From the stack: Chew: Taster’s Choice

It’s time again to look at a title from the top 10 list of the 2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list assembled by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. The exercise is providing a nice variety of reading experiences, from a gracefully rendered adventure on the high seas to a slice of adolescent life in Guadeloupe. This month’s entry is Chew: Taster’s Choice (Image), the first collection a novel and occasionally nauseating detective series written and lettered by John Layman and drawn and colored by Rob Guillory.

This volume introduces us to Tony Chu, a police detective who also happens to be “cibopathic,” which means he experiences the full history of everything he eats. You may worry about food miles, but at least you don’t have to travel every one of them with your salad. As a result, Chu isn’t a very enthusiastic eater. The gift-curse does have its uses in the course of investigations, and Chu ends up drawing the interest of a strangely sinister Food and Drug Administration. The agency hires him to help solve food-related crimes.

Chu is assigned to work with fellow cibopath Mason Savoy, who is as stout and hearty as Chu is scrawny and drawn. They investigate the death of a food inspector, and Chu becomes smitten with a writer whose unique ability is to write about food so expressively that her readers react viscerally to her prose. Before Chu can pursue this fetching raconteur, he starts to sense that there may be more to the FDA and Savoy than he suspected, and the volume ends with Chu’s life changing drastically yet again.

Layman has a great sense of pacing. The chapters generally charge along at a nice clip, but there’s plenty of space for quirky details and funny set pieces. Guillory seems ideally suited for the material, straddling the line between amusingly absurd and full-on gross. Together, they’ve assembled an interesting cast, conducted some smart world building, and established an underlying plot that seems like it could sustain the series for some time. (Why did the FDA drive the poultry industry underground?) They also create enough of a level of internal logic to make the weirder elements fit quite nicely.

The only thing they haven’t seemed to do by the end of this volume is to figure out ways for Chu to solve crimes without eating human flesh. Given the volume of evidence available at the average crime scene, it seems like cannibalism would be a last resort for someone of Chu’s abilities. There are lots of marginally edible things lying around that are bound to be at least somewhat usefully resonant before starting in on the (not chicken) fingers. Aside from being revolting, the device feels limiting. Much as I enjoyed this volume, I want to see the hero vary his diet.