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Don’t Miss This: “Chu” by John Layman and Dan Boutlwood

By | December 1st, 2021
Posted in Columns | % Comments

There are a lot of comics out there, but some just stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we look at “Chu” by John Layman and Dan Boultwood, published by Image Comics.

Who Is This By?

Unlike many books, “Chu” has two people taking the combined roles of writer, illustrator, colorist, and letterer, two for each of the aforementioned roles.

John Layman, the writer and letterer, has a relatively small, but storied bibliography stretching back to the early 2000s. Beginning as an editor and writer at the WildStorm Productions imprint of DC Comics, Layman wrote various limited series, including “Bay City Jive” in 2001, and two 5-issue series for “Thundercats (‘Dogs of War’ in 2003 and ‘Enemy’s Pride’ in 2004), eventually becoming a full-time writer in 2004, with another contribution for WildStorm being the 4-issue “Red Sonja/Claw” in 2006. Outside of WildStorm, he has also written for the DC Comics superheroes, most notably a run on “Detective Comics” from 2012 to 2014. For Marvel Comics, he wrote the 12-issue “Gambit” series in 2004 and 2005. At Aftershock Comics, Layman has written “Eleanor and the Egret” in 2017, and “The Man Who Effed Up Time” in 2020.

However, John Layman’s most notable work is at Image Comics, ones that tie directly into “Chu” itself. From 2009 to 2016, Layman wrote and lettered its predecessor, “Chew,” which won the Eisner Award for Best New Series in 2010, and was also nominated for two Harvey Awards and two Eagle Awards, and also wrote half of a crossover one-shot for the series with Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s “Revival” in 2014. He also wrote the 2018 to 2020 series “Outer Darkness,” which itself had a crossover with “Chew” after the end of both series’ initial runs.

Illustrator and colorist Dan Boutlwood’s portfolio is a bit more eclectic, primarily being limited series and graphic novels at smaller publishers such as AAM-Markosia (“Hope Falls” in 2007 and 2008), Kickstart (“Danger Academy” in 2011), and Arcana Comics (“The Gloom” in 2013). However, he has more recently branched out into four-issue limited series for larger publishers, most notably “It Came!” at Image Comics in 2013 and “Newbury and Hobbes” at Titan Comics in 2018.

What’s It All About?

Art by Dan Boutlwood

“Chew” is the story of Tony Chu, a detective who gains information from what he eats. It is the story of conspiracies and police work.

This is not “Chew,” but rather “Chu.” Despite featuring characters from “Chew” in its first arc, “Chu” is the story of another member of the Chu family: Saffron Chu, an excellent criminal. Her ability to take in the secrets and skills of those with whom she eats and drinks, so long as it is the exact same meal order and taken at the exact same time (something she is remarkably good at achieving under the radar), affords her an extremely wide array of skills, especially in comparison to the relatively one-ability Tony before her.

Her boyfriend Eddy and others in their various caper crews all are rather engrossing, with their own flaws and abilities that make absolutely clear that while Saffron may be the star of the show, she is by no means the only competent person in this apparently globetrotting cuisine-based adventure of all sorts of illegal activities. Their story has its moments of sympathy, but at the same time none of the characters’ violent actions are played out as any less wrong for their doing them, regardless of the situations at hand.

What Makes It So Great?

Art by Dan Boutlwood

The plethora of criminal skills could be seen as rather boring under writers less versed in the nature of this world. Instead, due to a delicate balance of humor and drama, the trials and travails of Saffron and, by extension, her siblings and other associates, are instead rather entertaining. Add in some comedic prologues to each issue and there is, pardon the pun, a recipe for success.

Even so, the basic premise of criminal activity is but one piece of the puzzle. Rather than stop at the same beats played out by “Chew,” Layman changes the playing field with very different powers and new “jobs” under a nearly entirely amoral protagonist. From dodging the authorities and bank heists to far stranger powers all of which somehow relate to food, the FDA, an authority of sorts in the United States with power beyond its real-life counterpart in “Chew,” is the least of Saffron’s worries, with the focus being international from nearly the very start.

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Beyond the story itself, Dan Boutlwood’s artwork, and especially his colors, are nearly worth the price of admission on their own. With colors seemingly highlighting different meals as Saffron pays attention to them, not unlike the coloring on the 2014 “Magneto” run and metal, Boutlwood emphasizes how important food is to the world of this series. Meanwhile, the flashes of other hues and tones, along with the tints over flashbacks or other uses of abilities, make for very exciting scenarios, even if one were able to ignore the highly expressive and near-cartoonishly animated style of illustration, giving another level of fun in a similar way to previous food-based stories by Layman, even though this is the first time Boultwood has been part of such a saga.

How Can You Read It?

Cover by Dan Boutlwood

“Chu” is available wherever comic books are sold. “Chu” #10 is available today, with new issues released monthly.


//TAGS | Don't Miss This

Gregory Ellner

Greg Ellner hails from New York City. He can be found on Twitter as @GregoryEllner or over on his Tumblr.

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