languilan, Gerry (Author) , Alanguilan, Gerry (Illustrator)
Nov 2010. 144 p. SLG, paperback, $12.95. (9781593622046). 741.5.
Gorgeously drawn, black-and-white artwork combines with outstanding storytelling in this modern-day fable of ethnic strife, identity, friendship, and family. The titular character has been a writer all his “human” life, keeping a secret diary that his son Jake discovers and reads after Elmer’s death. Along with his newly engaged sister and gay movie-star brother, Jake returns to his childhood home for Elmer’s last days, stays on for his funeral, and helps his newly widowed, delicate mother. Oh, and Jake and family are sentient, well-spoken chickens, a result of a never-explained but carefully depicted world event in 1979.
Elmer’s old human friend, Farmer Ben, offers Jake insight on Elmer’s past—both pre- and post-sentience—and advice as Jake works through his family’s victimization at the hands of Ben’s kind. Bloody world wars pitted chicken against man, and led to a wave of anti-chicken prejudice and even attempts at genocide before the UN declared chickens an equal part of humanity. Ethical and moral issues touch on wide-angle politics but also keep close to familial events in Jake’s childhood (bullying, child-parent strife) and adulthood (inter-“ethnic” marriage). The fine-lined artwork depicts the differences between sentient and pre-sentient chickens, while some full-page panels show the lush scenery and relative calm between action sequences. Set in Alanguilan’s Philippine homeland and marked by its culture, Elmer deserves a wide international readership (for teen collections, note some brief female nudity), and shows how the sequential-art format can challenge even such canonical predecessors as Animal Farm.
— Francisca Goldsmith