Gordon Yamamoto is a bully who has just discovered–because of an alien mind transfer of a sorts–that maybe the geek he’s picking on has even more problems than Gordon does. Loyola Chin is a genius whose ability to choose her dreams leads her to discover that the man of her dreams may not be the man she actually needs. Along the way the two of them end up with alien spaceships up their noses and learn a lot about friendship, courage, and faith.
All creators have to start somewhere, even those who win major awards. Yang, creator of the Michael L. Printz Award winning graphic novel American Born Chinese (published by First Second), started with a self-published comic called Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. That book, and its follow-up Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, make up this collection, reissued in one volume by SLG Publishing who picked up the original volumes several years back. There are many elements in Animal Crackers that will be familiar to fans of Yang’s work: the theme of acceptance, the subtle and not-so-subtle references to Christianity, a wide-eyed look at the annoyance that is high school, and just the right touch of goofy humor.
The humor is the first element that will grab readers, which isn’t a bad place to start. The aliens who have taken root in Gordon, and later Loyola’s, noses lead to situations where the characters have to stick first fingers and then TV cords up their nose and when the spaceships are finally revealed, they are shaped like disembodied thumbs. The acceptance theme comes into play second. As Gordon moves from mindless bully to friend of geeks, he does so because he has humanized his victim, realized who the boy really is and how they are similar to each other. Possibly because he works at a high school himself, Yang retains the memory of the frustrations of that time of life in a way that many adults do not. Loyola is a bright girl trapped by longing for something more, while Gordon is just hanging on, trying to get through each day.
Yang is Roman Catholic and religious themes have always been a part of his work…
Gene Luen Yang
SLG Publishing, January 2010