Chew: Eisner’s “Taster’s Choice”

By Roger

At last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, “Chew” was awarded the Eisner for Best New Series. This year, it’s nominated for Best Continuing Series, and I assure you, that nomination is very well deserved. “Chew” is going up against heavy-hitters like “Locke & Key“, “Echo“, “Morning Glories“, “20th Century Boys” and “Scalped“.

Chew” is published by Image Comics (who have racked up quite a number of Eisner nominations). The series is written and lettered by John Layman and drawn and coloured by Rob Guillory. The fact that so much of the series is handled by just these two guys astounds me… especially when you consider the caliber of the work. “Chew” is one of those rare series where the writing and art not only compliment each other so perfectly, but also that each is absolutely fantastic. Both are highly original, detailed and entirely full of life.

For those who’ve never picked up an issue, “Chew” revolves around Tony Chu, the central character. Tony is cibopathic. Don’t bother looking that up in the dictionary. It isn’t there. A cibopath is someone who, with one bite of anything edible, gets a flash of memories in terms of that objects life, as well as its demise. Oddly though, he does not get this psychic sensation from beets… which is why he eats so many.

Immediately you know that though this isn’t going to be a costumed super-hero series, it sure as hell is not going to be normal. That said, from the get-go, it seems very, very interesting… and that sense continues to grow as the series progresses.

The first issue of “Chew” lays the groundwork for establishing the world; one where chicken has been outlawed and the F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration) is one of the most powerful agencies in the world. The first issue also introduces several key characters who will play important roles throughout the series; John Colby (Chu’s early partner while he’s still on the police force), Agent Mason Savoy (F.D.A), Tony’s older brother who had a nervous breakdown on live television, and an F.D.A informer who’ll return to the series often, D-Bear.

A lot occurs in this first of the series, however the issue never feels rushed. Considering how much has to be conveyed so that the reader doesn’t feel hopelessly lost, it’s a testament to Layman’s writing that he never loses us.

And then there’s the aforementioned art. This is where Layman gets a helping hand, because so much of the story is conveyed through Guillory’s work. Facial expressions are insanely accurate and allow you to immediately get a feel for a scene. Guillory’s colors also speak volumes. He is able to control the emotional pacing of the story brilliantly through the palettes he uses.

In the last panel of the first issue, we see Chu getting whisked away by the F.D.A. to work for them as part of their Special Crimes Division. It’s there that he discovers that he is not the world’s sole cibopath. Agent Savoy too is one, and he explains to Chu that as part of their job with the Special Crimes Division, they are asked to eat a great many disgusting things, however it is always for the greater good. Their boss, Mike Applebee, cares little for cibopaths, and so makes Chu’s life a living hell at the F.D.A.

Each issue spotlights cases which Chu and Savoy work toward solving, however woven throughout are clues regarding the chicken prohibition, the avian flu which killed millions, and a conspiracy which would put any X-Files episode to shame. New characters are constantly being introduced, however it is always to further develop the story.

By Issue 3, Chu’s found the love of his life in what is perhaps one of the funniest moments I’ve read in comics in a long time. Amelia Mintz will elude Chu as a love interest for several issues before finally they hitch up, however during that time, she’ll still manage to sneak into the occasional story-arc.

Amelia is a saboscrivner; someone who can write about food so accurately that people who read her words actually get the “sensation of taste”. You may not have picked up on this yet, however food plays an integral role in nearly every single plot-line in “Chew“. That said, it’s all so damn original, quirky and drop-dead funny at times that you’re never bored. Layman’s managed to create gripping suspense using food as the main methodology.

Layman and Guillory also keep the pages fun to read by inserting real world and cult references.

       

You really get the sense sometimes that these guy are just having a lot of fun with this series.

By Issue 5, more of Agent Savoy’s puzzle pieces come into play. He leaves the F.D.A., however remains a powerful force in the series. Issue 6 sees the return of Chu’s original partner, Colby, patched up from the butcher’s knife he took to the face, and reassigned to the F.D.A. as Chu’s partner.

I loved the re-introduction of Colby in both the series and in Chu’s life. He’s the perfect counter-balance to Chu’s by-the-books mentality. Also, I love that Layman had the courage to make him gay. He sleeps with Applebee and then essentially blackmails him into being nice to Chu, which results in absolutely hilarious scenes.

Whether we’re introduced to ninja-like U.S.D.A. agents or wanna-be vampires, the series never lets up for one moment. Each issue is intricately woven together, yet able to be appreciated on its own merit as well. The quirky conspiracies, insane characters and killer rooster always make for a fun issue to read that still manages to be suspenseful.

Recently, Layman decides to turn the heat up on the series by putting the entire planet on red-alert. Alien writing has been blazing across the sky, and the last time we saw this, it lead to the destruction of an alien planet. This has thrown the series on its head. No longer is the F.D.A. all that concerned with black market chicken dealers. They’re too busy trying to decipher the message in order to save the world.

Out of all the nominees in the Best Continuing Series category for the Eisner awards, of the ones I’ve read, I can honestly saw that “Chew” is by far my favorite. Of those which I intend to read, they had better bring their effin’ A-Game, because that is what they will need to top “Chew” as my current favorite in this category.

Chew” has also received the following nominations: John Layman for Best Writer, and Rob Guillory for Best Penciller/Inker. Go get ’em, boys.

Chew
Image Comics
Story: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory

After a 25 year absence from comic books, Roger has returned, thanks in no small part to the iPad.

1 Comment

  1. […] Continuing Series Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory (Image) Echo, by Terry Moore (Abstract Studio) Locke & Key, by […]

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