What if chickens demand equality?By Marlet D. Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Actually, comic book writer and creator Gerry Alanguilan just got curious about the language of chickens. This curiosity led to a hit Filipino comic book titled “Elmer,” and numerous worldwide recognitions. The comic book is about a family of chickens and their struggle for acceptance and equality in the human world.
Gerry lives in San Pablo City, Laguna, a fairly rural area where chickens freely mingle with humans in the farmyard. Then one day, Gerry’s rich imagination played tricks on him, and “Elmer” was born.
Gerry won the Prix Asie-ACBD (Best Asian Comic Book Award) and recently the Quai des Bulles-Ouest France for “Elmer.” The Prix Asie-ACBD is given by the Association des Critiques et des journalists de Bande Dessinee, a group of French comic critics and journalists.
“I’ve always been fascinated with chickens,” Gerry said. “I even had a pet chicken named Solano when I was a kid. Every time I passed by them, they looked paranoid and indignant, and I always had this curiosity of what they could be saying.”
This inspired Gerry to create a series of comic strip titled “Stupid Chicken Stories” based on his own experience with chickens. That one idea sparked many questions. “What would they say? What if they know their history in the world, that they are bred for food? What would they say?”
“That process of analyzing myself sparked the process of writing the book,” Gerry said.
But “Elmer” is not about preaching animal rights or animal welfare or even compassion for animals. It is about family, acceptance, wit, reality, world domination, issues, and simply about a son named Jake.
Jake is Elmer’s son, a nearly prodigal or rebellious son who is full of angst and having a hard time accepting chickens’ co-existence with humans. Many teenagers can probably relate to Jake, which Gerry said has a teeny-weeny semblance of him. Jake’s parents narrowly escaped human fury. A human who eventually becomes Elmer’s best-friend save them.
When Gerry started writing “Elmer,” he initially wanted to deviate from drawing inspiration from his real life. “Most of my previous works were (already) based on my personal experience,” he explained. “So, I really wanted to create something completely from my imagination, purely fictional. But I realized that I won’t be able to help it.”
The characters are all interesting enough for readers to want to know more about, say Francis or May, Jake’s siblings. “I assigned different personalities to each of them without revealing so much,” he said. This would make people want to turn the pages faster.
Francis is good-looking, perhaps the most open-minded, a celebrity in his own right, but is he gay? That, Gerry left unanswered.
Gerry is known to be a very detailed artist. “Elmer’s” drawings are too meticulous and elaborate not to notice. “I’ve always drawn that way maybe because of my influences including Alfredo Alcala and Bernie Wrightson,” he said.
Gerry always goes for the best, not for good or better, just the best. Gerry published “Elmer’s” first edition through his Komikero Publishing. This second edition is published by National Bookstore, which will help distribute it mainstream.
The comics industry suffered the one of the biggest blows when multimedia technology kept people from reading. But these days, comics is picking up. It could’ve taken years but one small step at a time is better than no movement at all. “Elmer” is just one of the Filipino creations that is making waves.
During the lull, many comic book creators photocopy their works and sell them in comic book events. These days, publishers approach them to have their comic books published and distributed.
Gerry sees a lot of good comic book creators who have the potential to make it big. But he is a bit worried that they are not very consistent with their works. “What I noticed is that when their works are to be distributed locally, the drawings are so-so,” he said, “but when they are applying to Marvel or DC, the works are really exceptional.”
Gerry hopes that comic book artists will be consistent regardless of the market. Filipino readers deserve the best.
“Elmer” is available in all National Bookstore branches.