By Justin Wood
Eric Powell wrote this? Big Man Plans Eric Powell? The Goon Eric Powell? The review copy I received was coverless and lacked a title page, meaning it took some faint Google research to dig up the basic creator info on Dark Horse's new miniseries Chimichanga: The Sorrow of the World's Worst Face. It's a comic with a subtitle; it must have had a preceding story, and I was curious how what I had just read had managed to be some sort of sequel miniseries from Top Ten publisher Dark Horse. And there it was. Written and created by Eric Powell.
Like Cage Hero and Klaus, all you need is to see the author's name to know the kind of carte blanche behind publication. It's not to say I know the inner workings of comic book editorials, I am securely an armchair authority, but let's fucking face it, if Grant Morrison comes to you and says he wants to do a miniseries about a ripped medieval revolutionary Santa Claus, you publish that shit because you'll have the words "Grant Morrison" on the cover.
I like Eric Powell's work, but like Mike Mignola, sometimes it feels like somebody needs to tell them to choke back on the reigns a bit with the steady deluge of their original minis. They both still put out top-notch work (that Big Man Plans, son), but I want you to look me in the eye when you tell me everything both of these guys have put out recently has been equally memorable and indispensable. Reading the recent Joe Golem mini from Mike Mignola, I felt like I could feel Mignola's own boredom writing it, plugging away at a lifeless formula that once felt mysterious and archly magical just because Dark Horse wouldn't say no to it. It might seem like my attention is slipping, for some reason reviewing a completely unrelated creator during the review of another artist's work, but they both seem to share so many of the same traits. Both are Dark Horse darlings who made their names with now iconic lantern-jawed toughs who punch monsters and swear, they both are talented writers who often illustrated their own works, and both seem to publish more work each year than I have the time or patience to read. Now we have this in our lap, Chimichanga: The Sorrow of the World's Worst Face, and it reads very much like something somebody wrote who writes a lot of titles every year.
To the uninitiated to this property (myself included), Chimichanga is an enormous troll-like monster who is the pet and playmate of a little girl who happens to be a bearded lady in a traveling freak show. A shaggy-haired drifter is chased into the freak show's camp, fleeing from the long arm of the law due to unnamed crimes and his apparently unspeakable appearance hidden under thick curtains of hair. Whimsy and what might be mistaken for drama ensues.
I'm still amazed that Eric Powell wrote this. Author's name unseen, I read this picturing a young talent that might have gotten success from a webcomic or indie project and was given the keys to a Dark Horse book. What you get in Chimichanga is so startlingly basic and formulaic, so guilelessly devoid of originality that it felt like it could have only sprung from earnest untested youth, anxious to entertain but lacking basic tools to be creative. This comic was joyless to read despite leaning so completely on the idea that it was being fun, like a child trying to get you to watch it dance in a busy supermarket. Hitting the final page and seeing the "to be continued" lurking in the lower right, I couldn't help but resent the book for thinking this story was somehow valuable enough to earn more than a single issue. I can't oversell how slight this story is, at best it should be a somewhat oversized one-shot, and could be if not for the "wacky" multipage montage of monster bellybutton cleaning.
Despite being a Dark Horse book, the art doesn't do much to salvage the reading experience. It's not bad, thoroughly professional, but like the writing, it comes off flat and more convinced of its own charm than it actually earns. It has a children's book feel, digital painting with brusheswith lots of chalk texture and spatter to give it an artificially naturalistic feel, but something about it never hooked me. Something about the composition and the character silhouettes give the wackiness a distinctly static feel and after the first three pages the environments feel cluttered and flat, lacking flavor or identity. The doctor arranged the parts but could not give them life.
The most frustrating books always leave the big questions, but this time, some of them are answered. Why did Dark Horse publish this? Because Eric Powell wrote them something. Who is the audience for this? I actually can picture the decent sized readership that would go for these elements; I just find it hard to wrap my head around people not being as bored to tears as I was. The real question I'm left with, the unanswered hypothetical is: was writing this fun? Returning to the earlier subject, it's something I think about a lot when I read Mike Mignola minis. Does this still bring these guys joy? Is it really as cynical as a blank check Dark Horse offers them for their names, or is there that smile that creeps when you feel proud of something you just thought up, lit in the dark by the blue glow of a word processor. It's all creation, every book every week starts in a notepad or a Word file, the glint in the eye. This was an idea once. But I sincerely can't tell. A fresh-faced webtoon artist plucked from the ranks of Tapastic? I don't ask that question. But when an experienced and talented author with decades’ worth of industry experience writes something so rote that Dreamworks Animation would reject it for leaning too heavily on clichés? I wonder if pleasure could even be involved. In the end, all the book is powerfully forgettable, this leaves no scars on my year. Still, I'll allow myself at least the one surprise that this book had to offer. Eric Powell wrote this.
Chimichanga: The Sorrow of the World's Worst Face #1
Writer: Eric Powell
Artist: Stephanie Buscema
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics