Chew #1–5 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Chew should not work – it is an out-there idea that doesn’t fit into an easily identifiable category – but it does. Tony Chu is a cibopath, meaning he gets a psychic impression of whatever he eats. This is unusual enough for a central character. But it gets stranger: he is a detective in a world where chicken is illegal after an avian flu outbreak killed 160 million people worldwide, and the FDA is the most powerful agency in the USA. But is the avian flu story correct? This is another twist to an already bizarre world. Add in Agent Mason Savoy, the FDA agent who discovers Chu’s gift and sequesters him to the FDA as his partner – because is a cibopath as well. And Savoy, a monocled, well-spoken bear of a man who breaks out some kung fu moves when attacked by sword-wielding gangsters, is more than he looks.
This trade collects the first five comics in the ‘little indie comic that could’ – the buzz around this book when it first came out, and the number of reprints to keep up with demand, was heart-warming for comic produced by Image about a man who has to eat human flesh to discover the answers to unsolvable crimes. John Layman, a writer whose work I haven’t read before, creates the world for his central character and the vibe in which it can live and breathe comfortably, but then he doesn’t rest on his laurels – other writers might have their one idea and explore that. Layman has it as part of his world and then goes even further, throwing in ideas like a Russian character called The Vampire (who we have yet to meet), a plotline about an alien planet 24 light years away and its connection to the US and Russian governments, a saboscrivener (someone who can write so well about the food she has eaten, the reader can taste it), and that’s just the start – the end of the series suggests there will be more revelations and more outré stuff.
For such an unusual story, you need an artist up to the task, and Rob Guillory is the right man for the job. His art style is funky and cartoony, like a strange mix of Jim Mahfood and Ben Templesmith, which allows the room for the oddness to stand up on its own and still believable. He sets it in the real world but the anatomy is towards the cartoony but in a good way; he handles humour well, but also action and storytelling, and I really like his style.
This is a really good book, something that is distinctive and unique and is special (I would love to have been in the pitch meeting for this series – Layman must have one hell of spiel to have got Image to publish this), and deserves all the plaudits it received. Kudos to Layman and Guillory for having the courage to go through with this wonderful comic book.