Heroes Never Rust #49 by Sean Ironman
Is Gud Dog?
To me, the comics medium is my favorite medium for stories. I like movies. I like TV. Prose. Poetry. Music. I like stories, but I love comics. One of the reasons I love comics is that I feel artists can do more in a comic book than in other mediums. You have visuals and text, so the best of both worlds can exist. But there’s also really no money in comics. It costs an artist just as much to draw a planet being destroyed as it does to show a person drinking a cup of coffee. Ideas can get wilder without some suit coming in and saying it’s too expensive.
Over the next three weeks, I’m going to take a look at one of my favorite comics from the 2000s, We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. We3 can’t exist in another medium—at least, it would have to change quite a bit. It’s about three animals (dog, cat, and rabbit) who are put in robotic suits by the military for research. The military is going to shut down the program, so the doctor who cares for the animals lets them loose. The military goes after them. When it was released a decade ago, it was described as Homeward Bound meets Terminator. It’s extremely violent, with very little dialogue. And there’s barely a plot. Basically, I described everything that happens, minus the ending, already. It’s mostly a showcase for Frank Quitely’s artwork.
But it works. The focus on art has been lacking from comics in the last decade or so. Comics goes back and forth, with a few years of writer-driven comics, and then a few years of art-driven comics. Hopefully, more focus on art comes around soon. I think when there’s a focus on art, a comic becomes less of a storyboard for a film. In a writing community, I hear people say the art doesn’t matter when it comes to comics. It’s story, they say, that’s important. Yes, story is important, but by taking a step back when it comes to word balloons and captions, a strong artist can tell the story in a new and innovative way.
When I say We3 is focused on the art, I don’t mean to say the comic has very detailed art that gives the reader something pretty to look at. It has that, but Quitely is also focused on how the comic presents such pictures, in the service of a story.
The opening sequence of We3 is amazing not just because how well Quitely draws a man running on a treadmill or the detail he puts on a close-up of a man’s eyes as he sweats. The sequence is amazing because of how Quitely paces the scene and how he builds tension until the three animals obliterate the man running on the treadmill. There’s no dialogue, although Morrison does get in some cheats with a couple of question marks and exclamation points in word balloons. There’s so much the scene doesn’t show. A group of armed men sit in a rundown living room. We see them look at glowing red eyes in the chimney. Then, we cut away to the man on the treadmill. We don’t even see the animals fire. We don’t really see the animals much, except in shadows and a glimpse of them entering and exiting a room. It’s creepy and plays like a cold opening on a TV show. The scene sets up how dangerous these animals are.
The next scene is of Doctor Roseanne, the woman who cares for the animals. For those of you who have trouble with exposition, study this scene. It begins with here trying to get a parrot to talk. Through this, we see her holding a series of cards. One has RIP printed on the cover. She opens a door to another room in her house. It’s an empty bed and an empty desk. Beside the bed , there seems to be some medical supplies. The page finishes with a close-up of tears in Roseanne’s eyes. When she exits the room, we see a photo on the desk of a man with a young girl in a graduation gown. There’s no talk about her father dying. We’re just shown these little details as she gets ready to leave.
The first issue’s highlight, in terms of art, iis the six-page sequence of security camera footage. We get six rows of three panels each for these six pages. Eighteen panels for six pages showing Roseanne letting the animals go after she’s told they will be decommissioned. We see her let them loose. We see them escape. We see other scientists and security respond. Once again, there’s next to no dialogue. This sequence works, I think, because of a little detail—the panels don’t fit on the page .The last row on the first pages is cut off. The top and bottom rows on the next page are cut off. We aren’t looking at separate comic panels, not really. What we’re looking at is a spread of the security camera footage that security is looking at. We’re in that little room where a security officer has a whole bunch of little TVs. There’s a few lines of dialogue, but the word balloons have ripples around them. It’s an interesting way to show that the dialogue isn’t heard clearly. Security is watching the footage. That makes the scene more interesting because we aren’t getting some random artistic layout that means nothing. The decision to show the security footage is story-based.
I can’t end this week’s column without talking about the animals. The dog is named 1. The cat is 2. And the rabbit is 3. Together, they are We3. The animals talk and have personalities. But they aren’t like animals in Homeward Bound or other stories. They have a fractured diction and have the personalities of the respective animal. The dog is a dog, not a person in a dog body. The dog asks a military man, “I. M. Gud. R. U. Gud 2?” When the military man doesn’t respond, the dog tilts his head, upset and curious, and says, “? R. U. 2?” The man says calls the dog a good dog, and the dog says, “Gud dog. Is Gud dog?” The dog just wants the person’s approval. The cat is more wild. “Mmmmmen st!nk. Bossssss! St!ink!” The rabbit just seems a bit dumb. “No. Grass. East. Now. Grass.”
After they are let out, the cat and rabbit look to the dog for direction. He tells them they will go “home.” The sad part is that the three have no home. The cat says as much on the last page. “We3 no home now.” Then they run into the forest and military helicopters in the distance fly toward them. The animals don’t get much to say, but their limited dialogue works well. I care for them much quicker because I don’t lose focus on what the military has done to them. Even when they speak, I think about the torture they have had to endure because man sucks. I think it’s important to build a story that enables the reader to imagine aspects that they are never shown. I want them to find home and I really know nothing about them.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.