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Rob Guillory

Best Comics of 2010: Chew

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After establishing itself as the best new series in comics in 2009, 2010 has seen Chew solidify its position as one of the most consistently entertaining and inventive comics out there. It’s the sort of series where single issues don’t tend to jump out on their own, but instead the ongoing narrative has developed depth and interest on a month-by-month basis. It’s probably the comic out there that most resembles a TV series (even down to the obvious real-actor casting of some of its characters), and this was perhaps most apparent with the excellent Thanksgiving-set issue #15, which felt particularly like an “end of season one” moment.

It now becomes clear that that first year-and-a-bit was all about getting the characters in place and set up for the reader – and even as it felt like major plots were happening, it transpires that in fact this was all setup for the plot itself to begin as of issue #16 onwards. #15 offered one last revelation about Tony’s background, introducing one last character to the core group, and confirmed in its closing pages that the story was moving into a scope bigger and wider than had previously seemed the case.

Through all of this, the series has remained devilishly witty – laugh-out-loud funny at times, even – and its strong emphasis on characterisation (in addition to the inventive ideas) is one of the things that sets it apart. Even though he’s (quite deliberately) made only fleeting appearances over the past year, there have been few better characters introduced in comics of late than Mason Savoy, and the promise of #15 – which featured him directly in scenes on his own rather than only showing him when he interacts with Tony – suggests that he will still have a major part to play in the book’s future, and that there’s still a great heap of moral ambiguity to come.

It’s odd that a series can make it as far as 15 issues and only then lay down a marker to say “Right, we’re getting going now” – but Chew has earned a great amount of goodwill by being such a solidly fun (and at times utterly demented) comic, with Layman admirably choosing not to just sit back on the one good idea (the series’ main hook) but instead scattering lots of great smaller ones throughout as well. I’ve enjoyed inhabiting its bonkers little world over the past year – it being one of those few series that I make sure not to miss the week it comes out – and the promise of the actual plot exploding into life makes it an appealing prospect to stick with for 2011 as well.

Seb Patrick | 26th December, 2010

Comics Daily Awards 2009: Best New Series

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chew01_c1This week, we’re handing out the Second Annual Comics Daily awards – one per day – between Christmas and New Year. Each award has been written up by a member of the Comics Daily team after a consensus was reached, and highlights what we feel have been the best of superhero comics this year.

Best New Series: Chew

It almost goes without saying for any entertainment medium, but feels especially true of comics, that ideas are paramount right now. With so many comics out there – both contemporaneously, and throughout seven or eight decades of published comic book history – if you’re launching something new and you don’t have a good enough hook, then you’re sunk; so, in this day and age – the higher concept, the better. Meanwhile, we’ve already discussed recently the growing influence that titles like Casanova are having on the industry – and one aspect of this is in not just providing a single “big” idea to drive a series, but to litter lots of small ones throughout. It’s a case of throwing every new concept that pops into your head onto the page, knowing that not all of them will stick, but that the ones that do will often have the reader shaking their head in awe at your bravura. It all makes for a rather fun time to be reading comics, at least if you’re looking at that slightly-below-the-top-layer-of-the-mainstream, creator-owned sort of area.

Chew is exemplary of this style of comic, on both counts. First off, the hook is simply terrific – the lead character, Tony Chu, is a “cibopath”; that is, someone who can get a psychic impression from something by eating it. It’s bonkers enough that no-one’s ever done it before, without being too absurd to want to read it. But Layman doesn’t stop with just one mad idea, and that’s what puts the book firmly in the “freewheeling” category – concepts come thick and fast, building a similar-yet-distinctly-alternate reality in which chicken is a contraband substance, hard-as-nails detectives have half-robotic reconstructed faces, and the FDA are the most powerful arm of the US government. Indeed, so packed is the book with ideas and characters that many can be picked up and exhausted within the space of a single issue. It makes for a read that’s often breathless, but never less than compelling.

Strong character work, too, has marked the series out even at this early stage – Chu is, despite his uncanny abilities, a bewildered everyman in the classic Arthur Dent mould, simply trying to come to terms with the rather insane world he’s been thrown into. And it’s to the writer’s credit that after just five issues, the massive twist at the end of the last arc came as such a gut punch. It’s a brave move to set up a status quo and then shatter and replace it so early on – you need to have the confidence that the reader will have been sufficiently hooked by the one you started, and that they’ll want to stick with you after the about-face. Happily, the first issue of the new storyline introduced another new character and dynamic that’s taken the book down a different but still intriguing route; and the current issue, released this very week, has once again reminded us that it’s a series in which nothing can be taken for granted.

Helping the feel that this is something fresh and exciting is the art of Rob Guillory – it’s energetic and vibrant, leaping off the page while coping well with some of the more surreal aspects that Layman throws in. I’ve mentioned it before, but there are hints of the likes of Jim Mahfood and Gabriel Ba in there, and it works well. It definitely makes for one of those situations where the book has hit the ground running as a package – writer and artist seem to share the same slightly warped aesthetic, and that’s always a good sign. It may not even have reached the end of its first year yet, but Chew is clearly already one to keep a vigilant eye on – it can sometimes be bewildering to see which quirky independent series catch the public’s imagination and the wave of the hype machine and which don’t, but in this instance, the fuss around it (just how many times has #1 been reprinted in various forms now?) seems justified.

Runners-up: SWORD, Irredeemable, Batgirl, Batman & Robin

Seb Patrick | 28th December, 2009

Chew #6

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chew6I was late to the party with Chew – barely noticing it as a hugely talked-about-new-thing until around the third issue or so, and then attempting to catch up with whatever I could get my hands on in UK shops. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to do so – nor for it to register as one of the wittiest, most inventive and downright entertaining new books around. The current issue is the beginning of a new storyarc – and by introducing a new partner for Tony Chu and setting up a new dynamic, it makes for an ideal jumping-on point.

Indeed, after the status-quo-shattering events of #5, it’s something of a surprise to see a change in pace, and the Mason story pushed firmly into the background. It works well, though – this is still a young series, and jumping too headlong into darker territory would risk losing the unique style and energy that it’s already managed to establish. Consequently, what marks out this issue more than anything is that it’s simply so much bloody fun. Following a nice volte-face away from the implied setup of the opening pages, the arrival of robot-faced cop John Colby makes for an almost buddy-cop-movie scenario, but it works well as the dialogue flies off the page along with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments (such as Tony’s reaction to Colby’s Minority Report-esque ability to display information). It makes up for the fact that the lead plot, such as it is, is a little less interesting than those of previous issues – falling instead into a “case of the month” sort of pattern.

But Chew bursts forth with so many inspired ideas as it’s telling said story – from the left-field concepts that drive the book, such as Tony’s power and the fact that the FDA apparently have as much cachet as the FBI and CIA put together, to things that just show up for a single panel or gag – that this is easily forgiveable. The frantic, madcap tone of the book is also helped by Rob Guillory’s artwork – it’s one of those occasions where writer and artist’s unique aesthetic just seem perfectly suited to one-another, comparable to (dare I say it) Casanova in this sense – which has more than a vague hint of the Jim Mahfoods about it (a good thing, in case you were asking). It’s early days for the series, certainly, but if you want to claim you were on the ball with what’s surely – if it keeps up this form – going to be one of the defining indie comedy-action comics of the next few years, I’d heartily recommend you check it out.

Seb Patrick | 2nd December, 2009