I’m a fan of fun.
Unashamedly, unreservedly. I don’t shy away from humorous books or comics and dismiss it as “kid’s stuff”, I seek out a good chuckle-maker as a rare prize. Sure, darker comics often lead me joyously astray (to the streets of Gotham more often than not), but I always return to fun with a warm handshake and a novelty hand buzzer. After all, it’s relatively easy to play on the fears and personal dramas of a world full of such things (according to the press anyway), but it’s a much harder, more worthy job to seek out the good in life - the things that make you smile or laugh - and try to replicate and supplement them.
In this vein, I find myself starting a new series of articles to celebrate those happy few comics that truly are “comic”. I’ve chosen a short-list of only the best: comic books that have made me personally laugh, out loud, with my actual mouth. It’s a very exclusive club, as anyone who has typed “LOL” whilst wearing a stoic expression would attest. And to allay fears that “funny” doesn’t have to mean “kiddy”, let’s start with the Image Comics series Chew.
Written by John Layman with art by Rob Guillory, Chew appeals directly to the weirder side of my sense of humour. It’s certainly one of the most unique stories I’ve ever come across! Chew deals with a world where a mysterious plague befell the USA only a handful of years before the present day, which the American government blamed on Bird Flu and promptly banned all chickens from the country. So with that fairly believable set-up, you’re already reading a comic book filled with chicken dinner speakeasies, gangsters smuggling poultry, and big businesses experimenting on frogs to get them to taste like chicken! But then it gets weird. The main protagonist, Tony Chu, is a cop who has a very specific superpower: whatever he eats, he gets a psychic impression of the history of that piece of food. He sees the cow being slaughtered for the burger. He watches the apple being sprayed with pesticide. So when the Food and Drug Administration (the most powerful Feds in the country due to the chicken situation) get wind of his powers, he has to start chowing down on dead bodies (and worse!) to solve cases.
It turns out that several characters throughout the story have food-based powers, and it’s delightful how creative these are. John Layman has done the seemingly impossible and thinks up brand new superpowers in a comic book industry awash with superheroes. He continually impresses with the sheer scale of weirdness he lays onto his fast-paced plot, never once allowing it to collapse under the weight of absurdity. Cyborgs, alien plant life, conspiracies, terrorists who look like mime artists, it all just blends together effortlessly to yank up the corners of your mouth and not let go.
Complementing this nicely is Rob Guillory’s gritty, detailed art, which works as the perfect accompaniment to Layman’s narrative. Guillory presents the world of Chew as a grimy, dirty cesspit full of disorder and food crumbs, lifted only by the wonderfully witty sight gags and Easter Eggs that litter each page. Mirroring the story nicely, the art reminds us that this is a grim world that’s stained around the edges, but it helps to laugh at it. A bit of advice though; don’t read these comics whilst eating, or you may lose your appetite. No punches are pulled, no meal left unsavoured! Not to go into too much detail, but a stand out moment for me is when Tony falls in love, and the scene manages to be emotionally touching, hilarious, and truly disgusting at the same time.
Laugh Out Loud Moment: When Tony’s hateful boss dreams of murdering Tony or allowing him to die, then reluctantly remembers how much paperwork that would cause. A close second (not counting the aforementioned love-at-first-sight scene) would be the introduction of Poyo, the uber-deadly, constantly angry, cock fighting Mexican rooster that impressively stacks up his body count whenever the story catches up with him. The famously murderous chickens from the Zelda videogames have nothing on the force of nature that is Poyo. It's little wonder that he once got his own solo one-shot issue!
Todd Marsh is hoping to continue his Digital Canvas articles as soon as the muse allows it.