Westerns have a certain timelessness to them that will always attract me to the genre. We’ve certainly seen revisionist Westerns and modern adaptations, but there is this vacuum that Westerns create to place their stories and characters in a distant time and place without ever really becoming a period piece, which pulls me closer to works in the style. Oddly, I related to the Western films even though the only connection I had to them was the fact that I grew up in Texas, but even the Texas I knew was so far removed from that of Duel in the Sun and For A Few Dollars More that I had no reason at all to connect with the genre, yet, I felt this extraordinary bond with it, despite the fact that I am a Vietnamese-American female. After much contemplation, I realized that the gun play did not tie me to Westerns–their code of ethics did. Western rules for morality, though today often scorned as barbaric, felt more reasonable to me than those of modern times, and the Western sense of honor especially resonated with my Vietnamese-Buddhist upbringing.
Given my own fascination (and borderline obsession) with the moral undercurrents of the genre, I always wondered how I would interpret Westerns to children, especially since I myself did not begin to devour the films until I was a teenager. How do you adapt the archetypal bounty hunter into an occupation that is less egregious to explain? How do you convey governmental corruption? How do you represent differences between different regions of the United States without being overly simplistic and patronizing? And most importantly, how do you convey the Western essence of adventure, defiance, and triumph without using violence (since I’m certain that most parents will not want to explain the technicalities of a duel to a child right before bedtime; I know mine left that discussion to my American history teachers when they explained the Burr-Hamilton duel and how a cornerstone of American government died in such an ordeal)?
Yehudi Mercado’s Pantalones, TX answers these questions with the adventures of kid daredevil and wild child Chico Bustamente as he attempts to become a legend in Texas history. Chico, as the bold and flashy folk hero of the town of Pantalones, TX, channels the fiercely independent and outspoken persona of the bounty hunters of Westerns but in a bit of a more modern time and with more societal accepted intentions. Rather than chasing a band of criminals or seeking revenge, Chico aims to have his own page in Texas history, but to do that, he must do something that tests the limits of humans.
To make his mark, Chico attempts to wrestle clouds, windsurf over thorny patches, and form a record large cannonball splash, but these stunts fail, since they exist to only accomplish a record, not really to change the face of history. Consequently, in order to get into the record books, Chico must accomplish something far bigger and far more impacting, even if he does not know it.
Thus, when Sheriff Cornwallis presents his prized giant chicken, his edge to defeat the rival Gengo County in the culinary contest of best poultry, Chico sees an opportunity to make his record; he bets he will ride the giant chicken for nine seconds. Chico and Pig Boy prepare for this day as Bucky, a vegetarian, does too, trying to scheme up a plan to convince Chico not to eat the chicken if he successfully wins the bet. Chico succeeds as the rider, but his adventure in the history of Pantalones is far from over after the ride. Post victory, Bucky convinces Chico to free the giant chicken, and rather than basking in freedom, the chicken, named Tony in order to give him somewhat of a persona, goes rogue and pulls a Godzilla on the town. With Tony tearing apart homes and businesses, Pantalones, more than ever needs a hero, and Chico rises to the occasion, eventually learning that his love for his hometown triumphs over his desire for fame.
Illustrated with vibrant colors and an overall vivacious joy, Pantalones, TX captures the attention and imagination of all readers. Like the narrative, the visual style melds traditional Western themes and styles with contemporary cartoon sensibilities, creating an overall playful take on the Western. Altogether, the action involved with all of Chico’s stunts and challenges keeps young ones entertained, and the sly jokes about Texas history balanced against a general appreciation for Texas as an odd melting pot of old and new cultures and beliefs adds a layer of complexity to satisfy adults. Pantalones, TX updates and transforms Western motifs for modern day audiences of multiple ages, making it a strong stepping stone into Westerns for young readers and watchers or anyone interested in seeing a lighter side to the genre.
Beyond my enjoyment of the tales (and name) of Chico Bustamente, I love the Texan spirit of Pantalones, TX. As a fellow transplanted Houstonian, Yehudi Mercado manages to capture the peculiar relationship modern day Texans have with our home state. Along with Chico, we also understand that our hometown is by no means a perfect place (so much so that we no longer live there), but something about it has formed a part of our identity and, as a result, always remains in our hearts (and stomachs) to lure our souls and minds back, even if we never set foot in the state again.
Pantalones, TX by Yehudi Mercado is available via Archaia Entertainment.