Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trade Waiting - Chew Vol 2: International Flavour

Chew is that international sensation everyone is delirious over, it gets rave reviews, and it’s nominated for all the cool awards, and yet if you do the math there’s maybe 20,000 other people in the world who will have read it with you. That number is being generous and assuming that most trade sales aren’t also monthly buyers, and also hoping that a few sales get borrowed out to friends, you’d be in small company of those who are getting to enjoy this fantastic title. This, the second trade, takes the Chew story and aims to take it in a slightly different direction. The genres are mashed up, the spices flow aplenty, and the taste is sensational. Hit the jump to see why Chew might just be sitting somewhere up with the Casanovas of this medium.

The first trade of Chew (reviewed here by the other Ryan) is a masterful lesson in how to world build, character define, break boundaries and just be flat out awesome. It centres on Tony Chu, a cibopath who can eat anything and get a historical understanding of it. He lives in a world where avian flu has caused all poultry to be banned. Hilarity ensues. That’s the simple pitch and the comic is so much better than just that zaniness because John Layman creates fantastic characters and puts sublime dialogue in their speech bubbles. It also helps that Rob Guillory’s art style is an absolute delight to observe in each and every panel. Both professionals keep up this quality in this, their second story arc on the title.

Written & lettered by John Layman
Drawn and coloured by Rob Guillory

International Flavour opens with a strange one page prologue of a resort being built on an island and the construction workers finding a very strange fruit. Layman does this constantly throughout the story in that he’ll open issues with prologues that give short stabs of information and only need to be an aside not a complete scene of pages. It’s an effective way to quickly take the reader from the main part of the story into a sub-section that they need to quickly absorb, and then we go back to the scheduled programming. And the main story is definitely still Tony Chu.

Tony has been shown his new partner, which is also the old partner he almost got killed in the previous arc, John Colby. Layman and Guillory give us a great page that recaps this character in an effective and yet fun way. The page layout and density of narrative captions give us a lot but almost feel like a set of still frames in a movie while the voice over man tells you how awesome this guy is. It’s a very cool way to keep the storyline chugging along and yet have us like the character and know them really well. And Colby is a pretty cool character; he’s a bit of a dick, and he’s now got a cybernetic face which includes all sorts of high-tech gadgets, as we slowly find out.

Chu and Colby are tasked with investigating a bank robbery; Chu’s antagonistic boss, Applebee, sends him along because there’s an unsavoury steaming pile left behind that he’s hoping Chu will have to taste to get a lead on the culprits. Chu weasels out of it but only with enough room to give them one day to solve the case. Colby proves why it’s much more fun to bend the rules when you set the rules and they solve the case, but this only leads Chu to another discovery; there’s a chicken soup that doesn’t have chicken in it, it’s got some kind of fruit instead. It was nice to see this prologue element come full circle and really launch the main story. This is Layman’s strength as he’s able to make a bunch of sub-plot sized elements lean against each other to build to an apex of a great story that wouldn’t quite work without all of its components.

Chu takes some personal time to investigate this fruit and arrives on the island, along with his chef brother. They split ways, as they are there for very different reasons, and Chu eventually runs afoul of another governmental agent, Lin Sae Woo, who is also there for yet another different reason. He organises to liaise with her but this plan gets waylaid when she is far too quickly dispatched by someone else, someone who seems to exhibit vampiric tendencies. The tale progresses like walking up the staggered steps of a ziggurat, you can’t get to one landing without travelling through the other one below, and often once you’re done you have to move on but things may come back into your view. Not every plot device weaves through the entire arc, sometimes it merely gets Chu, or anyone, from one act of the story to the next. It’s a great way of playing everything for keeps and full throttle and then tossing away anything once it is completely used up.

From there, Chu ends up in the island jail, tracks down a hidden fighting rooster, solves one crime, unknowingly helps with another, bites a few corpses, tastes the cosmos, causes an awkward situation between his partner and his boss, rescues a bunch of chefs, watches an island burn, falls further in love, and may have met a vampire. It’s a lot to pack into just one trade and that’s why this series is so good. Layman doesn’t shy away from constantly throwing just a little bit more at the reader and his deft style of structure and storytelling makes sure that we can keep up for the ride.

This arc is easily as good as the first, which is saying a lot, and it’s nice that Layman didn’t chock all his quality into the launch. He’s obviously invested in these characters, and this world, and he’s got plenty of crazy ideas that will continually expand the universe that this story takes place in. I get the feeling that anything can happen, or be possible, in this world of Chu’s. Expectations are there to be smashed to pieces and stabbed into your brain. It’s also nice that certain elements feel like they’re being seeded in for later use and everything comes to serve some sort of purpose, be it big or small.

One of the strongest qualities of this trade is that it would stand alone pretty well. Anything you need to truly know about the story before is given to you within the story and otherwise you can come in, sit down, and you’re caught up. That a great way to structure the arcs of this title though I feel that by maybe the third or fourth arc things will be a little bit more longform.

Guillory’s artwork just completely makes me smile in absolutely every panel. His characters are quirky and individual looking and feel like something I can’t really get from many other comics on the shelves, if any. Guillory knows how to make the action look dynamic, but he also does a good talking head page as he makes the players act with emotion and timing. He’s not the usual comic style, these aren’t a bunch of broad shouldered and buff dudes but rather usual looking blokes with actual clothes instead of just painted skin. It’s refreshing to see this drawn in such an interesting style.

Verdict – Must Read. It says a lot about the story when the artist name checks LOST and the movie Commando in his dedication (and there’s a great Easter Egg of a toe tag that reads Jeremy Bentham that you have to track down). That should give you some idea of the disparate concepts you’ll be served up here. Given the intricate nature of plotting, and the ability to cram as much into each plot line as can be logically followed, matched with the quirky and awesome art of Guillory I now start to feel like Chew is the natural successor within Image to Casanova. Chew is actually quite dense, if you take it all in, and it takes chances and liberties with the comic form. It might not be quite as lofty aimed as Fraction’s now Icon delivered title but it’s certainly in that ballpark. And coming from me that means you need to check it out. International Flavour is a hell of a lot of fun, and Chew is a comic that I think way more people should be investing in.

Like this review? Interested in Chew Vol 2: International Flavor? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

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brandon said...

The one thing I would mention about the second story is that it definitely misses the character of Savoy. Not that the story isn't very good it just has a hole there that I found to be nagging.

The art is loaded with Easter Eggs. You have to study everything on the page, the walls, hand written notes, etc. There's some hysterical stuff in there.

Nice review.

Anonymous said...

Not interested, a friend of mine sent me the number one for mt to check on it and it had the worst art I have seen since the early designs of matt groening (not the simpsons but the other little guys he created before the simpsons)


Ryan K Lindsay said...

@SASTRY - I remember reading that first issue online for free as well (they posted it, i didn't do so illegally) and I was honestly not massively impressed and just didn't see the buzz. But now I do, and I believe the art is a massive factor to this series being as good as it is. Guillory doesn't draw realistic people, exactly, but he draws damn fine character work, his acting is great. I am a firm convert to this series and will definitely keep up with it if the all around quality remains this great.

Hope you give the first trade a run, you might have a similar experience to me, but if you don't, hey, we can all like different things.

Matt Duarte said...

Guillory is definitely a cartoonist first and foremost, his characters have exaggerated and defining features. It fits with the tone of the series.

I also appreciate that there's not a whole lot of "waiting" in reading the trades for this series. As soon as an arc is over, it gets immediately collected.

Anonymous said...

I so much love the series that I am buying it in singles (most singles that i can find), trades and then the eventual hardcover...

Lucho said...

CHEW rocks!!! This IS what makes comics awesome.

Tree Ple said...

baby oil
rice ladle
strange people
dish rack
roof tile
baby oil
rice ladle

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