Chew: Volume 8 Family Recipes – John Layman

Chew08For yet another volume Tony Chew is relegated to being a bit player in his own comic. This could be seen as worrying as Tony has made an excellent vehicle for us to ride along with in Layman’s convoluted plot. But Toni Chew steps in – even though she is dead – with her unique sense of humour and shows us a good time.

With so many wonderful characters at Layman’s disposal he can’t resist ditching the humorous detective story for an ensemble family drama. Unfortunately many of these characters get so little screen time we are in danger of forgetting what made them so great in the first place.

The series seems to be in an awkward middle ground, trapped between characters and plot. Speaking of which we do take a step forward in the Avian Flu thread that was the set-up for the whole story in the first place. There are so many balls in the air at the moment that we aren’t really sure where we should be looking.

The great art performs its dependable magic once again. No one uses colour as boldly as Guillory with every panel dripping with vibrant power. His faces are dynamic, packed with elastic expressions that make the figures move as you read. Dream sequences, flashbacks, trip-outs, and science fiction daydreams are all mastered with aplomb. Never was an artist and a series so perfectly matched.

Despite appearing unfocussed and overburdened, and having lost the incredible narrative trickery that launched this voyage, it is still better than a lot of its competitors. There is heart and humour at play and you won’t want to give up on it.

Thumbs Up!

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BONUS REVIEW Chew Volume 7: Bad Apples – John Layman

Chew07There was a bit of a worry Chew had lost its way. Buoyed by award winning success the story had bogged down and become bloated with too many characters to service. Following a recent death Tony is now refocused and back to being the star of the show.

The clever trickery has been turned down somewhat but the art is still as daringly out-of-the-box as ever. The poses are really dynamic. The framing and colouring allow for some complicated effects and the lettering pulls rabbits out of the hat with sparing aplomb.

This isn’t the greatest volume but it is a welcome return to form and bodes very well for the next volume with a superb ending. Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW

BONUS REVIEW Chew Volume 6: Space Cakes – John Layman

Chew06This is another visually stunning book. If Andy Warhol made comics they wouldn’t be half as good as this. Here is another amazingly bold piece of art. Everything is turned up to the max. The colours, the framing, the expressions and the magnificent lettering.

There are more of the same daring narrative techniques ubiquitous in the Chew series of ambitious prologues, confusing timelines, and dynamic flashbacks. There is only one thing missing. The story. And this isn’t some clever experiment either. With our lead character in a coma what we get are a series of extended gags and second tier ideas stretched beyond their means. Agent Poyo has his own story, Tony’s brother does too but most of time we follow Toni Chu, his sister.

This is definitely the weakest of all the books to date. With no compelling, or even coherent storyline to drive us forward it just feels like the advert break. Let’s hope we get Tony back soon and this series returns to its full potential. Only for the great art and lettering does this book deserve a Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW

Chew Volume Five: Major League Chew – John Layman

When you have a successful book you can’t just keep piling on more of the same unfortunately. You need to stop yourself running out of steam somehow. Luckily for us the Chew team are masters of the craft.

The big plot gets put on hold and we have some well deserved quality time with our main characters. People get kidnapped, setups from previous issues are resolved and there is a lot of Where’s Wally peering at background details.

Both Colby and Chu get transferred to other departments so we get a nice change of scene to view our characters in a whole new light. New culinary words get made up and even weirder crimes are perpetrated.

The art is really top notch on this one. The colour work is fantastic with some great nocturnal and indoor lighting. We get to see lots of fiery lettering to contrast the usual icy words in the series that has done more for the letterer’s art than any other.

There are some great page turns and a real cliff-hanger ending unlike any of the other books. The laugh out loud moment is great, and see if you can guess who Colby’s new partner is before you get told. Definitely a Thumbs Up!

98/267.

Tomorrow: The Interactives – Peter Rogers

Chew Volume Four: Flambé – John Layman

This is another fine addition to the Chew library. Both writer and reader are now well versed in the lore of Chew and so all the characters, tricks, techniques and themes you love are there.

The art is great as always and although the characters can be seen as quite impressionistic you do get real emotion from their faces. One of the great touches is the background detail. Posters, notices, graffiti, all contain appropriate gags. There are even some characters from TV shows you might recognise.

Once again the lettering is the star with even more neat little touches and innovations. You have the longest ever speech bubble string that fills an entire page, yet is effortlessly executed and easy to read.

The stories here are more fragmented than previous volumes but the overall plot keeps marching on in the background. With so many likable characters this looks set to be the way forward.

The creators are becoming bolder and more confident in both artistic and narrative style. Reminding a reader they are reading a story by addressing them directly is a very bold move, and used sparingly, as it is here and in the last volume, is a very powerful way of getting our attention.

There is a great laugh out loud moment and a brilliant surprise meaning that although Chew is a comfortable and friendly read it is still just as exciting. A solid gold Thumbs Up!

97/268.

Tomorrow: Chew Volume Five: Major League Chew – John Layman

Chew Volume Three: Just Deserts – John Layman

It would be so disappointing if the quality of this fabulous work dropped. Thankfully it doesn’t. Rather than getting lazy and complacent with success the Chew team becomes even more daring and experimental in terms of art, narrative and ambition.

Like expert plate spinners you constantly wonder how they can keep this many narrative threads alive and distinct. The huge global conspiracy is there. The outer space mystery is there. Plus every character gets a decent amount of page time and there is room to introduce Tony’s entire family including his… gasp, shock, horror, [I won’t ruin the surprise].

Even in such a short time Chew has established its own conventions. The obligatory prologue; the single issue mystery; the life or death phone call; the hidden background details; the creative lettering; and so on. This attention to detail and blatant charm make you love the book and its wonderful characters. The narrative creativity keeps everything fresh and challenging.

The art is still consistently good with slightly more risks being taken with the techniques and some bold choices. Such as a six page mute sequence that is pretty much a repetition of the same close-up that cryptically foreshadows a major character reveal.

This is excellent through and through with writer and artist at one with the project. Like the perfect meal all its ingredients are skilfully chosen and expertly blended to create a masterpiece. The highest Thumbs Up!

96/269.

Tomorrow: Chew Volume Four: Flambé – John Layman

Chew Volume Two: International Flavour – John Layman

This is the difficult second album. How can you compete with the deliciously simple yet astoundingly original ideas from the first book? You can’t. This book is great but it is uncomfortably dwarfed by the genius of its predecessor.

The art, prologues, concepts and characters are no longer new, yet not familiar enough to feel like family. It gets a bit more wacky and outlandish as you discover there are worse things to eat than dead people. After new characters come and go, all too briefly, it settles down to progressing events from the previous book. Reassuringly it answers those nagging questions you have and addresses those head-scratching events of the last volume so you start to see the bigger picture and things feel more comfortable. Previous characters return, and there are some more laugh out loud moments.

The art hasn’t changed style but doesn’t feel as polished. Clearly the monthly deadline doesn’t allow as much time as the artist would like. Special mention must go to the lettering. We see very few innovations in this area but there have been some really nice touches. A frosty retort has icicles on the speech bubble; an exclamation has the letters bursting out of the bubble; whispers use faint lettering and so on.

If you liked the last book then you will definitely be buying this one. Whilst it isn’t as shockingly new anymore the ideas are still original and the whole work is put together with love and care. This isn’t a cynical cash-making endeavour this is premium storytelling. Certainly a Thumbs Up!

95/270.

Tomorrow: Chew Volume Three: Just Deserts – John Layman

Chew Volume One: Taster’s Choice – John Layman

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!

94/271.

Tomorrow: Chew Volume Two: International Flavour – John Layman