Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chew: Taster's Choice

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review, if you can call it that, of Chew: Taster's Choice (Volume One) (Image, 2009)

A few weeks ago, I suggested that John Layman and Rob Guillory, the writer and artist of Image Comics' remarkably odd Chew, were due a slightly more balanced review than what I felt like delivering at the time. Well, every once in a while, I like to try and come through with one of my notions.

In the first issue of Chew, which I bought for a buck at a previously unknown comic shop in Sandy Springs, the duo presented one of the neatest examples of world-building that I can recall in a funnybook. Expertly, they created a world where, thanks to a bird flu epidemic (or so they say), chickens are illegal and the FDA has become the most powerful police force on the planet. Newly drafted into their arcane and mysterious ranks is Tony Chu, a "cibopathic" detective with the ability to pick up powerful psychic impressions from anything that he eats.

I was impressed enough with how densely the creators packed the opening chapters, and the first collected edition shows how well they've repeated that success. Taster's Choice compiles the first five issues of the series for only $10 and it is a doozy. So much goes on in this book that my head was swimming by the end of it.

Guillory's style remains a little unpalatable (sorry) for me, but he and Layman work out some really impressive tricks with pacing and storytelling. While I don't care for the character designs - Savoy, in particular, looks less like a really big guy and more like a John Kricfalusi cartoon bear - the way that he depicts action is constantly surprising and funny. There's a scene where characters open a cremation urn in front of a desk fan, and I can think of a dozen ways to lay out and illustrate that scene, all of them miles inferior to the way Guillory does it.

But I think what impresses me most is the way that the creators balance episodic, high-concept adventures with a larger, even-more-high-concept series of overarching subplots. Each individual story is immensely satisfying on its own, with bizarre incidents and black comedy, and each makes it clear that there is a very large, thunderously weird story at play behind Chu's casebook. The fourth chapter, in which the FDA investigates an unbelievable misappropriation of tax dollars at an observatory, and by the end of this mess, Layman and Guillory have thrown three gigantic new blocks atop the misshapen pile that forms the plot.

In case it's unclear, I'm of the opinion that, when done well, the most entertaining stories fiction are the ones where the plot goes from A to B by way of every other letter in the alphabet. The plot in Chew seems to be taking in a few numbers and pictograms along the way. This book is gross, sick, nauseating, thoroughly batty and recommended wholeheartedly.

No comments: