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Animal Crackers: A Gene Luen Yang Collection

Review

Animal Crackers: A Gene Luen Yang Collection

written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang

It all begins innocuously enough: A hulking bully antagonizes a nerd --- and then the nerd goes and builds a bomb. While there’s a certain level of gravity concerning amateur bedroom bomb construction that isn’t addressed as seriously as it could be, ANIMAL CRACKERS has more than enough heavy themes masked behind its simple, cartoonish drawings to keep anyone busy thinking.

ANIMAL CRACKERS consists of four comics: “Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks,” “Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order,” and two smaller vignettes --- “Sammy the Baker and the M.A.C.” and a short, autobiographical comic about Gene Luen Yang’s comic creation process. All of these slip together nicely and tangentially relate to each other, constructing a charming world that is empowered by the interconnectedness of these stories.

The collection starts out with “Gordon Yamamoto,” an earlier story from Yang that initially seems to be weird for weirdness’s sake, excitedly including arbitrarily strange elements that are cast into the mix without much validation or explanation. There’s the attitude that these nonsensical things just exist and you’ll have to accept it. Nerds and bullies team up to deal with metaphysical and supernatural phenomena, and foods become manifestations of anger and emotion --- something that is explained in detail in the “Sammy the Baker” vignette that follows the story. So, it’s rather critical that all of these things are collected in this manner, even if “Sammy the Baker” would have served better as a prologue, as it sets up the unique nature of Yang’s surrealist universe in a more skillful manner.

The collection’s other main story, “Loyola Chin,” delves into issues surrounding the death of a parent, the end of the world, genocide, Christianity, and a romantic relationship with a not-very-human being (which should charm any Twilight fan). It also uses a higher level of draftsmanship and quality of drawing than “Gordon,” so it’s worth fighting your way through Yang’s visual evolution, as you can see the stories mature with time. The ambiguity cast on the roles of villainy and heroism is especially astute, and while a subplot about high school kids having crushes on each other is a starkly superficial addition, it provides something for everyone.

Yang describes his own drawing style as “sparse” (and recounts others calling it “lazy”), and it’s definitely simplistic. There aren’t too many backgrounds, and most of it is characters interacting with a few bizarre monsters in a very animated style. The careful draftsmanship of “Sammy” is miles beyond the other stories, so it stands out on multiple levels.

Librarians should note that there are only a few instances of crass humor. Religious themes weigh heavy throughout part of the book, and explosives in a school setting may be disturbing for some readers, but ANIMAL CRACKERS ends up being a very readable, accessible collection that could slip into any school or library collection successfully.

Reviewed by Collin David on February 10, 2010

Animal Crackers: A Gene Luen Yang Collection
written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang

  • Publication Date: February 10, 2010
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: SLG Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1593621833
  • ISBN-13: 9781593621834