written by Eric Powell
There simply are not enough comics or graphic novels utilizing the fertile grounds of carnivals and circus freaks as story plot points. Sure, Grant Morrison has terrified and titillated audiences recently with Professor Pyg and his Circus of the Strange, alongside images depicted brilliantly by illustrators Frank Quitely and Frazer Irving. But, if you are one of the secluded few who relish and revel in the debauchery of lobster boys, strongmen, and general carny geeks, the space between 1932's Freaks, the 2003 to 2005 HBO drama Carnivale, and Morrison's recent 2010 tour of circus sin is far too long and barren. Fortunately, Eric Powell, the Eisner Award-winning writer of The Goon, and Dave Stewart, an Eisner Award-winning colorist of projects such as The New Frontier, The Umbrella Academy, Daytripper, and Joe the Barbarian, to name but a few, have united to give readers Chimichanga.
Visually, Chimichanga is simply beautiful. From the opening sequence of "Wrinkles Traveling Circus" with a clown statue that brings to mind the horrors of Winshluss' Pinocchio, or the character of Heratio "The Boy Faced Fish," which takes a cue from Cameron Stewart's rendering designs of Chubby Da Choona from Seaguy, Powell's book has the immediate comfort factor of the familiar and recognizable. In fact, audiences who appreciate Jill Thompson's work on Scary Grandmother or The Little Endless books or the illustrations of Agnes Garbowksa will adore Powell and Stewart's work. Focusing on the diminutive, bearded-girl Lula, Chimichanga follows the similar pattern of classic fantasy, fairy tales, and morality plays as the narrative unfolds.
As the story opens, the innocent yet hardly naïve Lula comes upon a witch, Dagmar, wishing to make a trade for the little girl's lucrative chin whiskers. Akin to Jack and his magic beans or Hansel and Gretel, Lula parts with a snippet of her beard in exchange for a mysterious rock, which is later revealed to be an egg. Juvenile humor abounds as the witch uses the hair in a potion to cure her chronic flatulence. In fact, Powell's humor is perhaps the strongest element of Chimichanga whether it manifests in the form of subpar, C-level circus performers such as the fortune-telling, two-eyed goat or Randy, "the Man with the Strength of a Slightly Larger Man" accomplishing feats of strength by wrestling kittens or opening stuck jars. Satire also forms a critical element of Powell's writing arsenal as Dagmar attempts to market her flatulence potion to a pharmaceutical company, who willingly abandons a cure for cancer to manufacture a renewable flatulence drug that only treats, but does not cure, the condition. Comical jabs at the Food and Drug Administration, as well as corporate culture and the world of high-priced attorneys round out Chimichanga.
Although billed as an all-ages publication, parents and librarians would be wise to screen Chimichanga before reading or giving it to pre-teenage children. While the flatulence jokes are likely targeting that specific audience, the higher-end satire, the monster's methods of dispatching villains, and some of the more grotesque illustrations may be too advanced or even too disturbing for younger readers. Lula is an easy character for children to identify with, particularly in her interactions with and love for Chimichanga, in addition to her encounters with adults. Her kewpie doll stature and genuinely bizarre features will no doubt intrigue and fascinate younger readers, while Powell's adept script and solid narrative will sustain an older audience. Similar in some ways to Tim Burton's James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in tone, environment, and feel, Chimichanga belongs in that category of Roald Dahl fiction and darker, children's literature.