For some cartoonists, their inspirations lie in hazy childhood memories, the latest film at the art house, or the work of a fellow comic artist in the field. For Goon cartoonist Eric Powell, it lies in Mexican food and sideshows.
In the recently released miniseries Chimichanga, the Eisner-award winning artist takes his off-beat brand of humor and distinctive illustrative style in the world of kids comics in only the way he can. Chimichanga is not a Mexican food epic, but rather the story of a bearded girl named Lula and her life on the road in a traveling circus. As Powell explains it, it’s about an extraordinary and unusual group of people who have to deal with being considered normal. Described as one of his most positive books, it was completed on a break between issues of The Goon.
With all three issues of Chimichanga in stores now and a collected edition in the wings, we talked with the cartoonist about the series and his love for Mexican food.
Newsarama: So Eric, I love me some chimichangas. Is that what this is about?
Eric Powell: One of the best... ok, the best thing about living in the small town of Lebanon Tennessee is the awesome Mexican restaurant that's only ten minutes from my house. And they make an amazing chimichanga. But, no, this isn't about tasty fried Mexican food. It's about a little bearded girl named Lula and a circus of less than extraordinary performers. Horatio the Boy Faced Fish, Randy the Man with the strength of a slightly larger man, Ezmerelda and her amazing two eyed goat. But they find something unexpected. Something actually extrordinary. A beast Lula names Chimichanga. It's a lot about how this group deals with being confronted with their own normalcy. Kinda like goth kids when they see frat boys and cheerleaders shopping at Hot Topic. Poor Azrael Abyss.
Nrama: What kind of girl – beard or not – would name a beast 'Chimichanga'? Tell us about her.
Powell She's a character quite a bit different than any I've worked with before. She's a spunky little kid. A positive person. Which is REALLY a departure from the other characters I've done. The Goon cast tends to be on the tragic and pessimistic side. Yeah, and she's got a beard. I think she's a good role model for kids unless you are a conservative who finds androgyny something to frown upon.
Nrama: So this circus she’s involved with – where’d these ideas come from? Are you a big circus fan?
Powell: No, not really. I think I'm more interested in the people who end up being involved with a circus. Freaks and oddities. I hadn't thought of that before but All three of the projects I've created or co-created, The Goon, Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities, and now Chimichanga, have all had circus' or carnivals involved in the story. I didn't do that consciously. And I can't think of why that has happened. Maybe it's because I love the look of that depression era kind of vaudeville thing. And their is something appealing about that atmosphere combined with being a nomad who plops down in the middle of some new town every week to put on a show. Can't really put my finger on it.
Nrama: Although The Goon had its roots in self-publishing, it went on to find a home at Dark Horse. Why are you self-publishing Chimichanga under your Albatross Exploding Funny Books label?
Powell: I'm very happy with my home at Dark Horse, but I also felt like I had put a lot of work into getting the Goon and Albatross Exploding Funny Books off the ground when I starded out. I didn't want to turn my back on my little company completely. I'll continue to publish most of my material through Dark Horse, but I want to also self publish a few small projects myself. There's something that feels a little punk rock about it. We need more diversity and original material in this industry. It's the only entertainment industry I can think of that is being maintained off of decades old properties. Novels, TV, movies, music. Those industries all live and thrive from a new influx of ideas and material. If television were the comic industry, we'd all still be watching I love Lucy. But Lucy would be packing a glok and wearing a black vinyl jump suit. Don't get me wrong. I loves me some super heroes. I just don't want our industry controlled by them anymore. I wonder what would have happened if J.K. Rowling had released Harry Potter as a comic instead of a novel. I think I can safely say that it probably would have sold 5,000 copies at best. We as a whole, creators, publishers, retailers, and readers, need to start giving good ideas a chance and stop making everything about superheroes created in the thirties and sixties. Yeah, I know that's the argument people have been making for the past twenty years, but we have to try harder. The reason the top creators in this business are doing super hero books is because it's the only way to make any real money. A stupid man once said, "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your families." And we should never forget that. Why? I don't know. But we should never forget it!
We have an industry where people do an odd project here and there between drawing dudes with bulging packages in tights. We need an industry where the best of us are making a living off that odd project. We need to encourage the creation of more Jeff Smiths. Creative, talented people with good ideas. I don't want another giant crossover super hero event. I want to see the next Bone.
Nrama: And this could be it – beards or not!
Speaking of The Goon, this seems like a big switch-up to get to Chimichanga. How’d this idea come about?
Powell: I blame my two sons.
Nrama: [laughs] You've got to tell us the story.
Powell: I was asked by a network to develop an animated kids show. I came up with a couple of ideas. Both of which were rejected for not being not being "relatable" to children. I disagreed. But, oh well. I showed Chimichanga to my two sons, though, and the reaction was strange. They were both really enthusiastic about it. They grew up with their dad being a comic artist. They don't care about anything I do. From Goon to Superman. Their collective reaction has always been, "yawn". But this thing they were asking about every day. I figured it had legs and I liked the characters, so I developed it a little more and decided to make a comic out of it when I got the time. Well, I don't have the time, but I'm doing right now, anyway.