Animal Crackers by Gene Yang

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Animal Crackers
By Gene Yang
SLG Publishing

geneyanganimalcrackerscoverThere are few cartoonist working today who make books as easily likable as Gene Yang’s. The simple, yet affective art, the complex characters, the storytelling’s ever-present—yet largely unforeseeable—twists into the fantastic. All are present in this collection of early works by the American Born Chinese artist.

Actually, “collection” feels like too grandiose a term—there are, after all, only two stories full stories present (the newly-minted 11 page bonus story, while interesting as a peak into the author’s creative process, really plays more like an afterward to the book). And, thanks to the presence of shared characters, the two tales play off one another as two slightly dissonate pieces of the same story.

“Gordon Yamamoto and the Kind of the Geeks” and “Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order” share more than just overlapping characters at the same school and similarly structure names. Both are tales of youths thrust into larger fantastical worlds. Gordon Yamamoto, arguably the dumbest oaf in his school, enters bumbling into a vivid dream world. Loyola Chin, a lifelong member of the honor roll, knowing thrust herself in, through odd combinations of late-night snacks.

In some sense, however, both are chosen by their respective tour guides—albeit for very different reasons.

These are classic high school tales in the sense that both ultimately bring together dissonant elements of school yard populations. Their fantasy journey highlight elements of commonality and, ultimately, the fact that for all of reality’s flaws, it is seemingly where one ought to spend the bulk of his or her time.

The art contained herein is a bit rough in patches—as Yang relates in his retrospective strip, “I spent maybe half an hour sketching my characters before moving onto the story.” The book would have, no doubt, benefited from some color—and SLG didn’t exactly splurge on packaging here.

Animal Crackers isn’t as major a work as American Born Chinese –or even The Eternal Smile—but as with all of Yang’s work, there’s plenty to like here, and more than enough reason to get excited for whatever it is that the artist has coming down the pipe.

–Brian Heater

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