Having raved yesterday about TV writing that explores the core concepts of its world, I was reminded of a good example from comics, one that takes its concept and pushes it in all sorts of brilliant directions – Chew.
The comic that bites off more
If you’re not heavily into comics then you probably haven’t heard of Chew. Written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, it tells the story of Tony Chu, a government agent with a strange power – whatever he eats, he gains its memories. If he eats an apple, he remembers growing in the warmth of the sun, being dappled by the rain, what the hand felt like that eventually picked him. If he eats a piece of bacon, he gets the slaughterhouse experience, in all its pain and horror.
Tony Chu doesn’t eat a lot of meat.
But Chu’s world, and the centrality of food to it, goes beyond his own power. There’s a crisis going on around bird flu, illegal chicken restaurants, poultry substitutes, and a growing level of food-related weirdness. This makes Tony, and the small handful of other people with food-related powers, really quite important.
Different powers, different directions
Layman and Guillory haven’t just created one novelty and rested on their imaginative laurels. They’ve taken that core concept – a super powered world that revolves around food – and explored it in all sorts of different ways.
There are a wide range of people with different food related powers. And it’s not just the obvious – everyone experiencing food memories through their different senses, or all gathering information from food, or being empowered by it in different ways. There’s a character who can list every ingredient in the food he tastes. Another who writes about food so realistically that readers feel like they’re experiencing it. Someone who reads the future of anyone she bites.
And a super-spy chicken, because poultry is huge in Chew, and why shouldn’t the food get the powers sometimes?
They’ve thought through the repercussions of all this food related madness. Government departments with a food remit have become hugely influential and heavily armed. There are food-inspired terrorists, rebellions, cults and conspiracies. There are even meta-powers, food-powered individuals feeding off their peers.
The core concept of the comic seeps into every idea in the story, every panel of the art. It’s rich and fantastic and completely consistent, despite its wild and crazy content.
You should read Chew because it’s awesome. But if you’re interested in how good world building works when it’s built around a single theme, then pick up a copy and read it for that too. Because Chew is amazing.