Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Animals in Graphic Novels

Posted by lisagbrown on October 19, 2009

If you’re wondering why Animal Inventory is a little slow these days, let me assure that it’s for good reason. I’m hard at work on lots of exciting projects, and I’d like to share one of them with you: I’m guest-editing the June 2010 issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. The theme of the issue puts my favorite topic in the context of one of my favorite artistic mediums: animals in graphic novels.

buddhacoverCover art from Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha

Here in Boston we just had our first snow, so it may seem odd to busy myself with something that’s debuting in June. Yet, for those of us who are working on the issue, June is right around the corner! If you or someone you know may be interested in contributing to this issue, please take a look at the call for papers below.

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture (www.antennae.org.uk) is seeking submission for its June 2010 issue devoted to the subject of “animals in graphic novels.”

The issue will primarily focus on papers that examine contemporary graphic novels; examples of these might include Pride of Baghdad (Brian K. Vaughan), First in Space (James Vining), the works of Osamu Tezuka, Animal Man (Grant Morrison), Rabbi’s Cat (Joann Sfar), Fables (Bill Willingham), and Maus (Art Spiegelman), among others. Papers that examine the subjects of comics for children and comic strips that appear in newspapers may also be considered, depending on the originality of the contextualisation through which they may be presented.

We are looking at gathering a wide range of perspectives, themes and ideas within the broad scope of “animals in graphic novels.” These may include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Exploring animality in the graphic novel medium
– Representing the human/animal divide
– Positive and negative aspects of anthropomorphism
– Becoming animal
– Links between sexism, racism and speciesism
– Non-western graphic novels
– The challenges of animal first-person narratives
– Ecocriticism and nature in graphic novels

As per usual Antennae is open to consideration of academic essays as well as fiction and experimental writing. Submission of abstracts and proposals is 1st of December 2009. Final deadline for submissions is 1st of March 2010. For any questions please contact Giovanni Aloi and Lisa Brown (Guest Editor of the Animals in Graphic Novels Issue) at antennaeproject@gmail.com

Posted in Animals, Art, Comics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Animals on the Internet

Posted by lisagbrown on August 27, 2009

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Animals are everywhere on the internet, and it seems that every day there are more and more viral stories, videos and photos about animals! In order to accomodate the rapid influx of news and links, I’ve started a Facebook page where I can quickly post these items when I don’t have time to write a blog entry. Here’s a sampling of what you’ve been missing, if you’re not a fan of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

  • Monkey Herds Goats; Farmer Approves: An amazing National Geographic video of a monkey in India that herds goats! She has received no training, and does it on a completely voluntary basis — she was set free by the people who tended to some wounds she had gotten in the wild, but has chosen to stay with them and herd their goats!
  • Green Porno: Isabella Rossellini and Sundance channel team up to create very short films about the reproductive habits of marine animals. GREEN PORNO is scientifically accurate yet extremely entertaining.
  • Chimp Outtakes: Adorable outtakes from footage shot by the Jane Goodall Institute of the chimps in Gombi.
  • Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me: The NPR news quiz show hosts an episode that’s all about animals!

And there’s so much more! Articles about: a giraffe and an ostrich that are best friends, how Barry White might help sharks mate, an elephant and a dolphin getting prosthetic limbs. Introductions to cool artists who are inspired by animals, like Jen Mastre’s pencil sea urchin sculptures.  Plus I’ve begun highlighting the animal-related work of Animal Inventory’s fans themselves, an astonishingly talented and prolific group of people: for example, the comics of Nick Abadzis, the artwork of Jessica Joslin, the writing of Leslie Irvine.

There’s much more to come. Don’t miss out on your daily dose of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Comics, Conservation, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Primates, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »

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.

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Posted in Animals, Art, Comics, Representations | 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 »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!

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Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Cats, Comics, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Music, Photography, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Religion, Representations, Television, Theory | 3 Comments »

An Interview with Nick Abadzis, author of Laika

Posted by lisagbrown on October 27, 2008

Nick Abadzis is the author of the graphic novel Laika, a luminous telling of the story of the first dog sent to space. Laika has won many awards, including an Eisner award (a comic book version of the Oscar’s). It was nominated for a National Cartoonists’ Society Division Award (best comic book) and a Harvey Award for Best Original Graphic Album, among many other honors. (Read my review of Laika in the journal Society and Animals: A Graphic Novel raises Ethical Issues: Laika. by Nick Abadzis.)

Abadzis has graciously agreed to share with Animal Inventory readers his thoughts on creating a canine character. Enjoy the interview below, and for more information on Nick, visit his website at www.nickabadzis.com.

(Special thanks to publisher First Second, the journal !Journalista!: The Comics Journal Weblog, and the site Comics Reporter for linking to this interview.)

I asked Nick to select his favorite image from Laika to accompany the interview. In reply, he explained, “I found this incredibly difficult … But if I had to pick a single image, then I suppose it would have to be the splash panel on page 52 [above], which encapsulates everything that the book is about.”

Animal Inventory: Your graphic novel Laika has won lots of awards and accolades, but did you encounter any resistance along the way from publishers, editors, distributors or readers who did not think Laika’s story was worth telling? More specifically, how did people respond to the focus you place on Laika’s perspective, and the amount of time you devote to Laika’s side of the story within the comic?

Nick Abadzis: I didn’t really encounter a problem with that once I’d placed the story with [the publisher] First Second. The problem I had prior to that was interesting publishers in the story at all, which surprised me. As far as I was concerned, it was a modern myth, an extraordinary tale from any perspective you cared to come at it from. But I didn’t get much interest at all from British publishers, although that might have been as much about their antipathy to comics storytelling as much as anything. (Most publishers here are more open to graphic novels now, especially as they’ve discovered that it gets young, reluctant readers reading.) My plan was also to take it to some French publishers – the French love their graphic novels or “bande dessinee” as they call them, and several publishers there had been very encouraging about another project I showed them. But after playing with the idea to do a short strip based on Laika’s last few days, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed crying out for a deeper treatment, a biography, if you like. I had to do it justice, from canine, human, scientific, political and historical viewpoints. I decided I had to do some in-depth research. I put together a more detailed proposal for a longer work just before a trip to the USA. I took it around publishers there and got a very good response. Mark Siegel of First Second jumped at it – he just got what I was trying to do straight away and he encouraged me to follow my muse and get it right. We agreed that we had to make it fair and allow a variety of viewpoints from different characters: Laika’s would be the most difficult to get right. Mark was very generous in allowing me the room I needed to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it.

We’ve actually had an extremely good response to the book from librarians and historians and also from the space journalism quarter. I’ve been blown away by the way it’s been received. Although it was broadly marketed as a “teen” book, it was never conceived or written with that idea exclusively in mind. It’s for anybody who is interested in animals or history or the space age and how it came to be. Inevitably, you do get the odd person wondering aloud, “Why all this fuss over a dumb dog?” My answer is, “Read the book.”

AI: I have often encountered people who believe that it is impossible for someone to get “inside the head” of another species — and this renders all artistic representations of animals invalid. How might you respond to that sentiment?

NA: To be honest, I find it sort of pitiable. It’s an extremely egotistical stance and an absolute failure of imagination. Does that mean that only a dog can write about what it’s like being a dog? They may wait a long time for that one, although it’s one piece of writing I’d really like to read, too. This is what art is for, after all: to stretch the way humanity perceives the universe around them, to imagine different viewpoints. Imagination is what allows us to make great scientific and philosophical leaps just as much as it allows us to empathize with our environment and the other creatures we share it with.

You always run the risk of anthropomorphizing an animal character, of course. I was very careful about that: characters in the book do this, but whenever any of the characters who are dogs are seen on their own, I made very sure that they behaved like dogs, not people. That said, there are people who believe that animals don’t have emotions and don’t experience fear or anger or even love, aren’t there? I don’t mean to say that animals necessarily experience emotions in the same way as human beings do; for one thing they don’t have the benefit of the huge emotional memory that humans and perhaps even other primates tend to. Indeed, I think the way human beings experience emotion varies from person to person and culture to culture but I daresay that anyone who works with animals, whether they be farmer, veterinarian or scientist, would agree that individual animals have different personalities.

Even if you agree that you’ll never completely and accurately understand or convey what it’s really like to live as another species, why not try? It might open a few other doors. There are religions in this world that talk of the idea of a person finding their own animal spirit guide. Whether I believe in that or not, I’d hate to discount such a lovely idea on the basis that my own solipsistic viewpoint rendered exploring it through artistic interpretation pointless. One of the functions of myth in human culture is to understand the abstract; the viewpoints we can’t rationally describe or comprehend. The story of Laika is a modern myth; we need to attempt to look at it from her point of view too. I made sure the book presented a variety of viewpoints, but hers is just as valid as any other. If they’d have sent up a dolphin or a squid I would have been obliged to try to tell it from their point of view, too. That might sound absurd, but I think that it’s the duty of any artist or storyteller who takes on this sort of subject matter and who is worth their salt to at least attempt to do that. On this occasion, I’m delighted that what I tried to do seems to have worked for a lot of readers.

AI: Aside from reading historical accounts of Laika’s life, how did you go about inhabiting Laika as a character? How was the process different from or similar to inhabiting a human character?

NA: There aren’t actually many extant accounts of Laika’s life. Most of my research was spent building a picture of what her life would’ve been like as a trainee cosmodog in the kennels of IMBP, and I got this from a variety of sources, including some helpful space journalists and historians. Much of the information about Laika herself was written after she was selected for the Sputnik II flight, so although I had good information about her personality, I had to imagine what her early life might’ve been like. There are still a lot of strays on the streets of Moscow as I saw when I went there, so that part wasn’t too difficult to imagine as you could see it with your own eyes. I interviewed a friend and some friends of hers who live in Moscow about what a general attitude to these street mutts might be, both now and historically. Suffice to say they’re not tolerated well.

As for Laika’s character, I guess I drew on all the dogs I’ve ever known but as I mentioned previously, I was determined not to anthropomorphize her too much. She was a dog, she had to behave like a dog and not a cutesy cartoon character. That would’ve been too easy and I think I would’ve tipped the story over into easy sentimentality. That said, I did imagine what I might’ve felt like if she happened to have been my dog, which is where a lot of Yelena’s love for her came from.

AI: Were there any animals in your personal life who you looked to for inspiration? If so, what elements of those animals can we see in Laika?

NA: I don’t own any animals as pets anymore, although as a family we owned various species of mammals, reptiles and fish growing up. It was a zoo. The closest to a real world model for “my” Laika is my brother’s dog Zippy, who is very old now. He’s a very well-loved family mutt. This might surprise some people, who might assume on the basis of reading this book that I’m an outright dog lover (I am, but I’m pretty keen on animals generally) but I owned a cat as a child who was very dear to me. He was a pretty crazy animal, a common moggie [British affectionate term for a domesticated or mixed-breed cat] who behaved more like a loyal dog – I still miss him.

AI: In the process of researching, writing and illustrating Laika’s story, did you learn anything new or unexpected about human-animal relationships? about dogs or animals in general?

NA: I learned that there are no easy answers in this technocratic society of ours, but that’s what makes it all the more important to ponder big questions, especially as regards our relationship with animals and also the environment.

As a culture, we Westerners purport to love animals – and we do, but in a very normalized, particular and deliberate niche. We don’t respect them much, but then we have a problem respecting ourselves and other human beings a lot of the time. If animals are pets, it’s fine, we know how we’re supposed to respond to them. If they’re wild, we don’t seem to care as much, except in a distanced, somewhat rarified manner, as if they’re there for our entertainment on some amusement park ride. I don’t think we really comprehend on a deep cultural level what the word “extinction” means and how many animal, insect and plant species are on the verge of that. If they’re animals bred for scientific experimentation, then we just look the other way most of the time (and I’ve been as guilty of that in my time as anybody). All of this stuff needs to be opened up and looked at, put on the table and debated. That’s part of a much broader human problem though, which is to do with the way that we communicate, both with each other and with our environment.

I learned that animals are a part of us, so deeply embedded in what makes us human that the way we treat them and the environment has got to change, to be refined or we let a part of ourselves die. That sounds perhaps a little declamatory and dramatic but that, basically, is what it comes down to. As a species, if we’re to survive and evolve and allow the rest of the planet to do the same, we have to change the way we think and therefore, the way we interact with it.

AI: What kind of impact do you think representations of animals in art or writing can have on what humans think about animals and how we treat them?

NA: That’s a very broad question. It can do some good or some bad, depending on the quality of thought that went into the original representation. I know that cartoonists have a tendency to make little anthropomorphic characters based on animals – we all do it, I do it – which can endow them with the human qualities we might wish they had. But real animals aren’t like that, they don’t speak, and so we have to remember to speak for them and in a responsible way. Perhaps, speaking from a cultural perspective, we need to anthropomorphize them less, or create more stories and representations that try to respect them as their own sorts of creature, rather than indulge this tendency to humanize them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that, just that we should try other approaches too. It would help with the way we think about animals as part of human culture.

As far as my work goes, I just have to hope that the graphic novel I created allows people to meditate and reflect upon some of the questions thrown up by this particular episode in history. Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to arrive at their own opinion of what impact such representations have; it’s my job to tell stories as powerfully and honestly as I possibly can. And to keep doing that, which I will.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Comics, Dogs, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Identity, Literature, Religion, Representations | 4 Comments »

Graphic Novel Raises Ethical Issues: Laika

Posted by lisagbrown on October 2, 2008

*To read the Animal Inventory interview with Nick Abadzis, author of Laika, click here*

Nick Abadzis’ graphic novel Laika tells the story of the first dog sent to space. Abadzis brings this story to life with vivid drawings and painstaking attention to historical detail. Laika was a street mutt whose life was sacrificed to further the Soviet/American space race.

Society and Animals: The Journal of Human-Animal Studies has published my full review of this amazing graphic novel. The review, which appears in the journal’s current issue, can be read by clicking the link below:

A Graphic Novel raises Ethical Issues: Laika. by Nick Abadzis.

*Update, Tuesday, October 7, 2008*

Nick Abadzis recently posted some new reviews of Laika on his blog. He included several in-depth reviews including mine, posted above. Check out the other reviews and explore Abadzis’ utterly entertaining site by clicking here.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Comics, Dogs, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | 3 Comments »

Saying Goodbye to Y: The Last Man

Posted by lisagbrown on March 4, 2008

Spoiler Alert: This blog entry reveals major plot points from the final installment of Y: The Last Man.

The Last Man, Saying GoodbyeIn February 2008, the popular comic series Y: The Last Man came to a crushing, emotional end. The series, created by veteran comic writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra, tells the story of a modern apocalypse. The world is struck by an inexplicable plague that kills every male — human and non — on earth. Every male, that is, except Yorick and his capuchin monkey Ampersand. What follows over a 60-issue story arc is an adventure story of epic proportions.

There is much to say about Y: The Last Man. For those of us who were fans of the comic and have been following the story since its inception, the conclusion of the series was a sad goodbye. But in particular, I want to use this space to pay homage to Ampersand, whose life ended along with the series. Ampersand is introduced in the first issue as a monkey who has come to Yorick because, “A group in Boston was looking for people to train the things,” and Yorick has volunteered to raise (and train) the monkey. It should be mentioned that this hypothetical organization is based on a real life Boston-based organization called Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. At the time that Y premiered in 2002, I was, in fact, an employee of this organization, and I trained monkeys (like the hypothetical Ampersand) to help men and women with severe disabilities. Given my preternatural love of comic books (and the obvious added interest of a monkey helper,) I was hooked.

A new issue of Y came out about every month, and with each comic, Ampersand’s personality was fleshed out with increasing depth. With astonishing accuracy, Guerra captured in her drawings the movements and postures of a capuchin. Vaughan gave him a range of emotions and behaviors. The representation of Ampersand wasn’t always 100% true to capuchin behavior as I know it, but it was closer than any fictional capuchin I’ve ever seen. Ampersand was created with sensitivity and knowledge, and it is perhaps for this very reason that I grew to love him as much as I did. Given how much I know about monkeys, and the skill with which Ampersand’s character was developed, it was not hard for me to think of him as a real being, just as Yorick and other characters in the series were so three-dimensional that I could imagine them as real people. Monkeys, like so many other animals, are simply small people. They experience the dramas, emotions, joys, fears, preferences, passions and feelings that we do — perhaps not in exactly the same way, but in a way that is more dynamic and significant that they’re usually given credit for. But it was clear to me that Vaughan and Guerra had done their homework. They developed Ampersand not only as a monkey, but as a character as well.

Through my experiences at Helping Hands, I came to know many monkeys as friends. One in particular, I consider a part of my family. Over the years I’ve experienced such incredible joy in these relationships — so different from the interactions I’ve had with dogs and cats, yet still unlike my relationships with humans. The tragedy is that because of all the amazingly wonderful things that I shared in my friendships with capuchins, each and every monkey death that I’ve endured has been gut-wrenching. Such is the case with love — the more devoted you are, the more devastation you experience when it ends.

And so, when Ampersand died, I had certain knowledge of what this meant to Yorick. Everyone has known death in some form. But to go through the death of a monkey — it’s such a specific and unique experience of death. I could not help but see Yorick’s grief and feel it as my own, to remember the pain of monkey deaths from my past. Worst of all, I could not help but realize my own fear of monkey deaths yet to come. Ampersand’s death made sense in the context of the plot; it had to happen to further the storyline; but most devastating of all, this is a death that simply had to happen, because it would have happened in real life.

Farewell, dear Ampersand.


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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Comics, Human-Animal Bond, Primates | 1 Comment »