Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Personal taste is an interesting thing. Take steak for example. My mother seems to think the only way to eat a steak is to cook it till its blacker than David Cameron’s heart. Me, I prefer my steak rarer than an unbroken promise from Nick Clegg. It all comes down to personal taste. However when a lot of people have similar tastes to you & tell you you’ll like something it generally makes sense to give it a try because the chances are, more likely than not, that you’ll enjoy it. So when Comixology offered a 3 day sale on the critically acclaimed Chew I jumped at the chance to devour the first volume for a low price. Unfortunately, all it left me with was a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Chew tells the story of Tony Chu – a detective in a world where Chicken has been outlawed due to a bird flu epidemic which killed a large number of the populace some years before. As such the outbreak has made the eating of white meat a precarious business. People go to speakeasies for bootleg Bargain Buckets & Black Market bird flesh is a highly prized commodity. Were he still alive in this world one can imagine that Colonel Sanders would be hunted by Tony Chu like he was some sort of Al Capone-esque figure. Tony is not just an average cop however. He has a particular talent that makes him a very good detective. Tony is a Cibopath. A word that every comic book fan knows the meaning of yet none are quite sure how to pronounce (it’s See-bo-path according to Wiki). This means that every time he eats something he gets a psychic impression from it that tells him where it’s been & how it got there like. Imagine if Frank Black (of Millennium, not The Pixies!) crossed with Greg Wallace & you’re on your way there. Unfortunately for Tony this means meal times are a depressing ordeal & the only thing he can eat without fear of psychic repercussion is Beets, which might explain why he spends so much of his time in the book scowling like somebody just shat on his cornflakes. After all if they did, he’d know about it.

Now Chew has received its fare share of praise & much of it from people I know who’s opinions have served me well before. Unfortunately in this case there was just something about this book that didn’t agree with me. While the books eclectic cocktail of gross out humour with a pinch of horror is perfect for comics the story still feels weak & the characters paper thin. Very often the story feels like it’s trying so hard to show you how wacky it can be that it completely neglects to put any meat on the bones of its cast. While the one page introduction to each new character is a nice touch at first it rapidly becomes as bland & uninteresting as Tony Chu’s lunch. Chew has also been commended for its originality, but the book has very similar undertones to a story about a vegetarian London, called Dead Meat, which was published in 2000AD in the early 90’s. I’m not suggesting anything untoward but this seems somewhat ironic given how much Madame Zanadu was criticised for publishing a story featuring a Cibopath Clairvoyant who experiences visions of what happened to the food on her plate. Though given the artistic similarities it’s no surprise that fans of both books found the story difficult to swallow.

Now I can appreciate that regardless of my feelings towards this book it still has certain things about it that are good whatever way you look at it. While the story may not be to my personal taste John Layman still has a knack for comedy. The dialogue is razor sharp & each character has a distinct voice even if they don’t always have the depth to make it resonate. Rob Guillory’s art is also impressive & there is no mistaking his characters. His art to me feels like it combines elements of more underground artists with the humorous aspects of Manga. What’s more his art contributes well to Layman’s comedy & helps make the scene funnier as a result. That said there were a number of points where Guillory’s approach turned my stomach rather than my head & while I can’t deny that he’s a skilful artist his work here is also not to my taste.

I’ve always said that the job of any comic is to make you want to read the next issue & I’ll be honest I read this book a couple of times before I committed these words to the page for fear I’d missed something. However all the re-reading did was confirm what I thought the first time. I don’t like this book. I appreciate that it’s only the beginning of a much larger story but there wasn’t anything in it that made me want to read on, in which case Chew hasn’t done its job & were I served it in a restaurant I would probably send it back (I’d also seriously question what sort of diabolical restaurant serves comics as food!). While I’m sure a great many of you out there would disagree with me that’s the beauty of personal taste.  You never know who’s going to like what.