by Gerry Alanguilan
I've wanted to read Elmer for a while now, although I have to say that I wasn't expecting to love the book quite as much as I did. This is one fantastic graphic novel, mixing allegory, social commentary, and humour with a gripping, emotional read and fantastic art. I cannot believe that this book is not discussed ore as an example of the type of story that can only be told effectively through comics.
In Gerry Alanguilan's fictional world, something happened in 1979 that caused all the chickens in the world to spontaneously evolve to human levels of cognition, speech, and ability. After a few very difficult months during which violence was the most common human response to this change, chickens were declared 'human beings', entitled to the same basic rights and freedoms as everyone else. It's a crazy idea, but it does allow for a pretty interesting story.
Elmer is centred on Jake Gallo, an angry young chicken who has been having trouble finding himself decent work. He returns to his family's home when he learns that his father, Elmer, has had a stroke, and after his father's death, spends most of the book exploring his father's journal from the time of his 'awakening'. The first generation of self-aware chickens suffered a great deal, but Elmer was not one to let his problems stop him. His close friendship with Farmer Ben, the man who saved him many times over, and his ability to write eloquently for a local newspaper gave his life purpose.
Learning about the challenges his parents faced has a profound affect on Jake, and Alanguilan shows that beautifully. It's rare to see characters so well developed in such a small amount of space, and to see how profoundly the events of a book can change them. Alanguilan has really thought out how this change would affect society, from the impact on the poultry industry to the way in which people would react to mixed marriages.
Alanguilan is best known for inking comics artists like Whilce Portacio and Leinil Francis Yu, but he shows here a draftsmanship and attention to detail that eclipses these superstars. His chickens are incredibly human in their facial expressions, while still being very chicken-like - it's not an easy trick to pull off.
One thing I really liked about this book was how clear it was that the comic was not set in North America (Alanguilan is from the Philippines), while remaining universal in its storytelling. I cannot recommend this book enough - it's an incredible read, and would be perfect for anyone who enjoys Chew (I'd love to see Elmer sit down for a chat with Poyo one day). Actually, I think this should be required reading for any true comics fan.