With their 1980s independent comics series The Puma Blues
, writer Stephen Murphy and artist Michael Zulli presented a foreboding scifi vision of ecological catastrophe in a near-future USA, where mutated manta rays fly the skies, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the desert sands of the southwest and imminent nuclear devastation looms. Yet for all its pessimism, the series (in 2015 expanded, completed and reissued through Dover Press) has rightly earned critical accolades for Zulli’s extraordinary nature drawing, in particular of animals. The chapter “In the Empire of the Senses” puts Zulli’s stunning nature work most fully on display, utilizing comics techniques such as line work, framing, panel progression and sound effects to create the illusion of a puma’s nighttime hunt, often from its perception-rich point of view. Throughout the series, animal and non-human experience/umwelt receives a degree of attention rarely seen in comics, a genre more popularly known for superheroes and anthropomorphized “funny animal” stories. Through a close reading of “In the Empire of the Senses,” the paper explores Murphy and Zulli’s bid to depict animal ontology through comics’ unique capacities, contrasting their approach with that of cinema, viz. Bill Viola’s avant garde ethnographic documentary I Do Not What It Is I Am Like
(1986). My analysis has implications for narratology, the potential of comics’ representational strategies and for the depiction of non-human experience more generally.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited