After reviewing Jess Ruliffson’s Invisible Wounds and now reading her new comic, City Chickens, I realize that her style of storytelling is to present a snap shot of real life that readers may not have known about, rather than presenting a tale with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Her piece, City Chickens, looks at a community garden in Brooklyn, NY, and the “chicken man” who runs a green spot for members of the neighborhood.
My family owned Banty hens when I was young, and my mother currently maintains a small group of two as pets and natural pest control for her horse barn just behind the house in her suburban neighborhood, so I immediately warmed to a story about city dwellers raising chickens. Greg Anderson moved to Brooklyn from Alabama in the 1980s, and he and his wife Deborah met “Mr. Lenny,” the maintainer of a garden built over burnt, collapsed buildings when they moved into the neighborhood. When the kindly man died in 2003, it seemed natural for them to take over his work, so Greg convinced the block association to renovate the space and name it the Walt L. Shamel Community Garden after the man who had loved it. Now, the Andersons take care of the garden, enjoying their closeness to nature in the middle of the big city, and they’re considered local experts on how to care for chickens in an urban setting. It’s not a dynamic story with huge events or exposition, but the gentle love the Andersons hold for the garden, the chickens, and their place in their community exudes from each page. They are fortunate to be able to live their passion, something many of us struggle to define.
I hoped for more details about urban chicken raising in City Chickens, but with only seventeen pages I understand why Ruliffson chose to focus on the personal story of the caretakers of the Walt L. Shamel Community Garden. It’s not meant to be a how-to manual on chickens, and there are numerous sites and books available if I ever want more nuts and bolts information.
The raw, black-and-white art that Ruliffson utilized in Invisible Wounds continues in City Chickens; however, as before, despite not being technically perfect, the style helps to convey the heart of the story. The chickens are probably the most detailed characters in the entire work, and I can attest that they look quite realistic!
I don’t know if City Chickens will have as wide an appeal as Ruliffson’s other work, but if you enjoy a look into the lives of ordinary people trying to improve their community while living a dream, check it out. The Andersons may inspire you to chase your own passion, and if you change someone else’s life for the better in the process, so much the better!
4 Fabulously Drawn Chickens out of 5