Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 111 (5/25) -- Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan

This is the second day of Philippine Week, celebrating some random books from a country I know very little about -- but that I'm getting to know a little of the SFF and comics publications of, courtesy of Charles Tan.

I reviewed Elmer once before, in a slightly different form: I saw the four individual issues of this series more than a year ago, and wrote about them in a round-up of Philippine comics for ComicMix in April of 2009. Since then, the series has been reprinted in a trade paperback from Komikero Publishing, with an afterword from creator Alanguilan and a few other pages of pin-ups and other related art. (And I'll try not to repeat what I said about Elmer a year ago; go to that link for the full story.)

But Elmer is still the same story, a naturalistic, ground-level story of a world (and, in particular, a Philippines) where all the chickens suddenly gained sapience a generation ago and -- after plenty of violence and disruption -- settled in as yet another odd minority group in a world full of them. Elmer is one part Angry-Young-Man story, one part "What did you do in the revolution, Dad?" and one part minority/immigrant experience. The chicken-ness of the chickens, though, is something that could only work this way in comics -- animal fables in prose depend on tone, and always end up at least one level removed from reality. But Alanguilan's detailed lines make the chickens real characters -- as distinctive and specific in their faces and bodies as the human characters are -- to keep Elmer as a realistic story rather than an allegorical one.

It's still an audacious concept, and I still would argue that comics are exactly the right medium for startling concepts like this -- in comics, not only can you say anything is true (as you can in fiction in any medium), but you can show it, with the immediacy of pictures and the careful framing of the comics panel. Alanguilan's linework still strikes me as slightly superior to his prose in Elmer -- there's an occasional unwieldy phrase, particularly in his dialogue, and his characters use contractions much less than it feels like they should -- but the story as a whole is strong and surprising and deeply enjoyable, a dispatch from a struggle for freedom in a world even stranger than our own.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Hexes & Ohs - Little Bird
via FoxyTunes

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