Death By Chocolate: Redux
Written and Drawn by David Yurkovich
Top Shelf Productions
Cover Price $14.95; Available Now
Read that title again.
Death By Chocolate.
Do I even need to write this review? I mean, you see that title and you can probably decide on the spot whether you’re going to give the book a try or not. You’ll either have the, “Now that’s just odd enough to make me curious” reaction, or the, “Uh… no thanks. Not my bag” reaction.
You’ve already had that reaction, haven’t you?
It’s okay, you’re not alone. It’s just that kind of title. Hell, it was the title that made me choose to review this book in the first place! So, here’s what I’m gonna do… I’m going to do my review thing, tell you my observations, voice my opinions, tell you what *my* take on it was. And then, afterwards, I challenge you to reassess your initial reaction and see if you don’t still feel exactly the same way about it as you did when you first read the title.
I bet you will.
It’s just that kind of title.
Death By Chocolate tells the story of Agent Swete, an (eventual) operative of the FBI’s “Food Crime Division” who has the inimitable distinction of being world’s only person comprised of living organic chocolate.
I’ll say that again.
Agent Swete is made entirely of chocolate. Every cell of his being. To say that this has had something of a strange effect on his life would be like saying Godzilla suffers from a mild case of morning breath. In point of fact, ever since the tragic accident which transformed him into this being of walking nummyness, Swete has
– been possessed by a space alien,
– gone on a rampage of chocolaty revenge (there just aren’t that many adjectives for me to play with here… he’s made of friggin chocolate!),
– wiped an entire town off the face of the map,
– been a professional thief,
– been a stowaway on a cargo ship, and
– been stranded on a deserted tropical island, facing down a rising sun…
And this was just the origin story.
The book itself, Death By Chocolate: Redux, is a collection of previously published Agent Swete stories, written and drawn by the aptly labeled “king of quirky comics,” David Yurkovich.
As far as raw talent goes, Yurkovich is definitely packin’, but like anyone, he’s had to hone his craft, and in this book, we get to watch that process take place. According to the afterword by the creator himself, he’d worked as an artist on other books before, but Death By Chocolate (I could abbreviate it down to DBC by now but, heh, I like writing it out) was his first solo project.
The art in the opening tale is quirky and rough and expressive and manages to maintain a consistent tone throughout, but the writing falls a tad short of this. It’s not that the concepts are bad — they’re definitely not! In fact, it’s the concept of the book that carried me through that first story. The writing itself just comes off a little too stilted, a little too wordy, a little too wooden. A beginner’s effort. As the stories progress, we see that start to change. The narration tightens and the characters begin to speak more like people than cardboard cutouts. At the same time, we also see the art style evolve into the clean crisp representations we see on the cover and in the final story, which was written specifically as a bookend to the collection.
The stories themselves are… bizarre. This is about as indie as indie comics get. (Actually… the *indiest* comic I ever read was Andy Garcia’s Big City… THAT was hardcore indie… this comes in a close second.) The tales oscillate in tone from straight-faced absurdist comedy to philosophical ponderings to action adventure to detective noir to straight-up psychological thriller — much of the time visiting all of the above genres, and more, before a story is over.
There are two stories in particular that stood out above the rest as shining examples of this:
The second installment, “The Metabolators,” which only peripherally stars Agent Swete, focuses instead on the lone survivor of that doomed town from Swete’s past. Despite the still-developing writing skills of the creator, this story manages to take what should be a completely ridiculous concept (small town turned to chocolate) and spin it in a serious, almost haunting direction. The ending is the best of the book and nails home the overall tone perfectly.
The other story is “Sir Geoffrey and the Chocolate Car,” which shows Yurkovich at his quirkiest. Here we have a story involving talking dogs, alien civilizations, time-travel, Ernest Hemingway, and, yes, a chocolate car… and yet, the strongest sense the story left me with was a feeling of wistfulness. Poignance. It actually makes you think.
“But it’s a story about talking dogs and chocolate cars!” you say, and you’re right in thinking that the story should reflect the kookiness of the title. It is kooky! It’s just thought-provoking also.
I can’t honestly think of anyone who walks the line between absurdity and profundity quite as evenly as David Yurkovich in this series. Never existing wholly in either world, yet touching on each long enough to leave a lasting impression. This collection is far from perfect, but for those with a mind open enough to accept it, you may find more than what you were expecting at first glance.
Whether that first glance left you interested or not.
(So, what’s the verdict? Feel any different?)
So fresh and original it almost forgets to be entertaining, Death by Chocolate still manages to satisfy on a similar level to books like Hellboy, Scud: The Disposable Assassin, or Big City. The main character, though creepy in places, is also surprisingly easy to attach yourself to, and once you get used to the writer’s voice, you’ll find yourself eagerly turning pages to find out what he has in store for Agent Swete next. Fun, but a bit of an acquired taste, I give Dead by Chocolate: Redux a B-.