SPOILER WARNING! This article contains MAJOR spoilers for “Chew” #30, which is itself a MAJOR turning point in the series. You’ve been warned.
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 and artist Rob Guillory’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.
And this is CHEW ON THIS, CBR’s ongoing discussion of all things “Chew”-able. Following each major even in the series, we sit down with Layman for an exclusive question-and-answer session about the latest turns-of-events in the world of Tony Chu. In short, this is your one-stop shop for everything “Chew!”
This month, with a massive shake-up hitting the series at its midway point, Layman digs deep into the shocking events of issue #30. What was billed as a wedding issue for Tony Chu’s perky sister Toni turned into a much stranger, sadder, scarier event than any reader of the current “Space Cakes” arc could have imagined. And now with the bloody results ready for all to see, the writer explains why this issue had to happen, why it had to happen now and what events will spin out of the finale as the series barrels into its second half. Read on!
CBR News: John, let’s start with the big question that guided last week’s talk: when did you know? Issue #30 marks the halfway point in the series and features a pretty gruesome death. Was this story mapped out early on, or did you get close and realize you needed to make a sacrifice?
John Layman: Toni was doomed from the start, from the moment she was introduced running up, smiling and giving Tony a giant bear-hug in #15, her fate was sealed. She’s his twin, after all, and always intended to be in many ways Tony’s better half. Where Tony is sullen, withdrawn, unfriendly, Toni is gregarious, generous and fun. It was always going to be necessary to tear that away from the series protagonist, in order to bring about what happens in the second half. It sure as hell was not easy, though.
Getting into the issue itself, we open with a wedding sequence that catches us up on a lot of the character relationships in silly terms…but it’s not real. Why kick off the story with a future Toni will never see? Do you just like messing with readers?
Well, I wanted to have a little fun with the issue, and it seemed like the best way to channel-flip between the cast and make sure every member of our extended cast has a brief moment in the sun. But this is also something we’ve done in the past. In the very first (at least sequentially — not counting #27) “Chew” issue featuring Toni, issue #19, we show a horrific future and see Toni enlist Tony to help make sure it does not come to pass. In this issue, Toni’s last adventure, do the reverse, showing a pleasant future that never comes to pass.
And #30 IS Toni’s last adventure, right?
MAHFOOD! Can I say that I’m a little surprised they weren’t serving Colt 45 at the wedding? Regardless, what was your inspiration for including Jim the cartoonist in the book and giving him such a unique food power?
“Chew” has a rule: every character has a food name. Savoy is a cabbage, Caesar is a salad, Applebee is a restaurant. EVERY character, and believe me, it sometimes gets tough. Friends want me to throw them in as a Easter Egg character, and unless they have a food name, I can’t. But MahFOOD was ideal, and it seemed like it would be a fun cameo. Both Rob Guillory and I are huge fans of Jim. He’s a fantastic person, and an unbelievable artist. I know Jim was an inspiration to Rob when Rob first wanted to be an artist, and Jim’s the guy who introduced me to Dave Crosland, who I did my first creator-owned book Puffed with. So, yeah, we love Jim.
Somebody I don’t love? Ed Brubaker, who put my likeness in the first “Incognito” TPB, killing me off after calling me a “fat f**k.” Both “brew” and “baker” are food names, so you can be sure Ed will make an appearance in “Chew” someday, and meet the ghastly fate he so deserves.
Once we pop back to the real world, we get the first hint of Toni’s long term plan — to aide her brother against the Collector even though she won’t make it. I get the sense from her interaction with Paneer that he’s got a bigger role coming up in the future of the series. How do you see him playing a part moving forward?
Well, it’s bait and switch. Paneer indeed does play a role before the end of the book, but it probably is not what people are going to expect.
All right. Well. The scene with Toni and the Collector. Woof. It starts with a very brutal image and ratchets up from there, all really knocked out of the park by Rob. Why was it time to swing back into such territory for the book? We know this changes things in terms of the story, but will this change the tone of “Chew” as well moving forward?
It was very tough, even more so because #31 has a character reveal in it that is arguably every bit a punch in the gut as #30. #31 starts rough as well, it sorta has too, and so I very deliberately tried to come up with the most ludicrously ridiculous case I could to round out the issue, just to move us back into more Chew-like territory. “Chew” will always remain silly, but with #30 we wanted to make sure people knew we weren’t completely fluff. We have a story to tell, and it’s not all pretty, and, unfortunately, bodies are going to drop. This is just the first.
Beets have played a central, if humorous, role in the book since issue #1. What is it about them that negates the powers of our various food-centric agents, villains and players?
I don’t know. It’s sorta arbitrary, but that was another big bait and switch. I talked about it as a power-negator many times for Tony, but never really addressed it for TONI, knowing full well that’s where it would really be used. And when it was, even though it was never addressed, I think them being twins made it make sense, made it feel natural and not out of left field, ya know?
“My brother is going to kill you.” That’s a pretty bold prediction, though one we can’t know for sure is a bluff or a true prediction. Either way, is it safe to assume that for Tony getting vengeance for his sister is going to be a prime concern moving forward?
Tony is going to come back a changed person, or a changing person. His injury, his sister’s death, some other things that have come before. He’s going to see things differently, approach things differently, and yes, he is going to want revenge.
Toni meets a pretty violent end, which is shocking for a number of reasons including the fact that this story has been so funny up to this point. Was part of the purpose of this scene to drive home the finality of her death, or again, are you just a fan of freaking your readers out?
Rob knew for a long time this would be happening to Toni, and I think he was relieved when the script came in that it was not worse, not bloodier or more horrible than it was. Truth is, I just could not do it. Could not make it any worse and had no desire to. It needed to be done, but I was an absolute wreck after the issue was done. I went on a weeklong bender and was completely unproductive as a result (which may not sound different than when I finish any other script, but emotionally it sure was). I know other characters are going to die, and it will accelerate as we get closer to the end, but this was the toughest. I think it made me stronger. I can kill anybody now. Except, of course, Mike Applebee. He lives forever.
Lastly, we get a moment for Caesar to finally realize where he knows Toni from AND get a nod that he and the crew are going to “save the world.” Does this foretell a return to our sky writing and the other big “world building” questions of “Chew” sooner rather than later?
Yes it does, and also, it kinda has to. Half the book is over. Time to start addressing dangling plot threads, answer questions, and wrap things up. In fact, if I was able to give homework before issue #31 I’d suggest rereading issue #14 and #20 (actually, a complete series re-read would not be bad, but pay particular attention to #14 and #20).
I’d also like to make the point that I set up the first Ceasar “where do I know you from” bit in issue #27, which was published right after #18, making this probably the longest set up to any comic book punch line in history!
So where can we go after this? We know the next issue focuses on Toni’s funeral, but how does it serve to launch the next arc as well?
The return of a “villain” from a previous issue, and another shift in the world. After the sky-writing appeared, most people became less concerned about the chicken ban. There is one group determined to make the chicken ban stick and they going to get violent to do so. And, because “Chew” likes to have morbid fun, we’re also going to see a lot of really, really fat people on spontaneously combust in hilarious ways.
“Chew” #30 is on sale now from Image Comics.