This is insane. Mindbogglingly insane. But in a good way. In the best way possible. Here is a quote “Sometimes, in the course of this job, you’re going to eat terrible things, all in the name of justice.”
Our hero Tony Chu is a cop who also happens to be a Cibopath. This means he gets psychic impressions from things he eats. He spends his life hating mealtimes as his mind is filled with the history of his mouthful from pesticides to slaughterhouse. His superiors upon finding out his ability send him to work for the FDA (the American Food & Drug Administration) solving crimes by nibbling on dead things. And sometimes parts of living ones too.
This idea is so unique and off the wall it hits you for six. The shocks keep coming. Following an avian flu pandemic that killed over a hundred million people globally there is now a ban on poultry, and a department of Farmland Security. Chicken shacks have been driven underground and exactly like the Prohibition of the 1920’s there are speakeasies for illegal diners. It’s genius through and through.
The tale is superbly constructed. Each issue is a complete story but there is a larger overarching plot and a definite break at the end of this volume. It really reminds me of Warren Ellis’ Fell. The first page of each issue is not the beginning of the story but some action point midway, or even the conclusion of that part. Like 80’s TV shows that gave you a teaser of what would be on that episode it really grabs your attention. Often it will reveal a key fact, or paint an impossible scenario and you are completely hooked.
There is also a cheeky and conspiratorial narrator making comments designed to tease you about what will be revealed later on. The timeline and action jump about but you never get lost. Things are often set up and revealed out of sequence and you are constantly aware of more than the characters are, but never get confused. The writing is superb and the pacing is spot on with lots of mystery expertly solved. There is one encounter with some Russians who speak Russian leaving you and the hero equally confused. Yet at the back is the full translation for you to read after you have finished the story. The characterisation is great and there are some hilariously laugh out loud moments.
The art is terrific. It is stylised and cartoonish in the same way that a Disney film anthropomorphises its characters. The panels and layout are straightforwardly square and regular making the appearance of full or double page spreads, or even an insert, immediately attention grabbing. This is a mastery of the less-is-more principle. The colouring is wonderful. The pages are high gloss but the art is matt giving a very interesting feel to the style. Most colouring is pastel or subdued tones. Each scene has a distinct and limited palette helping to convey the mood and differentiate the location and time.
There are so many ideas and tiny plot nuggets crammed into this book that it could run for years and never get stale. This fresh idea has to be nothing less than a Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Chew Volume Two: International Flavour – John Layman