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’re sitting 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, CBR News spoke with Layman about last week’s “Chew” #13 and the book’s recent win as Best New Series at the 2010 Eisner Awards, the announcement of a television adaptation, the idea of “Lost” actor Ken Leung as Tony and the simultaneously disgusting and hilarious concept of fricken – or chogs, depending on your term of preference!
CBR News: Some pretty cool things have happened in the world of “Chew” since last we spoke, John. First off, the book won an Eisner Award for Best New Series. What was your immediate reaction to the honor, and how are you feeling now that some time has passed since receiving the award?
John Layman: I think it’s finally sunk in that we won it. For a while, I was just going around in a continual state of disbelief. As for the actual ceremony, I was so hung over from getting blasted the night before on straight vodka, and so tired and depleted from a non-stop day of con, I just wanted the Eisners to be over – but when they announced we’d won, it was like we were shot with an elephant gun full of adrenaline. I think that lasted the rest of the con.
Beyond the Eisner, Comic-Con also brought the announcement that Circle of Confusion is putting together a new television project based on “Chew,” with Stephen Hopkins on board to direct and executive produce. What can you tell us about the deal – how did it come about and how involved have you been in developing the show? And is now the time for fans to launch the official “Ken Leung for Tony Chu” campaign?
Just to clarify, there is no “deal,” per se. We have a director, and a pretty accomplished one, who is interested in developing “Chew.” Circle of Confusion had me meet with Stephen Hopkins and we talked about “Chew” and he’s interested in doing it. He’s currently completing a film, and once he does, [we’re] going to start moving with “Chew” in full force, and ideally an official “deal” will follow that.
As for Ken Leung, a friend of mine got the contact information of his manager and we sent them a couple runs of the book, along with a nice note saying how much we liked him in general, and for Tony Chu. I thought since his name had been thrown around in so many interviews and message board postings, he should just be aware of the book. I didn’t know what to expect, but we heard back from the manager and then from Leung. We’ve had a few back and forth emails since, but the bottom line is that Ken Leung is not only aware of “Chew,” but he’s read it and seems to like it. That’s a start, right?
Let’s move onto “Chew” #13. The issue gives us a much clearer sense of Caesar Valenzano, a character we saw in “International Flavor.” How early on did you know that Caesar was going to be a recurring character with this sort of double agent angle?
Caesar showed up on the last page of issue #2 and appeared even back then with the intention he would eventually play a large role in the book. I did not want “Chew” to be too complex or overwhelming initially, so there has been a slow rollout of characters. Two more characters that will play a significant role in the book will be introduced in issue #15. One of them, I think, is my new favorite character to write.
Caesar claims that he’s working on the right side of the law – that he’s saved Tony’s life on past occasions, in fact – but how much should we trust this guy? If you were in Tony’s shoes, what would your read on Caesar be?
I don’t get the sense that Tony fully trusts anybody he works with, except his partner John Colby. We’ll get a sense of the depth of their friendship in issue #14.
Speaking of Colby, one thing I’ve learned in reading “Chew” is that you very rarely place a character or a moment in the book just for the sake of having it there. With that in mind, when Tony and Colby go to Amelia’s office, should we be paying attention to the sports desk writer giving Colby dirty looks every time he passes by? Is this a guy we’ll see again?
The fifth trade paperback, issues #21-#25, is tentatively titled “Baseball, Hot Dogs & Apple Pie.” You might think that a story arc about baseball might find a spot for a sports writer within its pages – and you’d be right!
I think many “Chew” readers will agree that you’ve outdone yourself again in the gross-out food department with the introduction of PoultPlus and fricken. I can only imagine that the idea for fricken came to you in a divine moment of clarity, but enlighten us – how did you come up with the concept?
Even from the pitch stage I brought up that frog is supposed to taste like chicken. Actually, everything is supposed to taste like chicken – frog is just supposed to taste like it more so. I knew I’d be doing something with frog, and the artificial meat magnate R.J. Montero was already experimenting with frogs, so it seemed like mixing frogs and chicken was the right thing to do!
Which term do you prefer – fricken or chog?
I prefer chog. Rob prefers fricken.
“Chew” #13 features the grand return of Mason Savoy, and as always, I’m impressed by how agile he is in the midst of a fight given his size. Can you talk a bit about choreographing Savoy’s fight sequences alongside Rob? Where did the character’s fighting style come from and how did it develop?
At some point in his life, Mason Savoy has eaten people who are much better fighters than average, and picked up their skills as his own. As for the dynamic between Rob and I over [choreographing] fights, they are the part of the script I leave the loosest. Rob’s the guy who is gonna make the fight shine anyway, so why tie his hands? I give him a loose idea about what’s going on, who is left standing and how at the end of the fight and for the most part let him pace and choreograph as he sees fit.
The issue concludes with the same moment as last issue’s ending, except this time, we get it from Savoy’s point of view – and judging by the look of it, he’s more than a little bit caught off guard by the presence of the FDA. Is this our first look at a new, more vulnerable Mason Savoy? Or does the big guy still have some tricks up his sleeve in the coming issues?
Tony continues to be an impediment to Savoy. Savoy does not want to hurt Tony, but Tony interferes enough that eventually Savoy will be left with no choice.
We’ve got a couple of reader questions from Stanley Cen, who asks: “Have John and Rob made any plans on future projects together?”
Rob talks about it. I am very old, and very tired. I am just concentrating on living long enough to finish “Chew.”
Stanley’s also wondering: “Is there any particular reason for Tony being Asian? We don’t see a lot of Asian protagonists in any media really, who aren’t performing martial arts moves or broken English, so is there a reason for Tony being Asian, is it just for that title pun, Ken Leung, or is there just not really a reason at all?”
Beyond the pun of the “Chu/Chew” name, I looked around and didn’t see a lot of Asians in American comics, or in American entertainment in general. It’s weird, because I watch a lot of Asian cinema. I go on binges where for months on end I will watch a lot more Asian movies than American movies. I guess I just wanted a lead that didn’t look like everybody else in American entertainment. I wasn’t trying to make a big point. That is, perhaps I had a few little reasons, but not one big reason.
Eh. I think I’m just rambling here, with no good answer. Let’s move on!
As always, let’s end this with a look ahead. What’s in store for readers when “Chew” #14 rolls around?
Well, I think everybody knows a confrontation with Savoy is coming. I think the real surprise of the issue will be Tony’s awkward marriage proposal.
“Chew” #13, 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!