release of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s We3
has once again shown that its never safe to guess what will next spring
from Morrison’s mind. The story about three cybernetic animals
(a dog, cat, and rabbit) used by the government to assassinate enemies
and eliminate targets is as different from Morrison’s last,
Seaguy as Seaguy was from New
The quick jist of issue
#1 – well, three cybernetic animals trained as weapons are to
be decommissioned, but instead, they escape, and are now on the run.
The first issue of the three issue miniseries (#2 in October, and
#3 in January) struck more than one reader as being perhaps the most
touching of Morrison’s works in years. Sure, the mad, wild ideas
were still there in force, but aided in part by Quitely’s dead-on
expressions on the faces of the animals, the story was more prone
to bring a lump to the throat, rather than a question of “Huh?”
With the first issue out,
we spoke with Morrison about his inspirations for the story, as well
as his approach to its look and feel, as well as his thoughts about
As always, my favorite first question for your work – what was
the spark, the impetus for We3? Was it a particular
image that struck you? News about the future of animal testing and
Morrison: The basic idea actually dates back to an image
from some art samples Shelly Roeberg [now Bond] sent to me back in
1999 or so. The pages showed three assassins in suits and featureless
helmets performing a hit. Although the assassins in the sample pages
were people, for some reason I was struck by a powerful image of the
killers taking off their helmets to reveal three nervous, worried
looking little animals underneath. I have no idea where this
came from or why I found it so affecting and compelling that I kept
coming back to it, but that was the genesis of the story and the echoes
of that original scene are there in the first 13 pages of issue 1.
The title, We3 came at the same time and suggested
strange, tender friendships and some weird kind of trembling, doomed
nostalgia. Whatever. These things often come into my head in the form
of odd, dreamlike sequences and unusual resurgent feelings or memories
from childhood and early life.
I kept knocking this one around in the back of my head but I had no
structure or story or and no idea where it might go next. In 2002,
when I was writing the angry, prosthetically-augmented animals who
appear in The Filth, I had a kind of epiphany in
Mao's restaurant - Kristan and I were tucking into nasi goreng or
something when this image of three desperate little cyborg animals
running for their poor, misunderstood lives broke into my head and
broke my heart. I instantly wrote down the plot for We3 in my notebook
and then began to work on the first script, without knowing who'd
be drawing it.
Then it must have been around the time you were working on this that
there was news about research being done with remote
controlled rats and their possible military/rescue possibilities.
Was that in any way an influence on the story, or just a weird coincidence?
It was a coincidence but it fed straight into the We3
plot. These kind of predictive things happen to me all the time; The
Invisibles and The Filth were full of made-up, weird science stuff
which later turned up for real as articles in the pages of New
Scientist or Scientific American.
Along the line of influence you mentioned, some have suggested that
We3 is a nod/update of The Incredible Journey
- the Disney films with two dogs and a cat trying to find their way
home, made in 1963 and again in ’93. Did you see the original
movie as a kid?
Oh yeah, I love that one. The bit at the end where old Bodger comes
limping over the hill after all hope has gone...The remake wasn't
as good - I don't like all that stuff with Hollywood stars doing animal
voices - the jaws moving and gnawing in this unconvincing way while
Mathew Broderick argues with Michael J. Fox and Whoopi Goldberg over
But yeah, things
like that and The Plague Dogs, Watership Down, The Rats of NIMH,
Chicken Run or whatever. Anything to do with innocent, misunderstood
animals on the run from vicious human bastards. Animals getting their
own back. The events played out in We3 are very different
and far more shockingly violent than the adventures of Thomas O'Malley
and the Duchess in The Aristocats, for example, but the basic
idea of the animal odyssey across country in search of some seemingly
hopeless safe haven is a very resonant and appealing theme which no-one
has really played much with recently...certainly not in comics. I've
always wanted to do one of those classic animal stories that make
people cry, so this is like that...Disney with fangs. We3
is probably one of the first of these kind of stories to treat the
animal heroes as animals and not as anthropomorphized representations
with human emotions and speech patterns.
basically, we gave the popular old 'animal quest' idea a sci-fi coat
of paint, spliced it with Miike Takashi uber-violence, and created
a vehicle to demonstrate the 'Western Manga' storytelling style Frank
and I are trying to develop.
Going back to the comment about science catching up with your story,
in your view, how plausible, or even, how far away is the world of
About five minutes.
You’ve said before, you feel very passionately about animals,
and animal rights. How did that affect or even instruct this story?
It's there in the background and between the lines. I've tried hard
not to sentimentalize the animals, or the humans, in any way. This
is a story from a kind of animal perspective - it's not about animal
rights or sex discrimination or dirty deals politics, although they
all come into it. It's about meat and motion, hunger and fear and
That said though, what are your feelings on animal rights? Are you
a strict PETA-ist, more moderate, what?
It's a very compex issue involving all kinds of entangled fears, assumptions
and misunderstandings so I don't want to be strident. I'm not strict
about anything, I just record and process experience and what I see
around me. I can't honestly find any proof that a human child's life
is, by its very nature, more valuable than a rat's, except in the
sense that I can sympathize with the quite understandable human-centrism
that declares it so. If it was my kid or a rat, I'd probably
choose to save my kid but that's more to do with selfishness and protection
of my genetic inheritance, than it has to do with morality or 'evolutionary
superiority'. Luckily for me, I have neither kids nor rats so the
value of their lives can be a philosophical problem rather than a
Humans tend to place a
very high value on human life, in some cases, and very little value
on human life in some other cases, so our imagined special position
in nature, like our morality, is suspect, inconsistent and open to
constant revision depending on how we feel on any given day.
I said in Animal Man, at least rats don't foul their
environment or build weapons of mass destruction, then make excuses
about why they did it. Does shitting in our own nest really make humankind
superior to other animals?
hurt, abuse and torture some animals because we can get away with
it, in typical bully style. We tend to think our very human-ness confers
upon us some special distinction from the animals but it does that
no more so than does the 'orangutan-ness' of an orang gives her special
distinction. Our 'dominion' of the Earth is a result of our command
of lethal technology and our childlike enthusiasm for wanton destruction,
not a God-given mandate. I think. As Felipe Fernandez-Armesto explains
in his book So You Think Youre Human? even the very idea
of human-ness is a recent invention. 150 years ago, many 'black' people,
for instance were considered inhuman...and not just by 'whites' but,
in many cases, by other 'black' people. 'Humanity' is a vague and
shifting concept not very easily defined or defended, to be honest.
As for the animal rights
'movement', I can fully understand why sensitive people might get
angry at the sight of what goes on in the laboratories of the experimenting
class. The very idea of blinding, freezing, vivisecting, irradiating
and bludgeoning living sensible creatures in the name of scientific
advance - or often in the name of no more than casual curiosity, conjures
images of Nazi sadist doctors in our minds. It makes us think of hidden
rooms smelling of anesthetic and shit, where people are allowed to
act out their most inhumane, unempathic drives on living flesh. The
aura of secrecy and denial which surrounds so many of these awful
testing grounds naturally creates fear and suspicion.
That kind of horror image
of the torture lab and the desensitized scientist would scare the
living crap out of anyone so it's hardly surprising that some people
over-react and simply cannot allow themselves to sit back while these
atrocities against restrained and defenseless creatures goes on. The
idea that somewhere, a dog just like your dog is right now being force
fed toothpaste until he dies, or infected with Ebola so that it goes
down puking up its entire blood supply, would turn almost anyone into
an animal rights activist if they had to actually watch. We're told
to look out for cruelty to animals as one of the first indications
of a sociopathic or psychopathic personality, so the scientists who
perform this work then go all wide-eyed and refuse to recognize how
they might be coming across to right-thinking folks, are either very
naive or in denial.
Anyone who gets
even a hint of what goes on in some of these ghastly laboratories
is likely to feel rage and shock and anger. In fact, anyone who doesn't
feel that way would have to be emotionally disconnected to quite a
frightening degree. Whether some of it can be justified or not, people
really only accept this stuff because it's generally out of sight,
out of mind. So, again, I can understand the basic human decency which
drives activists to violence. In another age they might be called
freedom fighters. Unfortunately, wrapped around their core of shocked
compassion can be other feelings of revenge, anger, fear or misplaced
desires to play James Bond-style bullshit spy games. I was raised
non-violent so I can't get behind the use of terror to fight terror
in any circumstance. I don't know if that answers you’re question
and I'm not sure I even have an answer that wouldn't take up another
The bottom line is that
we've been horrible to animals. really horrible in so many ways that
we deserve to be ashamed of. We should know better. When the We3 creatures
start causing some real painful damage in issue #2 I'm sure there
will more than a few furtive cheers.
Yeah, that about covered the question. Given your feelings about animal
rights, was creating and writing convincing characters who were in
charge of the We3 program in any way difficult, or were they, in your
view, pretty cold hearted and fairly flat - aside from Roseanne the
technician, of course - in the first place?
Again, I've tried to give as objective a view as I can. The detached
nature of human interactions in the research lab - we only see parts
of faces and bodies, the only moment of warmth is conveyed by a CCTV
voiceover etc., is a deliberate distancing device. The technology
is what dehumanizes the human beings, not their own passions or emotions.
The most sympathetic and
human character for me is Doctor Trendle, the Project Director - In
the collection he'll have a Japanese name - I wrote the character
as Caucasian only to realize later that Frank had based his appearance
on Mister Miyazaki, genius of Japanese animation. He is also the most
cold and inhumane in many ways. Go figure.
One interview, yet so many side eddies of discussion…keeping
it on We3, if the story had a subtitle, what would
'Run, You Filthy Buggers! Run!'
You’ve worked with Frank before, but he wasn’t a part
of this project from the beginning? After seeing #1, I can’t
imagine many others who would’ve been able to put that much
emotion on Bandit’s face, for example….
I knew he was the only artist who could make this convincing. He did
60 pages of design sketches just to get those suits right. He's a
genius. No photo refs, no computers, he doesn't even use a ruler most
of the time. It all comes out of his imagination onto the
page. That's what it looks like inside Frank Quitely's head. He astonishes
me more and more every time I see a new page. This is drawing as a
special effect in itself. You just have to just look and
look and look. It's like fractals. The closer you go in the more detail
and brilliance you see.
I want this to come out
as a French graphic novel size book so that people can really study
the work Frank has put into this. The fight scenes in the second issue
have panel layouts and storytelling devices which have never been
seen before in a comic book...and the mega-violence is cranked up
way past 11.
Speaking of Frank and what’s inside his head, how much direction
did you give him on the art in terms of the animals?
My original design sketches had the animals in biped-style suits,
more like robots with little animal heads. They looked crap and I
knew I needed Frank's design brilliance to create suits which were
based on animal anatomy and not suits of armor. I described the kind
of thing I was looking for and after weeks of intense design work,
he came up with the incredible finished versions that we used in the
comic. He based everything on real materials and used Japanese moped
design as a starting point. Imagine the toys, though! A hard, heavily
-armed robot shell on the outside, a soft and fluffy pet within! Japan,
here we come!
We can only hope Georg Brewer of DC Direct catches this… Okay
– back to the animals, can you explain the relationship between
the three – how independent are they? Are they networked? Do
they even like each other?
The animals have been trained to work together and were also sedated
and remote-controlled during previous missions. The remote doesn't
work on aroused animal brains, so now that they're free, their Air
Force handlers can no longer use that method to control them. As the
story progresses, our heroes come to realize that they are pretty
independent of each other. Internal fighting start to break out in
issue #2 when the cat demands autonomy.
The tech that’s embedded in them – did you research that
at all, or is it your creation based on current tech/research?
The tech is based on current military ordnance - the animals use,
mines, poison gas, rapid fire bullets, ground to air missiles and
flechettes. The notion of teaching animals to talk is inspired by
the results of research from various animal communication experiments
done over the last thirty years - the experiments were with primates
and cetaceans but I took some species liberties, given that this is
a science fiction story after all. I've tried to keep this one very
real. I wanted to do to funny animal comics what Alan Moore did to
superhero comics in Miracleman.
The language that the three use – can you explain how they communicate
a little? From their speech, or looks like they use as many verbal
shortcuts as they can, to express fairly linear thought – is
Pretty much. Dogs are 'better' at communicating in ways humans understand
than cats or rabbits, so the dog is the one most obviously trying
to wrestle with human concepts and express them in simple language.
The cat is interested only in her own worldview which has her at the
center of the universe and is generally trying to express only one
simple idea - 'Outta my face!', as Stephen Budiansky puts it in The
Character of Cats.
I read up on human
attempts to communicate with animals, i.e. teach animals English,
which in most cases, come across up as brave attempts by animals to
communicate with humans - chimps and dolphins will bend themselves
backwards trying to approximate an understanding of English, while
humans generally refuse to think like animals or to make any effort
to learn and use animal languages as animals use them. The mistake
is to imagine that animal sounds and signals 'translate' into human
words. They don't. Anyone who's spent a long time in the company of
animals will know that animal communication is just what it is.
The sound or signal can always be directly connected to some external
That said, the three seem to differentiate themselves by the words
they use as well. I that similar to what you said about humans not
understanding how animals thinks – that these are not only totally
different brains, but three variations of totally different brains
due to them being different species?
GM: Yes. I wrote
some sample dialogue to get the characters down - the dog loyal, needy,
driven; the cat selfish, aloof, vicious; the rabbit distracted. Then,
while Frank was drawing the first issue, I read up as much as I could
on the psychology, habits and behavior of dogs, cats and rabbits.
In all cases, I'd pretty much got it right on the first pass but Stephen
Budiansky's The Character of Cats and The Truth About
Dogs were indispensable aids as were Catwatching and
Dogwatching by Desmond Morris, What Is My Cat Thinking?
by Gwen Bailey and the ever-reliable The Private Life of the Rabbit
by R.M. Lockley.
And of course, once I saw
Frank's incredible drawings, it really helped me nail the characters
down. His artwork conveys so much emotion and nuance that there's
really no need for any but the most essential words
Also in terms of their communication, given the fonts of their “speech,”
it’s clear they “sound” different as well –
can you describe the sound of their voices using real-world sounds?
Are they like Stephen Hawking’s synthesizer, or something different?
A bit like Stephen Hawking but much creepier even than physics'
freakiest fillozzifer. Imagine the words mangled and wrestled into
electronic life by little brains and humming processors.
Moving into issue #1’s mechanics, specifically, the layout of
the breakout scene. Six pages of eighteen panels each. Frank’s
good, but did he even start to sweat when you suggested it?
Frank was fine with it - my original script only had 12 CCTV screens
per page or something like that. So he actually broke down the action
ever more. The double page spread, with its Toy Story coloring
was meant to suggest space, freedom and release, yes - the surveillance
camera grids allowed us to build up an almost intolerable claustrophobia
in the moments leading up to the animals escape...and then comes the
huge opening out of the escape. A lot of the credit for the effectiveness
of that scene has to go to Jamie Grant, whose amazing coloring adds
so much to the storytelling.
Frank has accepted all
my mad ideas with good grace and discrimination. He makes everything
better than I imagined it - for this sequence he created 18 separate
CCTV screens with 108 views showing different parts of the same base
- it's a 4-dimensional scene, a Cubist, multi-perspective viewpoint
look at a single event. When we were up at his house over Christmas,
Frank had 108 of these color-coded, square little drawings in a cigarette
packet at one point, and he kept rearranging them in different ways.
But with that freedom though – Roseanne knew their limitations,
that they need their meds. Wasn’t releasing them as she did
just conscribing them to a longer, more painful death?
Roseanne Berry has a lot of problems of her own which lie between
the lines. She's not a heroine by any means. Freeing the animals was
an act of suicidal madness on her part, the final destructive urge
of a woman driven to the very end of her tether. She fully expects
the animals will just tear right through her and is just going through
the motions of that fateful walk from the lab. She's really hoping
the animals will kill her and spare her the horror of taking responsibility
for what she's done but the We3 animals only attack people who threaten
them, so she survives their escape from the base.
And the use of the “Save” computer command? There seemed
to be a couple of ways that could go, in regards to its meaning…
Some people seemed a little confused by the 'Save' sequence on the
computer screen. God help them, I know, but hopefully I can clear
it up - what we're seeing is simply the command to execute the security
locks on the animal harnesses. The animals are unharnessed to eat,
Roseanne is supposed to lock them down for their impending euthanasia.
But she doesn't press the SAVE button and so we know the harnesses
remain unlocked, allowing We3 to react and escape the minute they're
threatened by the doctors with syringes. The cursor flashes on 'SAVE'
to show us that Roseanne hasn't executed the command, to build tension
- and also because 'SAVE' has a nice double meaning in the circumstances.
Once free, what’s driving the three animals? Are they looking
for their old homes, or just “home” as a concept of someplace
Nothing is driving them except the Dog's absolute, insane conviction
that something called 'Home' lies out there somewhere, and that they
must get to it.
I assume the fact that the cat, Tinker, who’d until now been
fed from a bowl in the lab, shot down and ate a bird is fairly significant
in regards to them shrugging off, or rather merging their programming
with their natural born instincts – a solid hint at the danger
We're to imagine that the animals started out as stolen pets, so their
newfound freedom is intoxicating in many ways . Also, consider Stephen
Budiansky talking about 'the specialized wiring of the cat's brain'
for hunting...'the fact that there is such a specialized, hard-wired
pathway for hunting in the brain of the cat helps to explain why cats
will often hunt and kill prey regardless of how hungry they are. In
most cats, the stimulus of seeing a prey animal triggers a predatory
response that verges on the automatic and uncontrollable...'
Obviously, I’m not going to ask you to spoil this, but there’s
a big fight coming. You and Frank are seemingly at the fork in the
road here at the end of issue #1 – this could be the saddest
story ever, or an optimistic, happy one. If I shake the Magic 8 Ball,
what’s the answer I’d get if I asked if things would end
on a happy or sad note?
The outrageous fighting begins in the opening scene of issue 2 to
come and of course, Animal Weapon 4, mentioned by the general in the
first issue has yet to play its awful part.
As to how it ends...you'll
cry, you'll cheer, you'll cry again....
Confession time here Grant – you wrote a story about three animals
looking for home. You’re just a big softie aren’t you?
Animal Man, The Invisibles, The Filth, New X-Men,
and everything else with mad, wild ideas was just to get you to a
point where you could write touching stories about dogs, cats and
Yuh got me, Brady…you got me.