Meet John Layman.
He is the writer and co-creator of “Chew,” the Image Comics series about FDA agent Tony Chu, a cibopath who gleans psychic information from anything that he eats, except beets. Layman’s “Chew” is filled with several other similarly bizarre components including a powerful food writer, a far off alien world and a fruit with unknown origins that tastes just like chicken. It’s a story that has resonated with an extraordinary amount of readers, leading to multiple sellouts, accolades and now – best of all – a monthly column right here on Comic Book Resources!
Welcome to CHEW ON THIS, CBR’s monthly discussion of all things “Chew”-able. Following the release of every new issue, we sit down with Layman for an exclusive question-and-answer session about the latest turns-of-events in the world of Tony Chu. On top of that, readers are invited to write in to see their very own questions answered by Layman. In short, this is your one-stop shop for everything “Chew!”
This month, we return from a short sabbatical to catch readers up on the major turns in the recent “Chew” #17 and 18. As the “Flambe” arc continues, the cosmic fires in the sky have turned the world of Tony Chu on its ear as new food-based villains, old out there threats and one killer chicken collide in two stories that only “Chew” can deliver. Plus, Layman gives a look inside the future of the series from which character will discover food powers next to who will be left standing at the end of the run. And be on the lookout for “Chew’s” first ever bout of product placement!
CBR News: All right, John! So it’s been a while since our last outing, and a lot has changed in the real life world of bringing “Chew” to the public. Rob is now a proud papa. You announced a Scratch N’ Sniff cover for San Diego. “Chew” is going to be a TV Show on Showtime. I’m not Josh Wigler. What have the last few months of work and crazy Hollywood success been like for Team Chew? Has it at all affected where the book goes from here?
John Layman: Yeah, it has been a crazy couple of month. We took a short break, and then came back with not just a couple back-to-back issues, but wedged a script book in there too (which I designed top-to-bottom, added and bunch of bells and whistles to, and am terribly proud of). I’ve been working on “Godzilla” for IDW, Hulk, Deadpool and Spidey annuals for Marvel and an unannounced Sam Kieth book for IDW, all while juggling TV stuff. It’s been busy, but I’m still managed to stay a script or two ahead of Rob, just not 5 scripts or so like I’d LIKE to be.
Jumping right into issue #17 then, we’ve got a prologue to this mystery that has two seemingly unrelated pieces in play. First, the space station sequence holds a lot of info from the exposition on NASA’s activities to the big explosion, but the thing that stood out to me was the subtle hint on page one that something very big is happening in our solar system and to our sun that maybe the folks planetside can’t see yet. What can reader’s make of the opening panels?
I think really we just opened there to show that things are happening on a cosmic scale, at least this storyline. I’m not really going to say any more than that, other than “Chew” is not suddenly turning into a sci-fi comic. There will always be aspects of that, but the next couple shorelines are going to be a lot more down-to-earth and terrestrial.
In a broader sense, what do these pages say about the role NASA and space itself will continue to play in the series as we move forward?
Well, I’m sorta doing a bait and switch. On the one hand, “Flambe” is about NASA getting a much bigger law enforcement role. The flip side of that is that the FDA is being diminished, which is bad new for our lead character Tony Chu and his partner John Colby. Also: is it a wise move to make your lead character irrelevant?
On the other side: Food Fight! And a pretty crazy one at that. When you’re building up the single issue mystery plots like this, do you commonly cook up the gory “cleaver in eye” hooks first or work up character stuff and then look for the best way to set the dominos in motion?
No, I don’t really think of hooks like that. Usually the big visual moments come out of the story, not vice-versa.
Once the investigation is underway, we learn this takes place at Olive’s school, and she plays a role in the story that’s maybe not so tertiary. But before we get to that: props on the Pacman T-shirt. Is that a Rob detail?
No, that’s a Threadless shirt. We have a deal with Threadless. Olive wears Threadless T-shirts, we credit the T-shirt designer and Threadless sends us free T-shirts. And I love free T-shirts. It’s just a fun promotion where everybody wins — and we’re not doing it for money — just because it is cool and fun. I think even at this moment Threadless is running a contest “design a shirt Olive will wear in ‘Chew'” which will be featured in a later issue. Olive starts playing a larger role in the book post issue #20. Maybe I should mention that.
As I said, the thing that stood out to me here was how even though she has seemingly no reason to, Olive lies through the teeth to her pop and Colby. Is she just trying to distance herself from her dad and his weird world, or is there something more complicit in her reluctance to talk about where she was?
Olive hates her dad and isn’t exactly eager to help him. Plus, she’s part of a family with weird food related powers, and nobody is quite sure what powers, if any, she has. (Spoiler: She does.)
As for our whacked out kid killer Peter Pilaf, I think the thing that stands out to me most is the implication that his turn towards brainwash recipes somehow came along with the sky writing. So far, we’ve seen quite a few different varieties of food powers show up in the series, but this is the first that’s been subtly linked to an actual cause. Can we assume that whatever’s going on out there in space may also hook up to our Cibopaths, Cibolocuters and Voresophs in some grand cosmic way?
Yessir. It is all connected. It is a question, though, of whether is directly connected to the skywriting.
Finally from #17, like I said, initially we thought the two parts of the prologue had no connection, then you zigged to make it look like they were very connected, and at issue’s end a zag that complicates things even further. I know it’s no fun to just come out and spoil what this ending means for the bigger picture, but the dual return to the series of the Gallsberry and our Vampire gentlemen are definitely important to the larger story of the series as a whole. You’re obviously playing the long game with a lot of these elements, but will this scene rear its head within this arc, or will the full return of the “International Flavor” gang stay up in Siberia for a while?
I think we see more of The Vampire in #19. He, too, will play a larger role in upcoming story arcs.
Issue #18 in some ways seems to be more of a fun one-off than a new turn in some of the bigger plotting, but that may be deceptively so. However, we do start with a bit more background on the mysterious Migdalo when he was in his F.D.A. prime in the midst of our issue set-up. I get the feeling that between Migdalo, the North Korean’s quick engagement of their super weapon and other effects of the sky-writing, the world of “Chew” really seems to be falling apart right now. In what ways is this arc about a second wave of destabilization after the initial avian flu panic?
I supposed “Flambe” is not just cosmic, but also global. One of the things I’ve tried to show with each issue of this arc of the repercussions of the fire writing on society, from the fears of school kids to how different governments are reacting, and even what things are happening internationally as a result. It’s funny, though, every time somebody suggests a certain issue feels more like a one-off or a departure, usually that is the issue I consider is the most important long-term. “Chew” #18 definitely sets-up up some character through-lines that won’t become apparent for a long time. And then, upon rereading, It will be so obvious!
I think some fans are going to be hoping you do a “flashback” issue soon like the upcoming flashforward one just to see exactly what the particulars of some of the cases teased in this issue were (I’d particularly like to know what those Mounties were on exactly). But aside from some humor, we get a great “your boss is a dick” moment involving Director Applebee. How much of this is him just being a dick of a boss versus how much of this we should expect to factor in to some bigger, more sinister plans?
Applebee is a jerk, and an altogether awful person, but he is not a villain. In fact, I’m gonna give a huge spoiler here: Only three people in “Chew” are safe. There are only three characters who I absolutely guarantee will not be killed and will be still standing in the last pages of issue #60. One is Mike Applebee. Haw haw haw.
Poyo!! And also the ladies of the U.S.D.A.! These characters proved a hit with readers when they first appeared. Did that at all affect your plans to bring them back on stage? Or is part of this entire arc about some old chickens coming home to roost, so to speak?
I knew from the start that Poyo was going to be a special character, and likely to be a popular one. I saw him as my “Amy Racecar,” for those who remember “Stay Bullets” — a character who almost guarantees a special brand of madness and insanity whenever he appears.
I hate to ask this for fear of the answer, but should we assume Poyo’s flop at the end means he’s dead? Like really for real dead?
Dead is dead in “Chew.” And Poyo is not dead. After all, it would take more than a barrage of high-powered, high caliber bullets to stop the world’s most deadly and powerful rooster. Look for Poyo to return sometime around the sixth arc, “Space Cakes.”
Next issue, we’re looking at…”Chew” #27?!?! I’m sure we want to leave most of the whys and wherefores of the flashforward to the book for right now (though people can get an early peek with CBR’s exclusive preview, but what specifically made you want to drop this future issue between 18 and 19. Will its story somehow fit in to the state Chu and Colby find themselves in at the end of this issue?
“Chew” #27 really compliments “Chew” #19. Both are Toni Chu stories, and you can read either in any order and get an idea of her power. But I specifically don’t spell out what it is, even though I could not hint at it any stronger. I know that will drive some readers crazy. Some people need to be spoon fed, and they’re not gonna get that. At least, not for a while.
“Spoon fed.” Heh. I can’t avoid the food puns even when I try.
“Chew” #17 & 18, written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, are currently on sale. Check out CBR’s exclusive preview of next week’s flashforward issue #27 right now, and stay tuned for more CHEW ON THIS soon! And make sure to send us your questions!