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Tastes Like Chicken - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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November 25th, 2009

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10:44 pm - Tastes Like Chicken
Last week, I was sitting in the lunchroom reading the Powers Encyclopedia when the Vice President of Program Leadership walked in, glanced at the cover of what I was reading, and remarked, "That's a great comic."

Wait, what, someone at this company read Powers?! He did, in fact. And he was a huge comic book geek! We talked comics for quite a while, and he recommended to me Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory, which sounded interesting. I poked around the Internet and found that it was actually a huge success for a new comic; it had completely sold out several runs. Sounded like the Hot New Thing in comics. And then, in a brilliant marketing move, they put out the first trade today—collecting issues #1-5—on the same day that issue #6 came out, making it the perfect time to jump on the Chew train.

In the world of Chew, a bird flu pandemic leads to the deaths of millions...and the outlawing of chicken. The FDA is the new Homeland Security, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, and they declare Chicken Prohibition. They investigate cases of black market chicken, chicken speakeasies—yes, I said chicken speakeasies—and other chicken-related illegal activity. It is as yet unclear whether other kinds of poultry like turkey and quail are kosher or not.

The newest recruit to the FDA Special Crimes Division is Tony Chu, a totally unstereotypical Asian-American. He's hired because he's a Cibopath, which means that whenever he eats something, he gets impressions of its past. If he eats an apple, he gets feelings about the tree it grew on, what pesticides were used, and when it was harvested. If he eats a hamburger, he gets feelings about...the slaughterhouse. How is this useful in crimefighting?

You know how in Pushing Daisies, Ned can bring dead people back to life and ask them how they died?

In Chew, Tony can bite into corpses and gather information from them.

As his partner, Agent Mason Savoy, says: "You're going to eat terrible things, all in the name of justice." (Agent Savoy, by the by, is described by the artist as "the lovechild of Orson Welles and a grizzly bear." As his name suggests, he has a very British way of speaking, which is a good contrast to Chu's downbeat straight man.)

There's another character of importance, Amelia Mintz, a food critic who is a Saboscrivner. This means that she can write about food so vividly that you can literally—literally—taste it. Whether it's scrumptious or repulsive, you will feel as if you've eaten it.

In the first five issues, Layman establishes the world of the comic and hints at bigger mysteries like the suggestion that there's a...wait for it...conspiracy surrounding the cause of the bird flu and a whole lot of bizarre events in issue #4 that will surely be explored in the future. The first story arc covers one smaller mystery too; this is essentially a detective comic, after all. The comic is clever, wryly narrated, and laugh-out-loud funny, though I don't know how long it will take for the novelty of the premise to wear off. Guillory's art is reminiscent of Gabriel Bá's in The Umbrella Academy (Savoy even resembles Hargreaves), offbeat and pretty, perfect for a slightly absurdist comic. Although Layman does name Y: The Last Man as an influence in that he wanted to take a high concept—CHICKEN PROHIBITION!—and extend it to its logical, real-world conclusions, you don't want realistic pencils in a book that so frequently features its main character, er, taking a bite out of crime.

Check out the first volume, the aptly named Taster's Choice, for a mere ten bucks. See if you can spot the cute Lost shout-out.

And think twice before you bite into that turkey tomorrow. You don't know where it's been.

But Tony Chu would.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Muse - Falling Away with You

(11 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")


[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2009 10:28 am (UTC)
I am now hoping my comic loving friends haven't tried this one yet.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)
yay finding comics geeks

aww shoot, chicken speakasies?
taking a bite out of crime?
I need to read this.
Date:November 26th, 2009 11:24 am (UTC)
I can not read this post yet because I almost bought CHEW today (the title drew me in and then the art and then my comic book store guy's description) but I changed my mind at the last second and bought Book 10 of Fables. I have every intention of buying CHEW the next time.

How weird that our wavelengths are so in tune!
Date:November 26th, 2009 11:27 am (UTC)
I also found a new comic friend today! Turns out my comic book guy's favorite customer is the nicest writer on staff at "Good Luck Charlie." I can't wait for work on Monday so I can tell him what a small world it is and how I found out we shop at the same store.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
That is really cool!
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
Ha! Nice! Fables is also a good choice too, of course.
Date:November 26th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
Hm. This sounds either fascinating or revolting. Or both.

But as to this: It is as yet unclear whether other kinds of poultry like turkey and quail are kosher or not.

I call pun foul. (Or possibly pun fowl.)
[User Picture]
Date:November 27th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
Sounds bizarre. And possibly interesting.
[User Picture]
Date:November 28th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
It is both! I read the latest issue today and was cracking up. It's a great mix of real-world-with-a-hint-of-crack. Perhaps more than a hint. It's not balls-out cracktastic, but oh man, the, er, character development in the latest issue is hilarious.
[User Picture]
Date:November 28th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
I'm not a huge fan of comic books proper, though I do love the stories inside the books if someone tells me about them. This premise is hilarious enough to make me want to pick up the book.
[User Picture]
Date:November 28th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
It's a very good example of why the answer to "Why do you read comics?" is "Because that's where these stories are being told."

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