Spoiler warning: This review covers the first issue of CHUM and contains some spoilers.
Story by Sami Kivela and Ryan K Lindsay
Writer: Ryan K Lindsay
Artist: Sami Kivela
Colorist: Mark Dale
CHUM # 1 is an odd fish. It’s a blend of hard, cold Noir archetypes and a balmy tropical setting. Writer Ryan K Lindsay knows how to take a well–established genre and turn it on its head by either subtracting elements associated with that genre or else adding disparate ones.
Noir is closely linked to a certain cast and setting. It mostly features a collection of anti-heroes and femme fatales slouching under street lamps and killing each other in dirty alley ways.
CHUM boldly breaks away from this by setting a hard-boiled crime yarn on an idyllic island. This forces the reader to reconsider the tropes and stock characters of the genre.
Despite the unusual setting, the comic is rich with ambiance. Nature itself becomes a metaphor for the vicious food chain of the island’s underworld. This isn’t simply a story pitting ambitious men against each other. A primal, animalistic drive for bloodshed permeates the entire comic.
Drawing from the language of pulp paperbacks, Lindsay associates various characters with elemental forces or animals. The island strips away the cast’s humanity in a different way from an urban jungle. On a place with limited opportunities and resources, the characters are pared down to their hungers.
There’s a strange symbiotic relationship between the island’s motley collection of occupants. Summer, the protagonist, is the focus of the male characters’ fantasies. It’s implied that none of them truly know her – she’s simply a hook upon which to hang their dreams and desires.
We’re introduced to her working at a bar, serving the men. But she’s far more complicated than she first appears. She’s described as “that perfect wave you’d wait all day for.” It’s an alluring metaphor. The sexual subtext is clear – a wave is something you can ride yet still deadly enough to drown the unwary.
In an exchange with her soon-to-be ex-husband, she says “I run this shack like I’m half mermaid.”
Mermaids have been sanitized into something harmless and accessible. But they have their roots in far darker myths and legends. In the past, female aquatic spirits would drown their would-be male consorts or lure them to a watery grave.
The triad of men connected to Summer would do well to remember this.
Each of the main male characters represents a different facet of masculinity. Penny, the local reefer kingpin, embodies the appetite for dominion and power. Summer seems to fascinate him because she refuses to bend to his will. She is only his lover on her terms.
Standard, the island lawman, is Penny’s foil. There are several scenes setting up an future confrontation between the two of them. Standard wants order on his island and sees Penny as a threat to this. His interactions with Summer reveal his concern for her yet come across as somewhat condescending. He’s living a detective story and expects Summer to fulfill a role in it. He doesn’t realize that he may just be a bit player in her story.
Gus, burly and bald, comes across as oddly innocent. There’s an almost childlike desire to escape the island and start a better life elsewhere with Summer. He’s easily manipulated by her – one can’t help but feel sorry for him. But this naivety makes his acts of violence all the more shocking.
Artist Sami Kivela perfectly captures the tension of these interactions. His line work is clean and uncluttered . Despite the simplicity of his art, his figures still have weight to them. The panel layouts are particularly well-done. All the major scenes, especially the action scenes, are paced very effectively. Mark Dale’s coloring helps bring the artwork to life. His palette is unexpectedly somber for the exotic setting yet works well.
CHUM has been described as “surf noir” and this description is very apt. The prose is that of a dime store paperback. It’s over-the-top, blunt and a pleasure to read. You can feel Lindsay’s enjoyment as he plays with dialogue straight out of Sin City.
It’s this self-awareness that makes the comic work so well. The writer knows what he’s writing. It’s a moody pastiche combining numerous influences from the genre while still creating something fresh and new. Just as Kill Bill was a tribute to anime and Eastern action flicks, so CHUM is an ode to Noir.