Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 88 (5/2) -- Animal Crackers by Gene Luen Yang

Everybody has to start somewhere. And if where we start is far away from where we end up, that just shows that we've done some traveling along the way, right? So early, rediscovered works by acclaimed artists should be seen as an opportunity to map out that particular artist's path.

In that spirit, Animal Crackers reprints Gene Luen Yang's first two comics series -- Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks and Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order -- adding a short related story in the middle, an afterword in comics at the end, and an introduction by Yang's sometime collaborator Derek Kirk Kim. The two stories take place in the same continuity, so they work well combined into one volume. Oddly, though, the first of those stories feels more complete and well-shaped than the second, as if Yang's travels took him at first through some unpromising byways before finally emerging to American Born Chinese.

Gordon Yamamoto, hero of the first story, is a highschool bully -- not a particularly malicious one, just a big guy who isn't all that smart and takes advantage of his natural abilities. Every year, he explains, he and his best friend Devon proclaim some particularly nerdy freshman "King of the Geeks" and torment him all year.This year, the chosen target is Miles Tanner, who's about as stereotypical a geek as you can get -- physical affect like a young Bill Gates, glasses nearly as big as his head, and a burly, surly, father who disdains him for being a "wimp."

Things quickly get weird from there, though, as Gordon and Miles have an unlikely connection to an organization of tiny robots called the San Peligran Order that sneaks up sleeping people's noses to use their brains for data storage -- and that's, in retrospect, not even the weird part. There's a rampaging literalized metaphor, but Gordon and Miles manage to stop it -- and, as far as we can tell from the end of the story, become friends.

When Loyola Chin's story starts, some indeterminate time later, Gordon is still in the same highschool, but Miles has moved away, out of the story, with his family. Loyola discovers that she can influence her dreams by eating different things just before going to sleep, and so finds her way to a high mountain peak, from which she can see the whole world. Already there is a man wearing only a loincloth and sandals, with black around his pupil-less eyes. He calls himself Saint Danger, teaches Loyola to squint to see everything, and reveals that he's the secret head of the world-spanning San Peligran Order. (Which turns out to have other capabilities on top of the nasal-data-storage business.) Loyola's story goes weird in a different, eschatological direction, and Yang bobbles the story towards the end as he drops into naked proselytizing -- though it's also very vague proselytizing, as if Yang assumes that merely mentioning his particular supernatural being of choice would explain everything.

But, then, these are early works -- we expected that. The art looks simplified and dull -- Yang's current style, by comparison, looks precise and controlled; he's still using about the same number of lines in a panel, but he's gotten much better at placing them just right. And the stories do have that early-work feeling of a creator who's just throwing all of his ideas down onto the page, to see what sticks and what really belong in this story. Yang's gotten much better since this, which is great for him. But he was creating entertaining comics from the beginning, with some very odd ideas. And that -- now that Animal Crackers is available to bring those stories back into print -- is good for us.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: The Builders And The Butchers - Golden And Green
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Michelle Scott said...

I recently heard Yang speak at a writing conference. He was so interesting! I have this comic on my reading list.

Post a Comment