Review by Karl Verhoven
So, have you come across the term ‘cibopathic’ before? Unless you’re already a Chew reader, no, you haven’t, as John Layman coined it to describe Tony Chu’s odd and remarkable ability. It’s an empathic reaction to any food he eats, beetroot excepted, that enables him to discern information about the conditions in which it was grown and/or processed. Think about that for a minute. Every bite he takes comes with a full head rush of unwanted information, much of it profoundly unpleasant. It might not seem the basis for a top rank graphic novel, but Layman and Rob Guillory work wonders with it. Oh, and the condition applies to anything Chu eats, not just food, which leads to scenes even more gross than those you considered on reading the start of the sentence.
Cibopathic isn’t the only world Layman creates. There’s also ‘saboscrivner’ defined as “she can write about food so accurately that you get the actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she writes about”. And that makes Amelia Mintz a pretty useful person for Chu to be around. Sadly, she’s bored with her job, has only been visiting the worst eateries in town, and there’s an outbreak of vomiting when people read her columns.
The series is set in a world where bird flu has devastated the USA, leading to the outlawing of poultry farming. Can the country really live without its chicken, though? Chu starts as a Philadelphia cop, but is rapidly seconded to the Food and Drugs Administration task force, where he’s allied with the eccentric and overweight Savoy, himself cibopathic and a fount of erudition. Layman populates the series with further oddities, such as Chu’s brother, Chow, who fronted his own TV cookery show before an on-air breakdown. Each chapter can be read individually, but builds into a bigger story, and by the conclusion Chu has been on one hell of a journey.
This material won both the Eisner and Harvey awards for best new series, while artist Guillory picked up a Harvey Award as Best New Talent, and deservedly so. He’s the full monty from the very start, with an adaptable style of cartooning and an excellent instinct for layouts.
The back cover blurb describes Chew as “a twisted and darkly funny series about cops, crooks, cooks, cannibals and clairvoyants” which is a fine and concise summing-up of a series for which categorisation is tricky. Chew is a brew as exotic as the supposed chicken soup served in the first chapter. It’s part cop drama, part social commentary, flat-out weird, and all class. It continues with International Flavor, and for the really enthusiastic both are combined in volume one of the hardback Omnivore Edition.