Writer: John Layman
Artist: Rob Guillory
Release Date: July 1, 2015
When John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew launched in 2009, nobody could’ve predicted it would start any kind of revolution. Met with five printings of the first issue and helping spur the inspiration for a new wave of creator-owned books (let alone Image’s current march to dominance), Chew came out of the gate ready to make a name for itself. Six years later—complete with spin-offs, an animated film option, a line of collectible toys and even a card game—the series shows no plans of slowing down as it reaches its landmark 50th issue.
As the issue begins, we’re given what is inherently the climactic battle of the series ten issues early: Tony Chu, the Cibopath (who digests items to learn everything about their history, whether it be actual food or, um, human flesh) against main Big Bad the Collector (who eats people and collects their powers) in the snowy tundra of Northern Siberia. Much bad blood has been built between the two, way worse than anything Taylor Swift could’ve predicted, and between various past acts of violence and death, this issue is like a crude form of Thunderdome: two characters enter, one character leaves. But, as is the way with ongoing serialized drama, even the victor will be forced to inherit some extended baggage, no matter the outcome, and in Chew that burden can always be potentially worse than any victory.
Chew has continually impressed by making every entrant essential to the ongoing tale. Guillory and Layman have managed to avoid any kind of slumps or filler moments, instead packing the entire series with events both big and small that have ultimately cascaded to this present conversation. Now at issue #50, Guillory and Layman use a sense of shorthand when telling the tale; with a few time jumps employed to call back seeds planted earlier in the series, the creators blast through this chapter’s climactic battle while using sparse visual language. With such a huge milestone, an extended issue with a drawn-out fight sequence would be understandable, but Guillory and Layman instead use the standard comic size diplomatically for their showdown, and that concision makes the following experience that much more powerful.
Typical of the series, Chew #50 also embraces a mix of laughter and tears. What ultimately makes that combination so powerful is that the darker moments of the book are earned; the growth of protagonist Tony over time, let alone the series as a whole, has established such a strong bond between the book and its audience, so when Guillory and Layman pull out the rug beneath our feet our fall is that much harder (no matter how many times they do it).
This issue deftly boils the plot down to the precise moments of conflict. This economy allows Guillory and Layman to showcase Tony Chu’s battle with the Collector at its most impactful; we already know Tony’s motivation, so rather than rehash those specific elements with a monologue, the callbacks enhance the current action and answer age-old questions of intent. That’s the understated genius here; where most series repeatedly build on moments one after another until a breaking point, Guillory and Layman have done so on the sly, allowing certain mysteries to fester in the background until they’ve reached breaking point.
It can’t be understated how much Guillory and Layman have evolved as creators. The first issue of Chew overflowed with both series-relevant jargon and visual mantras to establish the landscape of the book; now, those same recurring gags still exist, but with much greater precision and accuracy. The authors have greatly refined the voices here, both in terms of one-line gags or background easter eggs, and the book remains full of both: Chew finds itself just as much at home with food-related puns as it does photos of Jeff Goldblum in the background. Guillory and Layman both exercise such a unique grasp on this series and the world it inhabits that the book still feels as fresh and exciting as it did when it debuted.
Suffice to say, 50 plus issues in and Chew is still going as strong as it ever was. The story is just as funny and emotionally wealthy as it was when it launched in 2009. Though the true ending of the series looms in the distance, it’s fair to say that wherever Guillory and Layman plan to take the series next, it’ll be well worth following along.