John Layman and Rob Guillory ended the second day of Image Comics Expo with a panel on their sleeper hit title, Chew. Layman began the panel by preemptively answering the three questions he knew would come up. He doesn’t know where he came up with the idea for Chew. There’s no special reason why he chose beets as the one food that cibopath Tony Chu can eat without getting psychic impressions. He doesn’t have any news in regards to the proposed Showtime TV series adapting the comic. There’s a director lined up, Stephen Hopkins (“Californication” “24″) who has a good track record of getting shows off the ground. There’s a writer who is a fan of the original comic and working hard to be as faithful as possible on a TV budget. Circle of Confusion, who produces The Walking Dead series is working on it. But there’s no concrete timeframe and no news beyond just that people are interested and working on it. He has Lost actor Ken Leung in mind to play Tony if the show gets off the ground, and has been sending him copies of the comic in hopes that perhaps the stars will align properly. Felicia Day was bribed with a Chew t-shirt to consider playing love interest Amelia Mintz. Layman and Day are regular e-mail correspondents.
Out of the 500 copies of the Image Expo variant for issue 24, only 35 remained as of the panel. Layman had done an interesting trick in that people who got the variant personalized and autographed to them would get it for $5 cheaper than those who got it plain, presumably to resell online. A copy was given out to the first person in the audience whose name started with “J” because Guillory had accidentally began to personalize a cover incorrectly. A Jason got rewarded with a personalized copy.
Layman then began the long, sordid tale of how he pitched his strange cannibal cop comedy tale for years without any success. He’d seen it as a Vertigo book, but no editor wanted it. Layman had been wary of pitching to Image, because he was afraid of the inevitable dismissal. But having gotten a large paycheck from writing for the Soldier of Fortune III videogame, he decided to go for broke and invest that cash in the comic he’d been dreaming of. He thought he would only get five issues and then it would fade away as a quirky cult hit that people might reminisce about at times, and possibly use the cachet to get steady work at DC or Marvel. He set up a budget and was able to pay his prospective artist, something that most new comic projects aren’t able to.
Guillory mentioned that one of the most influential works on his style was Dave Crosland’s art on Puffed, which just so happened to be written by John Layman. Guillory had kept Layman’s name in the back of his mind for future work but it took mutual friend Kody Chamberlain (“Sweets”) to introduce Guillory’s art to Layman as a potential artist for Chew. Though Guillory maintained that he had sent art to Layman in the past prior to that, which Layman doesn’t remember. Layman admitted that there’s a period he calls his “Dark phase” where his sleep schedule was wonky which that might have occurred in. Guillory was having trouble finding work in the comics industry, as everyone wanted him to adjust his style to be more marketable. He’d done a GN for Tokyopop which didn’t get published because it was considered to not be manga-y enough for their target audience. Likewise, Layman was wary of hiring a “manga” artist based solely on Guillory’s association with Tokyopop. The day that Tokyopop finally passed on Guillory’s work was also the day that they let go of close to 50% of their talent.
Layman said that he was incredibly scared of pitching to Image and being rejected, but he called up publisher Eric Stephenson for advice. After asking if he knew of any artists for what would become Chew, Stephenson answered that he didn’t but would greenlight the book as soon as a good artist was found. Thus Layman stumbled into having his book accepted completely on accident. Guillory had just quit his day job to make it or break it as a comics artist when he got a fateful e-mail from Layman, inviting him to work on Chew. Layman’s initial pitch was incredibly vague to the point of being useless, mainly because Layman was worried of scaring off his artist by getting into the crazy parts of the book too soon. Guillory’s wife read the first script, and loved it. Given that she doesn’t like comics, that encouraged Layman to accept and become the artist on Chew. It took him a while to find the right style to use, mainly because he had spent his entire professional career at that point being encouraged to draw like other people. The first Chew Omnivore Edition includes the first few drawings by Guillory which were in a much different style. Layman asked if he could do something akin to the sketches he’d seen on Guillory’s site, and Guillory thus got to use his personal style which turned out to be the perfect fit for the series.
The series is planned to conclude with issue 60. A panel from the upcoming issue 25 will flashforward to a scene in issue 60, showing off an older Tony Chu and Mike Applebee. Thus giving some hints of who will survive to that point. Layman strongly implied that most of the cast will not. As issue 30 will be the halfway mark of the series, it will feature a poster cover like the one issue 15 did.
The first page of issue 25 was shown to the audience, which Guillory admitted was perhaps the most disturbing thing he’s ever drawn in a series that has had cannibalism as a regular feature. Agent John Colby’s new geriatric boss in sexy lingerie. It is not a pleasant sight.
Last year, when the character of Toni Chu was introduced, the book skipped ahead two arcs to issue 27 partially as gimmick based on the premise that Toni’s powers involve seeing the future, but also because Layman writes out of order and finishes an issue when he gets a clear idea for it. Guillory admits that he was very wary of skipping ahead for that one issue for fear that when collected, his art will look out of place for that chapter. 27 will be rereleased in its proper chronological place, but with bonus material so that those who bought it the first time can justify a second purchase.
The fifth TPB, Major League Chew will be coming out at the end of April/beginning of May.
The floor was opened to questions. Anyone who asked a question would be given a free (yet slightly damaged) copy of the con exclusive variant. A fan asked about the imposing physique of recurring antagonist Savoy. Guillory answered that he had to make a character who was imposing, yet dignified at the same time. Theoretical casting for that part might go to John Goodman or Brendan Gleeson, both of whom Guillory felt could do the part.
Layman was freed to make the series much sillier than he had originally hoped based on the energy found in Guillory’s art. The secret agent rooster Poyo was not in his original plans for the series. Poyo will be starring in a one-shot this summer. Layman believes that ending the series at 60 issues is the perfect length, akin to a novel. A retailer who loved the series but had trouble explaining the concept succinctly to potential customers. asked if Layman could do so. “I don’t have to anymore!” joked Layman. The theoretical TV adaptation will inevitably differ from the comic, given that a kung-fu chicken isn’t something that can probably be pulled off on television the same way it could in a comic. Of the various antagonists in the series, at least two of them will work together at some future point.
Layman is surprised that the twist ending of upcoming issue 25 hasn’t already been guessed by the fandom, as he feels it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Guillory pointed out that there’s tons of foreshadowing for future events, such as having the baseball player from the current arc show up in issues 13 and 19 in the background, or that Tony has a picture in his home with a child in issue 5 long before the reveal of Olive.
Guillory’s advice for prospective comic artists is to start young, network as much as you can, and take critiques well. He mentions that Erik Larsen tore him to pieces when he was younger. (And that Erik has no memory of that either.) If everyone gives you the same criticism, they’re probably right. Guillory doesn’t have much input into the plotting directly, but does ask quite a bit of questions of Layman that influence things. At least some of his input has made it into the page. As an example of how the series changes as Layman incorporates new ideas, an upcoming issue will focus on Food Pornography. This was influenced by meeting a professional food photographer at a convention, and his wife who works to prepare the food so it looks good for the camera. “She’s the fluffer.” joked Guillory.
If he could have any food-power, Layman would want the power to eat what he wants without getting fat. Guillory would just like to be lactose-tolerant. Layman is not a foodie, but his wife is. They went to France once with Travis Charest and his foodie wife, leaving the two men to watch as their wives geeked out over entrees and truffle butter and engaged in the same sort of over the top enthusiasm that comic fans will have over a classic run. Guillory isn’t a big foodie, and while he’ll try just about anything would be happy eating Taco Bell for the rest of his life. On a trip to Algeria, he was served a goat stuffed with a chicken stuffed with an eel stuffed with an egg (a traditional middle-eastern feast dish) and was thoroughly grossed out by the experience.
Layman’s main inspiration for getting into comics was Dave Sim’s Cerebus, as he wanted to have his own creator-owned masterpiece. Guillory was inspired by the classic Marvel works of Lee and Kirby. Layman does own Chew entirely, as he had no idea that Guillory would stick around for more than five issues. Guillory joked that the first thing he did when he began work on the series was to ensure he was indispensable. Guillory is contracted to get a cut off any media adaptations though, and thus there will be no lawsuits over the TV show.
The running gag of the USDA agents being entirely busty women came from Guillory taking a character description for a cheesecake and interpreting it solely as being big breasted. The cover wasn’t that busty, but the interiors became just plain ludicrous. Which inspired Layman to take it to the next level and just make it that every USDA agent has that physique. Which made it clear that the gay John Colby would get assigned there and thus put in hell.
A fan pointed out a quirky food power in the British show Misfits, which the audience then strongly recommended Layman watch. Layman mentioned that he’d heard of a recent novel, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” which he was under the impression was sort of a Chick Lit version of Chew. An audience member agreed. Layman is worried about wrapping everything up at issue 60. At which point he will be out of a job. There might be a Chew Lunchbox in the future.
Tony Chu is Asian, not just because of the pun name, but because Layman’s wife is Asian, and thus his son is at least half-Asian and he wanted there to be more role models in media for his son. If he could call a crazy guy who eats people a role model. Layman explained that most mainstream comics are lily white, and “that’s not America.”
The series’ emphasis on chicken just arose from the bird flu being huge when he originally came up with the series. That the swine flu hit just as the book came out was fortuitous timing. Layman is not interested in explaining the origins of the various food-related psychic powers in the series, as he’s certain that any such explanation will end up underwhelming. The names for the various powers are inspired by his love of etymology fostered by his college degree in English. A former boss of his flipped his lid at the neologism “cibopath” for using both Greek and Latin roots at once. Layman responded “It’s just a comic book.” Layman then explained that every single character in the book has a food pun name of some sort or another. From Savoy coming from the root for “savory” to Herbert Vorhees.
Peter S. Svensson writes for Bleeding Cool, manages a comic shop in San Jose, and wishes he had the power to learn how to make a dish by eating it. He’d make millions!