“The First Course, Part 1 of 5”
Writer: John Layman
Artist/Colors: Dan Boultwood
Cover artists: Boultwood (regular)/Rob Guillory and Boultwood (variants)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I was a big fan of Chew when it debuted several years ago, and I wasn’t surprised at its success, given the novel nature of the central concept. I have the entire run in my collection — but truth be told, I haven’t read them all. One of the drawbacks of being a rabid comics fan is that one tends to acquire more than one can read in the span of a week, so the latter part of Chew is waiting for my perusal. So since it had been some time since I ventured into this weird world of police procedures and peckishness, I was concerned this followup, spinoff book might prove to be somewhat inaccessible.
I needn’t be worried. Layman delivers a delightfully welcoming read. It will please fans of Chew while also entertaining those who are new to the premise. And the art from Dan Boultwood is wonderfully consistent with that of original Chew artist Rob Guillory while also boasting its own distinct look.
Saffron Chu is the black sheep of her family, but it should come as no surprise. Her brother Tony is a cop, and she’s a rebel. But like her brother, she’s one of a handful of people on the planet who gains special abilities and knowledge from the things she eats, but unlike her sibling, she uses those gifts to commit crimes rather than to fight it. Saffron Chu, cibopars thief, is taking on a new heist with her crew, but something about it doesn’t taste quite right…
It’s easy to see why Boultwood was tapped for this project. Like Guillory, he boasts an exaggerated, cartoony style that’s well suited to the weird world Layman has constructed; it reminds me a little of the work of Mike Avon (Powers) Oeming. He brings an iconic sense of design to the members of Chu’s criminal crew here, making the unfamiliar seem a little more familiar. I love the attitude he instills in the characters as well, and Boultwood relies on splashes and panels that take up the full width of the page to bring a more cinematic feel to the storytelling. He brings a vibrant color palette to bear here, but it also injects a strong atmosphere of the bizarre. The colors are often bright but also eerie and weird.
Layman’s blending of a traditional heist plot with the oddball digestive abilities of the main players makes for a thoroughly comedic and entertaining effect, but he nevertheless manages to give his audience a thrill, a sense of suspense. Despite the ludicrous qualities of the plot, the reader desperately wants to know what peril awaits Saffron due to the double-cross, why it happened and what role her brother will play.
Ultimately, I think what makes the issue work, though, is the characterization, and specifically, who Saffron is. While the other thieves are more like caricatures than characters, Saffron is understandably much much more developed as a person. She’s thoroughly likable. Layman offers up an archetypal rogue with a heart of gold. She loves being bad, but she’s not a bad person. She looks out for those she cares about, and she’s loyal to friends and family. It makes for a fun read, and I hope Layman finds the same sort of audience with this book as he did with the one that gave rise to it. 7/10