Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CHEW review by Clovia Shaw

** GUYS GUYS GUYS. I LURV CLOVIA SHAW. Like... I would have her babies.... if she REALLY REALLY wanted me too ( gawd Clov, don't. Women in my family don't fare well post-baby) Go find her on Twitter and enjoy!**

You know how it is when you find that perfect neighborhood comic book store: a halloo from behind the counter when you walk in, every customer is known by favored reads if not name, and a staff excited that you're excited about something they love.
Well, I didn't. Go figure it'd be the one place in the world where my boobs made me invisible.
Then I walked into Third Eye Comics, and for the first time, got a cheery "Hey, guys!" that wasn't solely intended for my husband. The owner asked me (me!) what I was into, made a few suggestions, mentally noted what I took home, and engaged me about it when I came back in. What. I am both delighted and suspicious the Universal Lucy is about to yank my football away.
Man, did I get to kick the shit out of that football.
Third Eye, by paying attention to me as a fan and a buyer, by noting my tastes, has turned me on to things I never would have found browsing by myself. One of my favorites is Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory.
The protagonist of this award-winning series is Tony Chu, a police detective recruited into the Special Crimes Division of the FDA after he snaps and gnaws off most of a murderer's face. You see, Chu is cibopathic—he gets psychic impressions from the food he eats. Whatever he eats.

You see where this is going.
In the Special Crimes Division, he has to eat a lot of disgusting things. Though the squeamish are never spared discomfort, there's something so engaging in the presentation that I never failed to turn to the next page. The professional cannibalism, though regularly played for laughs, is never fetishized. Not by Chu. He's dedicated, meticulous, and tragic, in that nibbling on a murder victim's toe isn't necessarily worse than choking down a hotdog.
It is funny. The juxtaposition of the plausible (after an avian flu epidemic, chicken is outlawed in the U.S.) with the outright wacky (chicken-frog hybrids and plants from space that taste like…chicken) keep the overall tone light, and some of the most laugh-out-loud moments come from panels where there isn't any dialog at all. And then there's Poyo. Just trust me.
The basic template is a buddy-cop police procedural in which the conspiracy nuts are right—the pandemic 15 years ago was no avian flu—and a trusted mentor becomes the villain. Within that comfortable frame, reader expectations are tweaked, turned inside out, or fulfilled with sadistic glee.
"It's got heart!" is kind of an odd thing to throw at you now. (I mean, spine-cripplingly busty rival USDA agents with cybernetically enhanced animal partners.) But this series has heart. Family entanglements are depicted with an honest rawness at times, the main antagonist is not evil, and a refreshingly sweet romance keeps Chu's life from being unrelentingly bleak.
In addition to a storyline that always has a fun twist, Guillory's artwork is stunning. Just as familiar tropes are pushed into burlesque territory, the characters' proportions are exaggerated beyond "pretty" or "ugly," and stock-character attributes played up until they become something slyer. Chu's lean asceticism is contrasted against another cibopath, Mason Savoy, who's drawn as massive, paunchy, excessive even in his dandyish manner of dress and affected speech. Chu, who can eat only beets in peace, is hunched under the responsibility of his talent, while Savoy dominates their shared space, relishing every bite he takes unfettered.
The colors are rich but subdued, so any use of brighter hue for a sound or object really pops. Pacing, sense of motion, the ebb and flow of tension all feel effortless. Yeah, I dig the art.
Obviously, Chew hit a geek-spot for me, and despite my heavily pruned ramblings above, I realize these things are subjective. Some may not find it funny, satisfying, or even entertaining.
Those people wouldn't know genius if it gnawed off most of their face.


Kappa no He said...

I haven't bought a comic or manga in ages. And that despite the fact I'm surrounded by people reading them all the time, every-freaking-where. Clovia has convinced me to pick up Chew. Because I love dark and I love funny. Maybe this will get snatched up by a network and give Dexter a run for his money.


Clovia said...

Sweet! Let me know what you think :)

Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) said...

LOL. Killer last line, Clovia, but then I'd expect nothing less from you.

I'm ashamed to admit this here, but I haven't read a comic book since I lost my illustrated Rubert-the-Bear hardcover back the day. But I loved the review, and as always, your voice.