Elmer (SLG Publishing)

Ain’t nobody here but us chickens in Gerry Alanguilan’s ornately illustrated, Animal Farm-esque tale of a young rooster learning of his father’s role in the poultry revolution.

 

144 pages B&W; $12.95
(W / A: Gerry Alanguilan)
 
The first few pages of Elmer show a guy who can’t sleep, so he rolls out of bed early, hops over to his computer, and starts masturbating to internet porn. When he climaxes, a single feather falls to the ground.
 
The guy, you see, is a chicken – a bitter, lonely, profanity-spewing chicken named Jake. This isn’t so much Jake’s story, though, as it is his dad Elmer’s.
 
Elmer, the patriarch of this clutch of chickens, has just pecked his last, and his family has gathered at the old roost to pay their respects. Jake find’s Dad’s diary, and becomes completely absorbed in tales of chickens gaining the power of speech and fighting a bloody battle for independence in human society.
 
Frankly, I might have preferred the tale of a masturbating, cussing, bitter chicken, but Elmer’s story is political and sentimental, not picaresque. Political, as in the civil rights struggles of the chickens, which would seem to be an allegory for human minorities standing up for themselves in the 20th century. And sentimental, as in Elmer’s friendship with a sympathetic farmer who hides him and his lady hen from mobs hungry for drumsticks and thighs, among other subplots.
 
In one memorable sequence, Jake erupts, “You’re all forgetting what happened to Mom and Dad…to all of us! They herded our parents like cattle into death camps! They were tied up, strung upside down and electrocuted. Then they were decapitated, stripped naked, disemboweled, and stuffed into plastic bags… And did you know what happened next? They were eaten. Yes, eaten! Crispy fried, steamed, barbecued, roasted, and baked!”
 
It may sound like some frenzied narrative funded by PETA, but it plays much more like Animal Farm, as another reviewer noted. More impressive to me was the way writer/artist Alanguilan actually manages to make a world where chickens work as nurses, organize angry political groups, and even marry humans all seem normal—it’s a credit to his storytelling talents.
 
Alanguilan’s art is just stellar – I don’t know how he was able to capture such a range of expressions on the faces of a bunch of chickens, but there’s no mistaking their various moods. He’s a precise, detail-oriented draftsman, equally at home drawing tightly controlled forests, vehicles, buildings, people, and of course, chickens. At 144 pages, Elmer must have taken forever to finish. It’s an epic of small details.
 
In the end, Elmer was beautifully drawn, funny, and surprisingly schmaltzy (pun intended). It is probably the best graphic novel about talking chickens I have ever read. Okay, it is the only graphic novel about talking chickens I have ever read. But it is the only one I will ever need. | Byron Kerman
 
Click here to read the first chapter of Elmer, courtesy of SLG Publishing.

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