Late last year I admitted to myself that I was in a reading rut. I'd been reading history almost exclusively for two years as I plowed my way through coursework. I had read a ton of great books, but had ceased enjoying them. I was overdue for a change of pace before I burnt myself out. So I wrote a Book of Face post asking for suggestions of good graphic novels or comic book series, thinking those were about as far removed from academic history as possible. I hadn't picked up a work in either genre since I read Persepolis in 2007 or so, and it seemed like time was ripe. I got a ton of good suggestions, made up a list, and started reading. Not everything I've read has been great, but one book emulsified a hilarious concept and captivating execution without breaking: Chew, Vol. 1: Taster's Choice, which collects the first five issues of the comic book series of the same name.
The premise of Chew is brilliant: Tony Chu is a detective, but not just any detective. Chu has a special power: he is a cibopath, a taste psychic. Give Chu something to eat and he knows, from soup to nuts, everything about it (provided the evidence is fresh enough). As you might expect, this rapidly becomes a source of great humor and (for unseasoned readers) more than a little queasiness.
Thanks to a deadly avian flu pandemic, chicken has been outlawed in Tony Chu's America. Because nothing tastes like chicken, a healthy black market for the real thing springs up. Chu quickly rises beyond his initial assignment, finding himself drafted into the FDA's special crimes unit, an agency with (near as I can tell), the combined powers of the FBI, DEA, and Homeland Security. The mystery Chu is investigating quickly goes pear-shaped when his brother (a chef) becomes entangled.
Sometimes great concepts only enjoy half-baked execution, but the world of Chew is consistently crisp. The artwork is effervescent, but smoothly shifts to a darker register when things get unsavory. Chu's partner is described as "the love child of Orson Welles and a grizzly bear," and displays infectious zest for his work.
I've read several other reviews of this book, and not one has mentioned the character names. A small thing, perhaps, but they amuse.
Like Malört, Chew might not be to every reader's taste. Some might find the humor cloying, or might find the premise too gut-churning to continue. To me, however, Chew is positively rib-tickling.
What books have you been devouring?