Trade Post: Chew Volume One Taster’s Choice

Written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory
Collects Chew #1-5
If my poor memory serves me correctly, Chew was a pretty big deal for Image when the book launched in 2009. A quick scan of the Wiki page for the book even tells me that it made it’s way onto a bunch of best of lists for that year and even won an Eisner this year. I gotta say, I don’t get it. I was excited to check out this comic about Tony Chu a “cibopath” which is basically an empath, but with food so when he takes a bite of something he gets images in his head about where it came from. The world he lives in is one in which a bird flu ravaged the country killing many people, which lead to the government banning chicken as a food and seemingly granting the Food and Drug Administration with more power to stop black market chicken selling. Chu gets a promotion as a special investigator where he works alongside the huge Mason Savoy, a fellow cibopath. The trade ends with some action and a big reveal, but for me, it didn’t really go anywhere and didn’t hook me enough to make me care about what else might happen in this book.

My biggest problem with Chew is that it’s very hard for me to get a grasp on it. Why should I care about Tony Chu? He’s so vanilla and uninteresting aside from his ability–which is supremely gross and potentially unpalatable for some readers–that he comes off as every “cop thrown into a new job” role I’ve seen a million times. Savoy’s far from flat, but also doesn’t seem to have much real character. Sure he wants to find out what really happened with all this bird flu stuff (there’s conspiracy theorists who say it never happened and that something else caused the epidemic), but he’s all style and no substance. Plus, I feel like we’re just groping blindly in a world that doesn’t really get well-explained in these issues. I pieced together what I mentioned above about the bird flu, but even I had questions. Some writers are able to throw you into the middle of the story and give you a good amount of information as you go along without being too obvious about it, but that’s not one of Layman’s strong suits. He often has characters straight-up explain their relationships so the reader knows what’s going on. I guess one could argue that the entire thing is a big parody or cartoon or exaggeration, but even though Guillory’s art has some of those elements to it, I didn’t get that feel as I read the book.

Speaking Guillory, I freaking love his artwork. He draws exactly how I see some of the stories I’ve written or have had bouncing around my head for years. He’s stylized, yet able to include crazy action at the drop of a hat. His angular, cartoony style takes some of the edge off of the grosser moments in the book, many of which involve Chu and Savoy taking a bite out of dead people and animals in various states of decomposure. His art, rather than the story itself really kept propelling me through the more boring parts of this book.

In the end, I just didn’t care about what was happening in this comic. Were this a 90 minute action movie, I probably would have loved it, but as an ongoing comic book that I’m supposed to be curious about and interested in to the point where I want to come back month in and month out or at the very least for the later trades, it just doesn’t grab me. It was a lot like NBC’s The Event in that there are mysteries, but I don’t care enough to continue on and, at this point, would just assume ask someone, read about it online or just forget about in general. Anyone else read this book and have a different take? I’d love to hear one because I’m really at a loss.