease to establish facts and to verify our information, but merely to suggest that unless those facts can be imbued with the flash of poetic insight then they remain dull gems; semi-precious stones scarcely worth the collecting.

When we stare into the catatonic black bead of a parakeet’s eye we must teach ourselves to glimpse the cold, alien madness that Max Ernst perceived when he chose to robe his naked brides in confections of scarlet feather and the transplanted monstrous heads of exotic birds. When some oceangoing Kite or Tern is captured in the sharp blue gaze of our Zeiss lenses, we must be able to see the stop motion flight of sepia gulls through the early kinetic photographs of Muybridge, beating white wings tracing a slow oscilloscope line through space and time.

Looking at a hawk, we see the minute differences in width of the shaft lines on the underfeathers where Egyptians once saw Horus and the burning eye of holy vengeance incarnate. Until we transform our mere sightings into genuine visions; until our ear is mature enough to order a symphony from the shrill pandemonium of the aviary; until then we may have a hobby, but we shall not have a passion.

“Daniel Dreiberg, a.k.a Nite Owl” in Alan Moore’s The Watchmen

76255378_ph_web “Attirement of the Bride” 1940, Max Ernst

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Birds, Comics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »