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, we follow up on the shocking events of “Chew” #30 — the series’ halfway point — with a look at issue #31. This somber installment of the series focused on the funeral for Tony’s fallen sister Toni, a flashback to an earlier funeral in the expansive Chu family, people spontaneously combusting, Comic-Con fun poking and the return of some villains who have been simmering in the background. Layman takes it all on below and shares his thoughts on the next Colby-centric story which kicks off in today’s issue #32. Read on!
So we knew coming in that this issue of “Chew” would have a different feel in light of Toni’s death, but at least the first page held a bit of the book’s humor even in the face of terrible things. We met some new members of the Chu family here. Aside from cousin Charlie, who I’m sure we’ll all be seeing in the credits pages of Oni books moving forward, which of the various siblings, parents and hangers on from this scene do you expect to be showing up more moving forward?
John Layman: The family and characters that are important to the overall “Chew” story have now all been introduced, and there is probably not any more characters to appear to play a major long-term role. With that in mind, we do have at least one issue before the end of the book that will focus on a Chu sibling that we haven’t spent any time with.
That said, it’s a very isolating moment for Tony. His immediate response is to throw himself into his work. Is he avoiding dealing with Toni’s death?
It absolutely is. Tony is not a very emotionally demonstrative person, and if you recall, it took probably the first 12 issues or so before we really saw a whole lot of his personality — beyond his focus on work. As we see in #32, Tony is almost singularly focused on the job, especially the part of the job that will allow him to avenge his murdered sister.
With the flashback, we’re seeing a bit of detail on Tony’s wife that we’d never gotten before. Some of this stuff, like why Olive never lived with him, makes sense while others, like what really happened to his wife or what the hell happened to Colby over the years, is harder to pin down. In terms of the overall story, what’s the thread your most looking to tackle in the second half of the book?
See, I think Colby is entirely consistent. The guy picking up married chicks at funerals doesn’t strike me as all the different as the guy who will sleep with his boss — whoever his boss is — in order to get his way. What am I looking forward to? Honestly, the last page of #35. This are is a lot of set-up for the second half of the series, and the end of #35 will kick off something very unexpected to lead us into Vol. 8.
Character-wise, the takeaway here is how Toni’s optimism always balanced Tony’s darker tendencies. You’ve spoken in the past about Tony being kind of a miserable guy in general. What is he really like now that his sister’s gone forever?
The last ten issues took Tony down a very dark path physically. Kidnapped, beaten, hospitalized for months on end. These next ten — #31-#40, but particularly this current arc — take Tony down a dark place emotionally, as he tries to deal with the loss. Resolution will come in the next arc, from a very unexpected place.
Back on the job, I get the impression that the “flaming on” of people is a strange occurrence even for the world of “Chew.” This world has always been a bit bizarre compared to our own, but do you feel like things have been getting increasingly weird since the start of Tony’s story?
Yeah, I think maybe I hit a high point (or is that low point?) with a food power coming in Issue #34. EASILY the most ridiculous food power, and for “Chew,” that’s saying something.
I’ve got to call out the Comic-Con panel. Is this something you’ve been wanting to poke fun at for a while? Sparkling media cosplay trash collectors?
Nah, I just saw a low-hanging fruit and I picked it. Comics and comic fans (and creators!) are always easy targets. We have a Kirkman gag in #32 that I have no doubt EVERYBODY is going to be talking about. Funny thing was, it was added at the (comparatively) last minute. Funny how you work and work and work on an issue, and it is a five-second last minute late addition that is going to get all the attention.
We end with the revelation that there’s more to come from the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova. While our vampirish friend has been our defacto “big bad” in the series, I get the feeling this crew is a bigger part of the puzzle than some other threats we’ve seen. How do you view their overall place in the series since they’re kicking off the second half?
It was very important these chicken cultist kick off the second half, because they are very important to the end, and everything that follows in the second half. Plus, after ten issues or so of meandering, we had to get back to the focus of things, which was the chicken flu/ban/conspiracy.
Finally, what is there to say at this point about this week’s issue #32? I get the impression we’ll be seeing more of Mason. Can Olive’s next step be far behind that?
Actually, we’re going to see Olive take a back-seat for a few issues as Colby steps into the spotlight. This arc is very much about him. Sorta the equivalent of what the first arc, “Taster’s Choice,” was for Tony, as we see Colby make his own bed, figuratively and literally, and then have to lay in it.
“Chew” #32 is on sale now.