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. It’s a story that has resonated with an extraordinary amount of readers, leading to multiple sellouts, accolades and now – best of all – a column right here on Comic Book Resources!
Welcome to CHEW ON THIS, CBR’s ongoing discussion of all things “Chew”-able. Following the release of every new issue (we swear!), 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 prepare you for this week’s brand new issue #24 by going inside the recent issue #23 — a turning point story in the current “Major League Chew” arc. While Tony Chu is trussed up in the basement of some pretty twisted baseball fans, he’s forced to eat some unimaginable sports relics. Meanwhile, Tony’s former partner Colby adjusts to his new job at the USDA and his new cat-like (or, well, just straight up cat) partner. Below, Layman explains the ins and outs of the story as well as where it’ll zig rather than zag with this week’s new installment. Read on!
CBR News: We see the full scope of what Tony will be dealing with in this baseball-themed case with issue #23, and it’s a pretty gruesome fate to look down the barrel at, even by this series’ standards. How much of your inspiration for the cases on the book come about from your dreaming up really disgusting crap, like exhumed athlete corpses, for Tony to eat?
John Layman: I really don’t sit there and try to think up of gross things for Tony to eat. This one was just one of those “what ifs” that popped into my head very early on, the idea that Tony would get kidnapped by somebody determined to use Tony’s power to learn the past about somebody. The idea that it would a rabid sports fan came later.
Aside from the opportunity to use a clever title with “Major League Chew,” why was baseball the sport you went to? Do you have any particular affinity for America’s pastime or conversely any particular distaste for the kinds of fans Tony’s captors represent?
Nah, I have an extreme distaste for all sports. But I have a lot of friends who love baseball, though I can’t imagine why. Maybe this is my revenge for all the sports talk I’ve had to endure over the years.
On the other side of the coin for this issue is Colby’s new life as a USDA agent. Obviously, this plotline injects some humor into an issue that’s otherwise pretty brutal on Tony. Was keeping a balance between the two something important to you, or was this just the most natural place to check in on Chu’s former partner?
Yeah, this is the darkest arc of “Chew” so far, and #23 was arguably the darkest issue of the arc. Initially, the story was going to be much more about Tony and the baseball players, but I found I really didn’t need to hammer in the horror of what’s being done with Tony. Really, what I needed to tell that part of the story could be told in a limited number of pages. So the Tony part got shorter while Colby’s story grew and grey, as stories with Colby tend to do because he’s such a fun character to write.
With the introduction of Agent Buttercup, we get a healthy dose of absurdist humor as well. Between killer chickens, fake vampires and now government agent lions, how surreal can the world of “Chew” get in your estimation? At this point in the world of the book, is there any kind of weird creature or idea that comes to you that you think might not work?
I have my own “rule book” that I use within “Chew,” with the USDA being on the very far end of what is acceptable in the book. I daresay the absolute wackiest stories in “Chew” will be the ones that pertain to the USDA. Those are usually the ones where I think all bets are off in terms of absurdity. But, yes, there are rules, even if I can’t publicly spell them out. Somebody wrote me a letter saying, “You should do a story where Chu meets Bigfoot,” and my immediate response was “Of course not! That’s ridiculous.”
Back in the realm of Tony, as Dan feeds him more and more dead ball players, we get a string of new food names for some old timey talents and a lot of other fun background details, though I’m wondering if there are any elements here that we should be making note of beyond their pure joke potential. Are any parts of this specific case something that you’re looking to bring into the larger narrative of the series?
First off, all characters in “Chew” have food names. Some are less obvious, but every single character has some name that in some way can be traced to food. And it’s not so much specifics of that case that come back, but we do see the result of all that Tony ingests in the story arc’s climax.
Speaking of background details, who is responsible for having these guys sit around watching “A League of Their Own” and how can I send them a high five?
I always ask Rob what he plans on putting on the TV, and sometimes I make suggestions. In this case I suggested “League of Their Own.” I also suggested “Air Bud,” but he vetoed me for “Major League” (which, of course, ended up the better choice).
So Tony makes his way out of the basement and so close to freedom only to be halted by his desire to get a little revenge on his captors and the thought he can get away with it. We talked last time about Tony’s personality and how he really keeps folks at a distance, but do you think hubris might be one of his problems as well? Is he a little stuck on himself to his own detriment?
Yeah, Tony can be his own worst enemy. I don’t do a lot of rewriting with “Chew” if I feel good about an issue, but this was one of those rare cases where the scene actually got rewritten. Tony was making an escape and it occurred to me his character simply could not walk out of their without wanting some vicious payment. So he stops to pick up a bat to beat the crap out of his captors, and it’s probably because of that he does not end up escaping. Sometimes the character’s personality absolutely dictates were the story is going to go.
Meanwhile, Colby has found his own way of dealing with his issues at work. Is there any problem he won’t try to sleep his way out of?
Not yet! Possibly not ever. His sins are going to come back to haunt him soon, though.
Looking forward to this week’s issue #24, we know Tony is pretty cut off from the rest of the world now, and it’s unlikely Dan and company will be getting less watchful of him. We also know that we’ll be coming back to Olive’s story again. How will these two threads collide as the arc goes along?
Actually, they won’t. In fact, Tony is only in one panel of issue #24, and I’m not sure how readers are going to react to that. And the collision of story threads will not be literal, but thematic (which, of course, won’t make any sense until people have read #25). If this arc is to be summed up in a single word, it would be “acceptance.” Arc six? “Motiviation.”
“Chew” #24, written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, goes on sale today. Stay tuned for more CHEW ON THIS on CBR, and make sure to send us your questions!