Written & Illustrated by Gerry Alanguilan
144 Pages, $12.95
When I was a young lad, my family used to take trips up the California coast to visit my cousins in Petaluma. At one point the city of Petaluma was known as the Chicken Capital of the World, and sure enough my aunt & uncle owned a few chickens for producing unfertilized eggs. Different species produced different eggs, and every morning someone had to go out to their coop and fetch them. My cousins were excited at first for owning such an unusual ‘pet’, that the awe quickly dissipated when collecting eggs became a daily burden. The smells, the conditions of the coop, and the sometimes confrontational behavior of the chickens made this experience an unwanted chore. Except when I was visiting for the week, I was the official egg collector.
I loved getting up early every morning to go fraternize with the chickens. Each bird was different, and along with appearance came different personalities as well. The majority of the birds were very timid, so they would let you remove the roof of the coop and go about your day picking eggs from their nests. One or two of them would give you the stink-eye, and their motherly instincts would kick-in as they tried to protect their unborn young. The point I’m trying to make is while chickens, as animals, are quite dim in their corner of the bird family, they can be rather entertaining to watch and try to imagine what might be going through their tiny birdbrains.
When I first was contacted by Gerry Alanguilan to review ELMER for Indie Comics Episode Vol. 2 back in 2009, only the first issue was out at that point. I reviewed it, loved what I saw, and anxiously awaited the next few issues. Such as things go in the world of comics, projects get delayed, new series come out, and slowly but surely you eventually lose track of titles you thoroughly once enjoyed, wondering what might have happened to them. That’s what happened to me with ELMER. It was the girlfriend from high school I lost touch with, only to look-up at a billboard one day to see her posing in an action movie that’s due out this summer. When I saw posters of ELMER at the SLG booth during Comic-Con a few years ago, my first thought was “Good for Gerry! He’s earned it!”, followed by “Oh. I don’t have any more space in my bag, or money, to buy it. Awkward”.
Alas, this podcasting gig has finally started paying for itself, and I have the luxury of purchasing any graphic novel whenever I want, wherever I want. All kidding aside, I finally picked-up the graphic novel and fell in love with it all over again.
ELMER tells the story of a chicken by the name of Jake Gallo as he’s called back home to say his last good-byes to his dying father, Elmer. Nothing weird or strange about that, I’m sure we’ve all experienced something similar regarding a loved one. The twist with this graphic novel is that chickens are classified as people, for they have acquired intelligence after years of evolution. So chickens, or the species Gallus Gallus are considered the newest members of the Human Race, and are integrated into society after The Great Awakening. Jake used to write all the time, but for some reason lost the passion for it. After inheriting his father’s personal diary, the flames of creativity are reignited and Jake feels it’s necessary to share his father’s harrowing tale of survival while living a strange new world.
In some ways, I find myself comparing Alanguilan’s ELMER to Spiegelman’s MAUS, only for chickens. Alanguilan brings up some wonderful and thought-provoking concepts of what the world would be like if chickens had gained intelligence and the means to speak. First of all, it would be illegal to eat chicken. Duck on the other hand, is still fair game. Secondly, what was once considered beastiality is now perfectly fine in the eyes of the law, and state troopers can carry-on with the derogatory insults. Finally, there will always be tension between the species, despite what happened in the past. While Jake doesn’t come around to the idea until later, he cannot believe that his sister is marrying a human; the same species that enslaved, murdered, and devoured millions of their kind for centuries.
This graphic novel is a fine example that artists are much more than just pretty faces. Most of you may know Alanguilan for his beautiful inks on Lenil Francis Yu’s work, plus several other Marvel projects. This graphic novel was a personal project for him, taking several years to put together. Throughout the story he’s able to hook you with a wonderful tale of life through the eyes of one chicken, struggling to adapt to his place in the world. There’s humor, grand ideas, and of course beautiful artwork from the Philippines best known comics superstar. If you’re looking for a good read that’s truly thought-provoking, I cannot recommend highly enough that you check-out ELMER. If you don’t, things just might get fowl.