8.) Chew (Image) 2009-present — by John Layman and Rob Guillory. What’s exciting about Chew is that, like Sweet Tooth, anything (and sometimes everything) can happen in the crazy creative and zany world presented through the character of Tony Chu, cibopath and FDA agent extraordinaire.
A cibopath — and the only reason why I knew this beforehand is because I like the band Cibo Matto, and only then, because of Buffy of course — is someone who gets a psychic impression of whatever food he is consuming. Like when a psychic touches someone’s hand and gets a glimpse into their unknown, a cibopath knows where his food comes from and what has happened to it in the recent past. Understandably enough, Tony is a vegetarian in a world where chicken is illegal and a black market has sprung up to deliver the illicit poultry.
Tony gets drawn into many food and murder-related adventures, finds many other people — those who can describe a meal so well that others feel full when reading about the encounter, those who can cook memories into their food (similar to Like Water for Chocolate, I guess) — both allies and villains, embroiled in the cases he’s investigating. Which is maybe the best premise for a cop-type of comic drama I’ve ever heard of. When an idea can be stretched and pulled to cover so much territory that the possibilities will never became stale, you know the idea is rock-solid.
Chew also has an interesting story technique: each issue starts out with a seemingly random first page that somehow relates, either as a flash back or a flash forward, or sometimes just an amusing side story, to the larger plot. So, not only is the slightly-satirical story out-of-sync, it also oftentimes begins in media res, my favorite kind of res. Nonlinear narratives for the win!
The art is pretty amazing — being just realistic enough so as to make the squigier scenes pretty squigy and just enough comic to give depth to the more flamboyant emotions with a cartoon-like flair, the witty dialogue is on par with any Joss Whedon show, and of course, the wacktastic happenings are enough to keep even the most out-there minds entertained. When I have a hard time continuing to read a comic or a novel because of my jealousy, I know I’ve found something good and Chew is no exception. It has just enough humor to keep it lighthearted, just enough gore to keep it comic-y enough for the hardcore fans, and just enough creativity to outlast most all other comic writers, which is saying something.
It’s an ongoing series, so who knows what’s still left to happen. I’m still pretty early on, since my comic book fund was severely depleted by my buy-a-house, buy-a-business, and then get-married fund, but Chew is in the top contenders always for my money. Also, having the main character be of Chinese descent is a nice twist in the white-dominated main character arena. What’s even more refreshing is that the creators wished for Chu to be “a totally unstereotypical Asian-American.”1 Many of my friends find the concentration of a fictional character’s entire essence into one personality aspect (i.e. being gay, being a woman, being of a different ethnicity) will be pleased to note that Chu is not defined by his nationality, but instead just…is.
I don’t even really have any qualms with the series, either. It’s solid, interesting, and still has lots to explore, even a few years in. Do yourself a favor and (requisite pun) give this one a nibble.