In the blazing hot desert of Texas, there is a place called Pantalones, home of the great Chico Bustamente. This is his legend.
With the help of his best friend, Pig Boy, and newcomer Bucky (“New York is not a foreign country!”), Chico faces off against the evil Sheriff Cornwallis. The story begins with the Sheriff determined to get Chico out of the way for his Steak of the Union address. However, as he’s teaching a history lesson (this is a really, really small town), Chico gets other ideas; he can’t believe he’s not listed among the historic legends of Texas and he aims to get himself up there with the big names.
Chico tries out different stunts but nothing really catapults him to legend status. Then he attends Sheriff Cornwallis’ Steak of the Union address and finds out his plan for putting Pantalones on the map—and for more than just being the place where underwear was invented. Sheriff Cornwallis intends to challenge Genco County’s most delicious chickens in the world with the world’s biggest chicken! Chico sees his chance to shine and issues his challenge: either he rides the chicken for nine seconds and gets to eat the whole bird himself….or the chicken will eat him! Will Chico’s friends help him get in shape and beat that chicken? Or will they chicken out? And what is really going on in Genco County? Will Chico remember who his real friends are in the end? And what will happen to the giant chicken?
Mercado’s art has a sharp, wacky feel to it. The snarky feel of the comic is emphasized in the exaggerated stances of the characters, the looming sheriff, stormy backgrounds, and Texas-style big fonts that blaze out in moments of excitement. There are plenty of flames, explosions, and underpants dotting the landscape as well. The chapters are divided by hilarious fake advertisements, blazoned on photographic backgrounds, for things like “Pig Boy’s Frozen Slopee Drink: A full meal in every cup” done in slick digital styles. Almost every panel features a character squinting into the distance as they make a heroic pronouncement, whether it be their determination to ride a giant chicken, catch Chico, or train to be a rodeo clown. The only exception is the innocent Bucky, whose “foreign” status is signified by his wide-eyed, innocent stare and triangular head, in contrast to the bowling ball shapes of most of the other characters. The art stands out, even if it’s not a completely unique style.
This book is funny and weird and at times completely bewildering. The plot, such as it is, will tickle the funny bone of kids who like the gross and strange, and teens will probably snicker as the author pokes fun at vegetarians, cheerleaders, underwear, mechanical bulls, and bar mitzvahs, but there are lots of funnier, more smoothly-plotted books out there. As for the content, Archaia’s rating of E for Everyone (“This book contains content suitable for readers of all ages. It may contain minimal violence”) is a bit optimistic. The book opens with Chico peeing outside and remarking “Bucky, my pal, the ability to pee in the great outdoors is what separates us from the animals.” When Sheriff Cornwallis’ chicken appears, an old-timer says “That is one big frickin’ chicken.” School libraries and smaller public libraries will want to focus on more mainstream titles for their collections, but this might be an additional purchase for older middle grade readers or younger teens in a large collection or a library with a very diverse readership.
Pantalones, TX: Don’t Chicken Out
by Yehudi Mercado
Publisher Age Rating: E: Everyone