Comics

Chew: Presenting The Well-Done Tale of a Medium Who Likes It Rare

The cover of the comic book 'Chew.'

It's a little like The Ghost Whisperer. Well, not quite. Image Comics hide caption

itoggle caption Image Comics

Someday I, your humble Monkey See comics blogger, will discover a comic. Someday I will be the first to fall in love with a new title and start talking it up with a fervor that will gratify many and unsettle more than a few.

Later, after the title in question goes on to win Eisners and Harveys and Oscars (did I mention it'll get optioned for a movie? Because it'll get optioned for a movie), people will credit me with plucking it from obscurity.

That's the phrase the historians will use, by the way: "Plucked from obscurity." My status as a plucker of discerning taste and insight will be acknowledged far and wide.

Yes, one day I shall be kingmaker, supreme arbiter of funnybook taste, bestower of Merit and Legitimacy.

Today is not that day.

Because Chew, the latest title for which I've fallen hard, has already been discovered. We're only three issues into its run, and the book's selling out, getting second and third print runs.

Inasmuch as Chew's immediate, out-of-precisely-nowhere success represents the comics-buying public deciding for itself what's good before critics get a chance to weigh in, let's just note that it HARDLY SEEMS FAIR.

Damn self-plucking comic.

We climb aboard what's already a surprisingly crowded bandwagon, after the jump.

When we first meet Tony Chu, the protagonist of Chew (geddit?), writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory's new series, he's a Philadelphia homicide detective.

What's that? Not high-concept enough for you, bunky? Gimme a minute.

Chew is set a few years in the future, after the government has declared chicken illegal in the wake of a bird-flu epidemic. Under this Poultry Prohibition, a black market thrives; chicken speakeasies are everywhere.

Oh, and: Turns out Tony's a cibopath — which is to say he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. WHATEVER he eats.

A nice, light salad? He'll go through everything the lettuce went through on the way to the table.

He eats a burger, he experiences flashes from the life, and death, and ... processing, of the animal.

So if he, in the course of his crime-solving duties, should maybe take a tiny nibble from a murder victim ... yeah. You see where this is going. It's all sort of goofily gross: Think Ghost Whisperer, if Jennifer Love Hewitt had to chomp on the occasional toenail.

By the end of the first issue, Tony's skills come to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration.

Oh, and: In the comic's post-bird-flu-America, the FDA is the most powerful — and shadiest — arm of the government.

Oh, and: In Issue 3, Tony tangles with a food critic who possesses a gift similar to his own — she can write about food with such precision and vividness that readers of her column actually experience the flavors and aromas she describes. The problem — she's grown disillusioned and has decided to only review restaurants poorly rated by the health department. Can Tony stop her from sickening the entire city?

Oh, and: He's in love with her, too.

So yeah. No shortage of ideas, over here. It's too early to tell how much control Layman will exert over his narrative in the long run, but he does seem to have a plan, and is careful to fully imagine the world in which his characters live. (For example: What do people in a post-poultry America do for Thanksgiving?)

Guillory's art matches the goofy/gross tone — his exaggerated anatomy blurs the line between the whimsical and the grotesque, in a Triplets of Belleville sort of way that keeps some potentially stomach-fluttering stuff from seeming too real.

I'm by no means the first to note that this book is fun; it's easily one of the most talked-about books of the summer, in funnybook circles. You got your iFanboys, your AroundComicses, your Newsaramas, your Comic Book Resources (click for a preview of the first issue), to name a few.

Internet buzz is one thing — comics message boards will dutifully light up at first sign of a high-concept premise.

But on the comic shop floor — where money actually changes hands — a flashy premise can only get a book so far. The guy at my local shop actually pressed this title into my hands and invited me to read a snappily written, smartly drawn scene between Chu and his partner that had nothing to do with psychic food or poultry bans.

That's why, for all its surface CSI-meets-Medium-meets Donner-Party trappings, Chew feels like a book that's got something to say, and a distinct voice with which to say it.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.