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’re celebrating the conclusion of the “Just Desserts” story arc as well as the fifth installment of “CHEW ON THIS.” Layman discussed his views on the book’s progress thus far, the introduction of two new pivotal characters and exactly what that cosmic event at the end of “Chew” #15 means for the future of the series.
CBR News: “Chew” #15 brings the third arc of the series to a close with all of the fiery mayhem one could possibly hope for. With “Just Desserts” finished, can you talk a bit about the goals you set out to achieve at the outset of this arc – what were you hoping to accomplish within these five issues, both as its own entity and in terms of pushing “Chew” forward?
John Layman: Even though I said from the outset this arc was about relationships and partnerships, I think a lot of people thought it was going to be about the return of Mason Savoy, which of course it was, in part. But it was more about looking at the dynamics of different partnered pairs: Tony and Amelia, Tony and Colby, Tony and Savoy, Savoy and Caesar, Savoy and Colby, and even Tony and his ex, Min. Tony was a bit of a cipher as the story started, because he’s a very internal character. But I don’t think you can walk away from “Just Desserts” without getting a better idea of the main and supporting characters, and their relation to one another.
In addition to the end of “Just Desserts,” this issue hits another important milestone as well: the quarter mark of your planned 60 issue run of “Chew.” How does it feel to be 25% of the way through to the finish? Does that strike you as a big chunk already under the belt, or are you more focused on the work that’s yet to be done?
It’s hard to believe we are this far. At this rate, the halfway point seems like it is just around the corner, particularly since I am pretty damn far ahead on scripts. I suspect things are going to getter harder and harder as I get to that point. Issue #15, actually, was a breeze to write, but I have no doubt issue #30 is going to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, and I kinda dread getting there, for a multitude of reasons.
Let’s get into some of the specifics of “Chew” #15. As I’ve already told you, the opening sequence with Mason Savoy is some of my favorite work I’ve seen from you and Rob thus far. How did you two go about mapping out this scene? Was it meticulously crafted on your end, or did you leave Mason’s private Thanksgiving feast open enough for Rob’s own creative license?
I write in considerable detail, but I am never quite sure that I’m making sense. I spelled the first sequence in the book out in copious detail, but then at the end, I told Rob if he had questions, just call or IM me and I’d try to talk it out. But, as always, Rob nailed exactly what I was looking for. That being said, I think my scripts are a weird mix of excessive detail mixed with “here’s what I’m going for, Rob, if you have a better idea feel free to veto what I say here to make something visually cooler.” I am a detail freak, but not a control freak.
Beyond the sequence’s unique layout, one of the things I love about this act is how much it says about Mason’s viewpoint on food versus Tony’s. Both of them are cibopaths, so both of them get psychic feedback from the things they eat; but where Tony is often reluctant to enjoy a meal, Mason seems to have a different stance. His size speaks volumes about his philosophy on food, but in these pages, it’s almost ritualistic the way he prepares his Thanksgiving dinner. From your perspective, what are some of the big differences between how Tony and Mason view food, and how does that inform their characters?
I think you pretty much summed it up! Tony hates eating, and Mason enjoys it. Tony rejects it, and it’s a last resort, and Mason embraces it. We never see it more clearly than in issue #15’s opening sequence.
One last thing about the Savoy sequence: the photograph. How long before we get some elaboration on the people in Mason’s photo?
It’s somebody he loved, lost to the bird flu pandemic. I’m not sure any more details than this are necessary.
In part two of the issue, we’re introduced to several members of Tony’s family. Family is an important part of everyone’s life, whether or not the relationships and connections are healthy ones. We’ve already seen that Tony’s relationship with Chow is dysfunctional at best, and that seems to be the case with the majority of his other family members. What does family mean to Tony? How important are these people in his life?
Tony is an outcast with his family, and most of them hate him, or barely tolerate him – with the exception of his twin sister Antonelle, or Toni-with-an-I.
Speaking of Toni, she’s one of two family members that stand out above the rest in this issue, with Tony’s secret daughter Olive being the other one. What can we expect to see from these two as “Chew” progresses?
Both Toni and Olive will be playing larger roles in the book. They are the last major supporting characters to be introduced, at least as far as the first half of the book is concerned, until we start approaching the endgame.
Clearly, the revelation of Tony’s daughter is a big slice of information that we did not have previously. How early on in the development of “Chew” did you know that Olive existed, and now that the cat is out of the bag, how is her presence going to influence “Chew” going forward?
I think by issue #6 I had a firm idea of what issue #15 was going to be, and who was going to be introduced. Every issue in its own way since has been working toward this point.
What does being a father mean to Tony Chu?
Tony is a horrible father and a deadbeat dad who split on Olive and left her to be raised by his sister. He’s married to his job, even though he hates it, and he has very little to do with his family. That’s a big part of the reason Tony is so despised by his family… and rightly so.
A few columns ago, you said “Chew” #15 would introduce someone that is your “new favorite character to write.” Is it safe to say that it’s Toni or Olive?
Yes, Toni-with-an-I is an absolute blast to write, and I’ve actually jumped ahead to write some scenes and issues just with her, because she is so much fun. The funny thing is, I’ve been referencing writing funny things with “Toni” for months now on Twitter, and nobody has noticed the spelling. It’s a sad state when the assumption is that a writer is too freaking dumb to know how to spell his own lead character’s name!
Olive, meanwhile, is a lot more like Tony, which is to say, a dour character. Tony is only fun to write when I make bad things happen to him, and I either have not had the heart or the opportunity to do that with Olive yet.
As if revealing Tony’s status as a parent wasn’t enough of a bombshell, the issue closes with a massive cosmic event barreling its way through the sky. It’s a doozy of a cliffhanger, to say the least, and it might give us a good idea for why the next story arc is titled “Flambe.” I’m not sure how much you’re able to share at this point, but what can you tell us about the light in the sky and how it’s going to effect the next string of issues?
Well, everything changes after this cosmic event. Tony’s job, and therefore the book, evolves. I mean, with what’s happened happening, and so publicly, people aren’t exactly concerned about chicken prohibition. I mean, for all people know, the world could be about to end-people are going to eat whatever they god damn please, and not really care what the government says they shouldn’t.
With “Chew” #15, we’re a quarter of the way through the series and three arcs down. We’ve also officially completed the first arc of “Chew on This” columns here on CBR. I thought this might be a good time to turn the mic over to you, John. Got any thoughts for the fans at home in terms of what “Chew” has meant to you thus far and what we can expect as the series continues towards issue #60?
Well, Rob and I are just thrilled that people continue to enjoy the book – far beyond our wildest expectations. We’re getting to do weird, fun stuff every month, and people seem to be enjoying it, so we’re going to continue to keep making the most fun, funny, engaging and surprising stories that we can.
“Chew” #15, written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, is currently on sale.
Check back next month for another edition of “CHEW ON THIS,” and make sure to send us your questions!