Zawa and the Belly of the Beast #1: A Food-Themed Monster-Fable

Michael Dialynas's brings a slightly cluttered comics fable to Boom Studios.

Zawa and the Belly of the Beast is an ambitious, expressive, but sometimes slow tale about food, friendship, and greed. The new comic, written and drawn by Michael Dialynas, suffers from the occasional tonal whiplash and struggles to coherently establish the wider world of the comic but still shines with some strong characterization, mood, and exceptional lettering work that really emphasizes the predominant theme of the comic, which is food and friendship. Ultimately, the opening issue does enough to intrigue that most readers will want to pick up the next issue. 

Zawa and the Belly of the Beast is set in the island city of Mesa's Boon, which is ruled by a Mayor who keeps the populace fed on mass-produced "Bur Gurs" and other similarly pre-packaged foods. The book's trio of heroes (a pair of siblings named Bandit and Thatcher and their delivery driver friend Leo) seem to understand that the Mayor's cheap but mass produced foods are just a way that they're controlled, with Bandit actively making small batches of baked goods out of scavenged ingredients. When the trio break into the Mayor's factory, they discover not only a massive trove of fresh ingredients but also a monster trapped inside the basement. What they don't know is that the "monster" is actually a guardian spirit who's been fed refuse for a decade but seems to instantly react to some of Bandit's fresh guardian cookies. 

The comic itself is gorgeous, with Dialynas crafting a vibrant world that subtly seems to be suffering under the status quo. While the Mayor "provides" sustenance in the form of mass-produced food, it's seemingly at the cost of polluting nature and over-working the populace. One particular strength of the comic is Dialynas's lettering – every mention of food uses a different colored font and Zawa's eating is lettered in a loud, speech-bubbleless type that establishes her as a consuming force....of something. It's a very interesting way of establishing food and the act of eating as an important part of the comic, rather than focusing on lavish illustrations of food itself. In the case of the ingredients mentioned in dialogue, it seems to emphasize the scarcity of the food and its value, while Zawa's loud acts of consumption helps to establish her as otherworldly and different than the other characters of the comic.

But while the comic is billed as a fable, Zawa and the Belly of the Beast's biggest weakness is that it might be...too subtle. Outside of the stray comment, a few panels showing some questionable refuse, and the obvious mistreatment and imprisonment of the titular character (although her identity is obscured as a monster at both the beginning and middle of the comic), the comic doesn't really clearly establish why Zawa is being sent as a "desolation" on behalf of the mountain she's tied to – is the Mayor polluting the mountain, is Mesa's Boon somehow disrupting the natural harmony of the mountain or pillaging its resources, or is Zawa simply a warning that the mountain is sacred ground? This will likely be explored in future issues, but I expected a little more in establishing the injustices that Zawa is being tasked with correcting. 

Zawa and the Belly of the Beast is a strong enough opening issue aided by exceptional expressive artwork. While perhaps too subtle for its own good, this is likely an issue that will be resolved in future issues, although perhaps the subtlety of injustice is meant to be overlooked for the more feel-good themes of friendship and feasting that the comic celebrates. 

Published by Boom Comics

On November 8, 2023

Created by Michael Dialynas