Pipeline

Tue, December 8th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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LATE TO THE PARTY: "CHEW"

Chew "Chew"

The high concept for "Chew" sounds like something that might make for a funny one shot or slightly gross-out mini-series. It's to John Layman's credit that what seems so simple and one-note is actually a well thought out, very funny, stylized, and occasionally satirical comic book presentation that grabs you and drags you through its bizarrely entertaining world.

"Chew" is the Image Comics series featuring Tony Chu, a federal agent with the power to read memories by eating a piece of a living (or dead) being, whether human or animal. Taste some blood, learn the past. Gross, right? That's the life of a cibopath. Sounds like the high concept of a short story in a weird anthology book that I'd likely never read. By the end of the first issue, Chu's literally eating a killer's face for information. While cibopathy does lead the book to some disgusting moments, they aren't glossed over or taken lightly. Heck, even Chu finds his power disgusting.

It's to Layman's credit that he didn't stop with the shock factor or the initial gag potential. He's built up an entire world around this concept, one in which an avian flu scare leads the government to ban chicken, which instantly becomes a large and profitable black market. That's how the FDA becomes the major gun-wielding policing organization in the federal government. Chu's simple life as a vice cop, at the beginning of the series, quickly becomes a whole lot more complicated. "Chew" could easily be a horror/comedy version of "CSI," but it isn't. The story isn't sitting still at all.

And then Layman ends the first trade with an out-of-left-field Kirkmanian twist that sets everything on a new direction.


The reason "Chew" works so well, in addition to all of the above, is that it reads unlike every other comic out there. Layman introduces several stylistic tics that separate the book from the rest of the pack, adding in a sense of humor along with some clever ways to impart exposition and background information without stopping the momentum of the book. His template of introducing a new character (or, sometimes, updating us on Chu) involves a single headshot and then a series of panels expertly narrated by a voice that's played straight but has humorous undertones. Story formats shift around from issue to issue, with prologues and flash-forwards and other techniques keeping you on your toes.

The artist, Rob Guillory, is a superb choice for the book. His angular and cartoony art style helps to gloss over the rougher nature of the book, but also helps to exaggerate and emphasize certain story points without looking forced. He's also the best self-colorist I've ever seen in comics. "Chew" could be a dark muddy-looking book, but Guillory keeps the pages brighter than that. Too many artists get knocked over by dark and busy coloring. Guillory keeps his color palette diverse, but lightweight. The colors never weigh a page down. They highlight the art and tell the story. It reminds me of the look you might seen in some anime series.

"Chew" is a pleasure to read, from beginning to end, and the "Taster's Choice" trade paperback lets you catch up with the first five issues for just $10. The sixth issue is on store shelves now, also. If you're looking for something a little different, something quirky, something darkly humorous, and yet with a serious satirical bent, you can't do better than "Chew" in comics today.

The best compliment I could give it is this: I'd buy it in hardcover form at the end of its first year, if they saw fit to make one. This is a very pretty, very funny book.

"Chew" has a blog.

John Layman does, too.

And Rob Guillory makes with the pretty on his blog, too.

I love the internet!

STORIES OF THE DECADE PAST

I started to write a column about the Stories of the Decade, before I realized I was repeating most of what was already on Ron Richards' list over at iFanboy.com. And he was adding onto "Wizard's" list, which I haven't seen. So go read all of that instead. (Really? "Wizard" didn't mention "Scott Pilgrim?" Wow. They did mention the rise of manga, at least, right?)

I'll add on one that I'm sure they both missed, though:

Disney Comics: They're back! They're gone! They're back! Yikes!

It still amazes me that the comics industry in America has been incapable of selling Disney Comics in large numbers. Gemstone did a good job catering to the niche collector's market while making minimal outreach attempts, but the sales figures for their comics based on some of the most popular and recognizable characters in the world were still pathetic. Profitable for a while, yes, but nothing to puff your chest out about.

Now, BOOM! is taking its turn, using a different angle and pushing their Disney Comics into the markets that Gemstone couldn't manage. To be sure, the comics are a success story inside the comics industry and have shown signs of greater distribution and awareness, but there's no reason why Disney comics shouldn't be selling 100,000 copies, at a minimum, every month. It's Donald and Mickey and Goofy, for goodness' sake! I wish BOOM! luck, and believe they're doing many of the right things, but (insert cliché music here:) only time will tell.

A STORY OF A DECADE PAST AND OF TODAY

In the Pipeline column for December 7, 1999 (installment #131), I reviewed two new DC hardcover original graphic novels, "Son of Superman" and "Batman: The Chalice." The former was written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, but is made more interesting by its artist: J.H. Williams III. The latter was written by Chuck Dixon, with painted art by John Van Fleet. These two books, as I recall, came out around the same time as Stuart Immonen's Superman OGN, "Superman: End of the Century," in which Immonen incorporated photographs of objects into his story.

Ten years later -- today -- DC launched another line of original Superman/Batman graphic novels. . . If you stick around long enough, you see the circles develop.

Also out that week in 1999: "Lili" #0, a comic Brian Bendis would rather forget about...

WILL THEY NEVER LEARN?

Bleeding Cool reports that Devil's Due owes its creators money for past work. Company president Josh Blaylock is doing his best to pay off the money, cutting costs and squeezing new revenue streams for old work as much as possible. All the dealings I've ever had with Devil's Due as a fan or as a reviewer have been nothing but nice, and I wish them all the best, but I have two questions here:

1. Will we never get a stable and successful publisher for French comics over here? Poor Humanoids.

2. Will they ever learn? The book market has big returns. That's the deal. It's not the Direct Market. You, as the publisher, are effectively loaning your stock to the book stores in the hopes that they sell enough copies that their returns won't overwhelm your profits. The book market is the long con, not the quick turnaround of the Diamond monopoly. Devil's Due is just the latest victim of this. We've seen it before, sadly, and more publishers are still learning. So sad.

I wonder if this will affect sales of Blaylock's "How to Self-Publish Comics?" Yikes.

Speaking of never learning: Should we take bets that Adam Hughes' "All Star Wonder Woman" series will one day be a "Wonder Woman: Earth One" graphic novel? Good luck to DC on another attempt to Ultimatize their universe.

PURGING COMICS

OK, enough dilly-dallying. I need to get rid of some comics, and I could use some spending cash at the holiday season. So I'm offering up a few things out of my collection this week to any interested party in the U.S. (Sorry, but I don't have it in me to do extra paperwork at the post office this month.) If you're looking for "Bone," "Queen and Country," or "Batman: Hush" hardcovers, check my blog for more details. I'm not claiming this for any great charitable cause. Nor is this a way to pay the mortgage. Nobody's in trouble here. Do this only if you want to buy great hardcover comics at a slightly cheaper price. They've all been read once and stored carefully since.

Next week: An early review of a book that's due out the day after Pipeline is published. It's insanely beautiful, well-produced, and long-awaited. Now I just need to finish reading the thing.

I'm on Twitter at AugieShoots. The #McSpidey fun might be done, but there's lots of other stuff to cover, too.

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com, focuses on the holidays, with Christmas tree ornaments this month. A squirrel also snuck in there the other day.

The Various and Sundry blog is still alive. I have more I'd like to write, but I'm running out of time. Just subscribe to the RSS feed and enjoy the occasional surprise.

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items. It's the best of my daily feed reading, sometimes with commentary!

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- more than twelve years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

TAGS:  pipeline, image comics, chew, boom! studios, disney

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