Chew #1

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

For a non-comics related project, I recently had to perform a lot of research about avian flues. You can imagine my surprise and amusement, then, to read Chew #1 and discover that one of the plot points involves, yes, avian flu. But I have to give John Layman and Rob Guillory credit, this is absolutely not the way that I’d have expected such a take on current events. Anyone else might have served up a grim, depressing story, but Chew is a funny dark comedy with a sharp premise.

Pity poor police officer Tony Chu. Tony has a strange condition, in that whenever he eats something he suddenly gains its memories. Animals, vegetables, it doesn’t matter—he’ll get a flash into its life up to the point of death. (Well, unless it’s a beet. Which probably says a lot about the life of a beet.) The one thing Tony doesn’t have to worry about gaining past memories of, though, are chickens. That’s because chickens are now an illegal substance due to an outbreak of avian flu resulting in their banning. Now Tony and his partner John Colby are arresting people for contraband chicken, trying to help shut down illegal speakeasies that serve up that delicious but forbidden flesh. Well, until the night that everything went wrong…

I have to give Layman credit, he takes an odd story idea and really runs with it here—but not in the way you’d expect. After introducing Tony’s cibopathic ability, the book swerves into a story about illegal chickens, speakeasies, and FDA agents. In other words, it has absolutely nothing to do with what Tony does or doesn’t feel when he eats food. More importantly, though? It’s a fun and engrossing story. I love the idea of taking Prohibition-era set-ups and seeing them transplanted into the 21st century, and having the FDA serve as a law enforcement agency fits the rest of Layman’s set-up for Chew in a way that just seems right. When Tony’s special eating ability finally does come back into the picture, the reader may have forgotten about it entirely. Suddenly the two plots converge, but once again not in the way that you might immediately expect. Layman turns up the bleak, dark humor in Chew; as a dry plot synopsis, some of the events of this book will sound a little disturbing and upsetting. In Chew, though, it’s something that makes you laugh. It’s gross and a little gruesome (but not graphic!), but I couldn’t help but just keep snickering to myself as I read and re-read Chew #1.

Part of the humor certainly comes from Guillory’s art, here. I like the way he draws the characters, in a slightly cartoonish and exaggerated way. It makes the subject material come across a little lighter and more humorous than if it had been drawn in a more realistic way, and it’s that slight caricature nature that gives extra punch to the script. Guillory’s able to really push the speakeasy waiter’s good cop/bad cop routine with this extra emphasis, for example, or able to make Tony’s partner look that much more perturbed when their sting operation is disrupted by the FDA. Most importantly, though, some of the final scenes might very well have lost their humor if Guillory hadn’t drawn them in such a light and funny manner. I think that’s actually where I got sold on Chew #1, and with Layman and Guillory’s partnership on the book.

Chew #1 has all the right elements; good central idea, a strong script, and just the right art. It’s nice to see a good book like this getting so much attention, and with any luck it’s just the start of a long collaboration between the creators. With this first issue kicking off a five-part story titled "Taster’s Choice," I can’t help but think that a lot of people will be back each month for another little nibble. It’s a good debut, and I definitely want to read a lot more. Good, silly fun from start to finish.

4 comments to Chew #1

  • Ike Iszany

    In other words, it has absolutely nothing to do with what Tony does or doesn’t feel when he eats food.

    The what’s the point of the “power”?

  • That’s not true. I don’t want to give away the ending of the first issue but:

    When Tony’s special eating ability finally does come back into the picture, the reader may have forgotten about it entirely. Suddenly the two plots converge, but once again not in the way that you might immediately expect.

    Trust me, it becomes a very important part of the story.

  • Karla Deen

    Good review. I enjoyed Chew quite a bit. I love it when I finish reading a book, and then can immediately re-read it and take away more from it. This is a book like that. It’s complex without being confusing, and fun without being too gross. Very well written and the art is fantastic.

    This was not a book I would have expected to be a hit. But it’s different, well executed and totally engrossing. I’m looking forward to more.

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