Written and illustrated by Eric Powell
Colors by Dave Stewart
This comic is an all-ages story written as only Eric Powell (creator of The Goon) could write it. It’s basically the classic formula of a little girl and her pet monster, with a couple of hard twists thrown in, starting with one that is obvious on the cover: The little girl, Lula, has a beard and mustache.
That’s a daring choice all right, and Powell adds to it by giving Lula blank black eyes, so at first, actually, I thought she was wearing a V for Vendetta mask. But no, it’s all her, and it quickly becomes clear that far from being a caprice to make the book outrageous, Lula’s beard is an important part of the story.
Lula’s grandfather runs an unimpressive little circus featuring acts like Randy, The Man With the Strength of a Slightly Larger Man and an amazing two-eyed goat, and it’s not doing very well. There’s also a boy-faced fish that has a tendency to freak out.
The action starts with Lula getting a delicious chimichanga from a food stand. As she walks back to the circus, a witch beckons to her. “Whoa, Nelly!” Lula responds, “I’m not going into that house! It looks like Vietnam!” Then the witch farts. That’s pretty much how the whole book works, with Powell trotting out cliches from children’s literature and subverting them with snappy dialogue and fart jokes, which is why Chimichanga is one of those rare books that works for both children and adults (well, adults who can tolerate fart jokes, anyway). There’s not a bad word in the entire book (“Raspberries!!” is Lula’s biggest swear) yet it’s sharply written from an adult sensibility.
Lula trades the hairs for what she thinks is a shiny rock, but a few minutes later, the rock cracks and a monster climbs out—and eats her chimichanga. The monster, whom Lula promptly dubs Chimichanga, is big and hairy but not particularly fierce, so he is a perfect asset to her grandfather’s circus, although the other performers don’t like upstaged.
Spoilers after the cut.
Meanwhile, the witch has discovered that the potion she was mixing up with Lula’s hair didn’t make her all-powerful, but it has cured her gas problem. She takes the potion to a large pharmaceutical company, and when the owner realizes that the effects are only temporary—and therefore the product will always be in demand—he pounces on it. But there’s a snag: They need more of Lula’s chin hairs to make more of the potion, and that requires kidnapping her. From here on, the story is a very classic chase-and-rescue tale, straight out of a kids’ book, but with plenty of Powell-type twists. The biggest twist is this—when the witch and the evil pharma guy capture Lula, and shave off her beard, she looks… odd. It’s a measure of Powell’s genius that by the time this happens, the reader is so habituated to the beard that we sympathize with Lula’s distress at losing it.
Lula is a great character who is comfortable as she is, even though she is different—unlike the other characters in the circus, who are all frustratingly normal. Powell’s wit shines through in the side characters, each of whom gets a few seconds in the limelight. His art is solid, and the figures almost look like they were sculpted out of clay. Dave Stewart’s earth-toned pastels really enhance the setting—I can’t imagine this book in black and white.
Honestly, when I first looked at the cover of this book, I couldn’t see past Lula’s beard. It was icky, and it looked like Powell was stretching with a gimmick. I’m glad I read the story, though. Chimichanga is a great kids’ tale about looking at and around differences, and it’s also a ripping adventure (sorry, couldn’t resist). At the same time, between Powell’s solid art and his witty writing, including a lot of allusions clearly intended at older readers, there’s a lot here for adults to enjoy as well.