A list of graphic novels with animals as the stars.
By Anna Gamboa
Graphic novels or komiks have always featured some sort of hero or villain sporting superpowers related to a member of the animal kingdom –hello Paul Rudd as Ant Man – and comicbook staples like Hawkgirl, Catwoman, etc. Pinoys aren’t slouches in that department either, having created a telenovela centered around winged folk in a fantasy kingdom with a caste system (Mulawin), a comic book series about a girl with rat-like features (which got turned into a movie starring Rio Locsin, then remade into a telenovela series), then a more recent version about a girl with cat-like features (Felina) –and various iterations of serpentine people (Zuma, Galema, Kamandag).
1. Pugad Baboy by Pol Medina Jr.
Featuring Polgas, “ang asong hindi” who acquires the human ability to talk and walk on his hind legs after several helpings of Mang Dagul’s culinary experiments, the dog with an appetite for beer/pulutan, good sense and justice serves as the voice of reason in the comic strip (from print to digital formats), and its subsequent incarnations as comic book compilations, and Pugad Baboy merchandise.
2. Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan
The creator of “Wasted” explores issues of emancipation, discrimination, race, and disenfranchisement―from the perspective of a chicken. In an alternate reality where sentient chickens talk and go through the process of taking hold of their rights, no quarter given, there’s no eyebrows raised at interspecies love, a chicken becomes a matinee idol, and an angry young chicken ponders his future and the freedom that was won by his forebears. Winning a Will Eisner award made this labor of love all the more sweeter as Alanguilan labored in between crushing deadlines for various projects.
3. Kuting Magiting by Robert Magnuson
While marketed as a series of toddler board books by OMF Literature, Magnuson’s distinctively playful style of depicting animals shines through words and pictures. The mischievous antics of a super-powered kitten being raised by a good-natured dog are currently available in the ingeniously written “Run, Kuting! Run!” and “Go To Sleep, Kuting”.
4. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Almost a decade since the daily comic strip ceased production, the adventures of a tiny hyperactive boy and his equally mischievous stuffed tiger still register a significant beep on everyone’s pop culture radar. With wild adventures produced from sheer imagination taking readers for a fun ride, with most conjecturing that Hobbes often represents the rational ego or more mature aspects of Calvin’s personality, there are moments of reflection befitting the series named after two philosophers. The collected Sunday comic strips are a joy to behold with their riot of color after the discipline of black and white illustrations for the weekday strips.
Jim Davis’ orange feline, who will forever be associated with dreaded Mondays and lasagna, has been immortalized in so much merchandise from the 1980’s onwards, aliens from another planet may conclude that humans are cat worshippers (well, when combined with Hello Kitty merch). Everyone may adore the daily strip, or compiled comics, but grade-schoolers and wordsmiths in dire need of comic relief love the Webster’s dictionary that incorporates the sardonic cat in its pages.
6. Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman
Featuring a fox as the protagonist in the series, as she embarks on a perilous quest to save the soul of a beloved, Yoshitaka Amano’s lush illustrations provide the visuals for Gaiman’s Japanese-inspired land of dreams or nightmares. As is with Gaiman’s tales, while our fox heroine saves her loved one (and is foiled just before triumphing), her revenge comes with a price, which she pays willingly. Called “a dark tale of enduring charm” it won the Bram Stoker Award for best illustrated narrative, and the Hugo for best related book, it’s a haunting story worth re-reading again on any weekend.
7. Sandman: A Dream of a Thousand Cats
Presenting an alternate reality where humans were tiny and enslaved to catdom, ultimately liberating themselves by dreaming of another reality where humans became masters, and cats their pets, this single-issue story from “The Dreaming” series is food for thought―what WOULD happen if we found ourselves at the mercy of a cat’s paw, should one cat succeed in her mission to get a thousand cats to dream the same dream of freedom?
8. Manosaur by Elbert Or
No words populate the charming world of Manosaur (an overly civilized T-Rex with an adoring corgi for company), but there are moments when the reader may wonder if the dinosaur’s misadventures in trying to date once paralleled its creator’s (who is now very happily married). But the sight gags are fun, involving the dilemma of a ridiculously large creature cursed with extraordinarily tiny forelimbs.
9. Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim
Hailed by Alan Moore as the hydrogen to the periodic table of comics, the 300-issue series tackled a variety of topics and its experimental tone had the protagonist shifting from parody to social commentary. While the somewhat acerbic character may be hailed on some lists as part of the top 50 or top 100 of comic book greats, it can certainly be said this aardvark is a tough act to follow, spawning the term “Cerebus Syndrome”―when a body of work becomes more ambitious than when it was first intended.
10. Honorable mention: Liz Climo’s series and Sandra Boynton
The heart-warming silliness of Liz Climo’s characters are great stress-busters in a busy day, and Sandra Boynton is no slouch in that department either. Depicting various adorable beasties―Climo often has sea creatures, reptiles or dinosaurs in her repertoire, while Boynton often favors farmyard animals―the positive messages they spread often talk about unconditional love, acceptance, and the administration of large quantities of candy or chocolate in an emergency.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s March 2015 issue.