I have been an avid comic book reader since before I was old enough to have a job and buy comic books. In college, I switched to Graphic Novels–not just because it sounded cooler, but also because I couldn’t always keep up with the monthlies. For this series, I plan on taking a look at some new works, independent works, classic must-reads, entire series that are completed, and anything else that tickles my fancy. So sit up straight, get your elbows off the table and put your napkin on your lap–let’s talk about Chew, Volume 1: Taster’s Choice!
Nutritional Facts for the brain!
- Written and Lettered by John Layman
- Penciled, Inked and Colored by Rob Guillory
- Published by Image Comics
- Collects Chew Issues 1-5
The other, other white meat
Tony is a gifted man. He is a Cibopath, a made up “super power” which means he can take a bite of an apple and see where it was grown, what chemicals and pesticides were used on it and when it was harvested. Or, he can eat a piece of bacon and experience the pig’s last moment on the chopping block. Tony begins the novel as a regular beat cop, but a series of events finds him working for the F.D.A., where he utilizes his “unique” talents. Along the way, he meets a host of characters with unusual powers linked to the sense of taste, deals with family problems, and tries to escape the wrath of his boss.
Bite-sized fun or tough to swallow?
Whenever a series begins, the first few chapters are crucial. A series can be dubbed the new hot dish or put on the chopping block based off of the first few chapters. How does Chew stack up?
The first chapter is a rollercoaster ride during a tornado. Key elements are littered throughout the pages, and many of the finer details are glossed over to cram in the important info. It’s understandable, because Layman needs to establish the background, the characters, and set off an engaging plot. The first chapter does a lot to set the framework for the series, although readers may be confused about the sudden ban of poultry. It does get cleared up later and is the pivotal story point, so try to stomach the lack of details initially. I know the first time I read it, I wondered what possible ramifications illegal chicken could have.
Once we get past the intro chapter, the story begins to hit its stride. Flashbacks are frequent, skipping from present moments to earlier ones. The coloring typically will tip you off if it is a flashback, and the narration lets the reader know when certain events take place. Three of the five chapters start off in the present and then flash back to earlier events; the other two chapters have a one-page prologue of sorts that sets up the story. In the first volume, each chapter is handled almost as a separate story, with one or two overlapping elements. This is great for starting a series, as it keeps the action fresh and everything wraps up in the 18 pages; however, this means there is no singular story arc the way a traditional comic would work. Much like Chu is learning the ropes of the F.D.A., the readers need to learn to deal with this different presentation of a story.
Looks like you brought a kitchen knife to a gunfight
The art is a combination of cartoony with a fine layer of dirt. The characters have great facial expressions and body language. It is a bit jarring to see some of the gory scenes contrasted with the simplified characters. I’m not against it; I think if this book were drawn realistically, it would be too disturbing. It reminds me a bit of Humberto Ramos’ work on Crimson. Smooth line work and a reliance on color to set the mood give Chew a slick appeal.
A big thing I’m a fan of is the little details in the background. From posters and leaflets, you can tell there are a ton of jokes crammed in. For example: in the first chapter, Tony’s partner, John, harasses a convenience store clerk. On the way out, you can see the clerk flipping him off in the window. Such minor details are scattered throughout the book, and upon re-reading this volume, I picked up on a few new ones that made me laugh.
Cannibalism, frowned upon in most societies
I will say this right out front. People that do not like blood or gore should stay away from this one. Blood is used liberally, many times in a Tarantino-style fountain of plasma. I wouldn’t say that the blood and gore is overdone on the whole, but the scenes that involve blood have buckets of it. Cannibalism is also a frequent occurrence, as Tony is forced to consume parts of victims, criminals and pets to get information. Most of the time it is handled tastefully (hah!), but don’t say I didn’t warn you. This is definitely not for children. I could also make the comment that one chapter has scantily clad women in it. There, comment made. But seriously, there is some G-string action. Children be warned!
The Final Word
The last bite
Chew, Volume 1 is very entertaining. It lays the groundwork for the future volumes and ends with one of the best cliffhangers I’ve read in recent years. To date, there are five volumes, the most recent having been released just last month. It is worth picking up the other volumes and reading through them first, as pieces to the over-arching plot begin to fall into place. There isn’t too much in the way of special features at the end, but they do include a nice character design page. If you enjoy odd detective stories, supernatural powers, or unraveling government conspiracies, I suggest you check out Chew. Also, as a random non sequitur, I like that Tony is an Asian-American. There are very few characters in comics that are Asian, never mind cast as the main character. It’s about damn time.