John Layman, the creator behind Chew and current writer on Detective Comics, is one of the most interesting men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s laid back and talks to fans, being polite and charismatic, taking time and signing regardless if someone purchases something or not. Layman seems generally interested in his fans, listening to them and having actual conversations. I even saw him give a reprint of Chew #1 to a woman who was with her friend. The woman bashfully admitted that she hadn’t read Chew even though her friend was enamored with it. Layman pulled out a reprint, signed it, and told the woman she no longer had an excuse not to read the book. John Layman and I had a chance to sit and chat about his past, present, and future work.
One of Layman’s earlier works, Bay City Jive, has been out for years but we have never seen a collection hit shelves but if appears there are no plans in the immediate future to get Bay City Jive into trade form.
“I was young and I was dumb and I didn’t make the best deal. I don’t own it. I’m hoping that Batman Detective brings enough popularity,” said Layman but he does hold out hope that in the future there will be a collection to hit shelves.
Layman’s work has changed over the years as well, from Bay City Jive to his more modern work such as Chew. I asked how he felt his work has changed over the years.
“I think I’m a little more confident. I’m not afraid to use my own voice for licensed stuff,” said Layman, ““What gave me the confidence to write Chew, oddly enough, was Scarface.”
Scarface for IDW was where Layman feels he found his voice, putting it into Batman and Mars Attacks. He feels better about his writing and himself in general.
Detective Comics seems to be all the DC Layman plans to take on at this time as well, putting it simply, “I can’t.”
“I was very ahead on Mars Attacks and Chew and then Batman fell into my lap, this wonderful opportunity and I said yes, even though I knew it would be difficult for me to keep up.”
He letters for Mars Attacks and Chew, does production on Mars Attacks and Chew, along with design for Chew and all of the trades.
“I went from being way ahead to just keeping up. I want to spend the next 6 months getting ahead on Chew and Batman before I think about anything else.”
Layman didn’t grow up on heroes either. Most of his reading at a younger age was not hero books such as Star Wars.
“I was a Marvel guy more than a DC and I spend high school bouncing back and forth between the two of them but I have never been primarily a superhero guy. I like writing Batman but I don’t think I would like just writing superheroes.”
Variety keeps Layman interested, pointing to copies of Mars Attacks and Godzilla on his table.
As many people become more entwined in the comic book industry, being a fan and reading falls by the wayside. I asked Layman if he still reads books and, if so, what is he reading.
He listed off books suck as Locke and Key, Six Gun, Manhattan Project, Morning Glories, and Stump Town.
“I tend to buy books monthly and then let them pile up and then buy them in trade. It’s kind of disheartening that there are a lot of comic book people who don’t read comic book stuff.”
When it comes to the big two, Layman doesn’t follow characters but will tend to follow writers. He doesn’t buy into events because he knows a character is going to die. It’s just the nature of those things, he points out.
“Event driven comics won’t pull me in from the big two, so much as a good creator, someone I’m going to get a good story from.”
I asked Layman why he chose to go to Image with Chew. The short and good of it is that “They said yes.”
“A few other publishers had said no and I went to Image looking for an artist, not actually pitching, and I got approval, I got them to say ‘Oh, we’ll publish it. Find an artist. We like the concept,’ when I wasn’t actually pitching them. I got approval without pitching.”
One of Layman’s most notable books, Chew, is creator owned and came into existence because of his work. I asked him if he had advice for other young creators trying to break into the industry.
“Don’t do it for money because you’re going to go a long time without making money or making very much and if you think you’re going to get rich, you’re going to get your heart broken. You got to do it for love and you got to do it with no expectations of anything and just go in and try to make the best book you possibly can.”
Layman also added, “Only go into comics if you can do it for the love.”
I asked Layman what is on the horizon for him when it comes to creator owned properties and if he has plans to have more creator owned properties besides Chew.
“After Chew and possibly even during Chew. I’ve been going through a period where I’m stretched thin and I’m going to spend the rest of the year getting ahead on Batman, getting ahead on Chew.”
Layman hopes by the end of the year he will be ahead on Chew and Batman so he can start working on another project. Layman even teased what his next project was going to concern.
“It’s about exorcism, and demons and hell,” he said, “More of a supernatural thing.”