John Layman and Rob Guillory‘s “Chew” has the kind of immediately appealing premise that seems like a natural fit for a TV or film adaptation: “Cibopath” detective Tony Chu solves crimes by receiving clues through eating whatever might provide evidence. The comic book series debuted at Image Comics in 2009, and it didn’t take long for it to get Hollywood’s attention, with reports surfacing in 2011 that a TV show was in development at Showtime.
That deal fell through — but “Chew” has found new life as a currently in-development animated feature adaptation from Jeff Krelitz and David Boxenbaum’s Heavy Metal production company, formed after the pair acquired the long-running magazine earlier this year. As reported late last month, “The Walking Dead” actor Steven Yeun will voice lead character Tony Chu, and “The Guild” co-creator Felicia Day will voice Amelina Mintz. Layman wrote the screenplay — a direct adaptation of the first “Chew” series arc, “Taster’s Choice” — and Guillory is set to contribute to the feature’s visuals. The animated “Chew” is planned for a digital and home release.
CBR News spoke with Layman about his experience with the “Chew’ animated feature thus far and who might else be involved, and how the project affected his decision to leave DC Comics weekly series “Batman Eternal.”
CBR News: John, let’s start with the obvious — given the long road you’ve been on in getting a “Chew” adaptation off the ground, how excited are you for this to finally be in motion? It looks like you’ve been very involved with this, including being present at voiceover sessions.
John Layman: Well, I am excited, though I try to have realistic expectations. Things in Hollywood work at their own speed, so there is no point sitting there watching the kettle boil, so to speak. I just am plowing ahead on the comic, which is and will always be my primary focus. But it certainly is a pleasant surprise watching this cartoon stuff take shape, faster than expected, and Jeff Krelitz has been great with communication and keeping us apprised of everything every step of the way.
What can you share about the experience thus far of working with Jeff Krelitz and the Heavy Metal crew? How closely has their vision for “Chew” matched with yours?
Jeff has been fantastic, because not only does he know what he’s doing, as far as animation and Hollywood stuff, he’s also clearly a fan, of “Chew,” of comics, and of nerd culture. You don’t have to talk to him for very long to realize he’s doing it for love, not just a quick Hollywood buck. And, as somebody who grew up on Heavy Metal, there’s the added thrill of being a part of this new Heavy Metal iteration, and really an honor to be its first new animated production — hopefully the first of many.
And, so far, Jeff’s vision is my vision, as what Jeff seems to be setting out to do is almost exact interpretation of the first TPB, just bringing it to life for an all-new audience.
How much has your “Chew” collaborator Rob Guillory been involved with the adaptation?
Rob’s not too involved yet, though he’s been kept in the loop about everything. He will be more when we get to the art side of things. Character turnaround and animatics and that sort of stuff. The “look” of the cartoon will be Rob’s domain. And, yes, the cartoon will be done as close to Rob’s art style as we can.
What was the process like of writing the screenplay, and distilling “Chew” into an animated feature script?
Actually, the “screenplay” is not terribly different from the original comic script. The animated [feature] will be a direct adaption of the first trade, so a great majority is literally word for word.
Last week brought the news that Steven Yeun is voicing Tony Chu, and Felicia Day is voicing Amelia Mintz. What has you excited about both of those actors? And can you reveal any more actors involved at this time?
We’re all terribly excited about both Steven and Felicia. Felicia is somebody we’d talked about from very early on, and I knew she was a longtime fan of the book. Discovering Steven was also a fan was also a fantastic surprise — I just always assume nobody has even heard of the book, let alone read it. But Steven too, it seems, was into “Chew” very early on, which, of course. is super cool. Meeting Steven, seeing Felicia again, and hearing both of them bring my words to life, was really the thrill of a lifetime.
And, no, I can’t tell you about who else we’re talking about for the cast, except the next casting announcement, assuming all goes as planned, is pretty much guaranteed to blow minds.
Obviously, this project had to take a good chunk of your time — was this part of the reason (or the big reason) you stepped away from “Batman Eternal”? And are you looking to take on projects outside of “Chew” as your schedule (hopefully) lightens up?
Well, that was the excuse to quit, but, in truth, I wasn’t a good fit for the project. I’m not a huge continuity guy, and I’m a bit of a lone wolf, creatively, and “Batman Eternal” required a encyclopedic knowledge of the Bat-verse and to some extent [the DC Universe], which I don’t have and don’t want. I liked “Detective” because they were largely self-contained stories featuring classic villains of my choosing. “Batman Eternal” touches on every aspect of the Bat-verse, and more, and that’s not really my area of expertise.
I’m fairly slow, and selective, in my projects. I have room for about two books a month, and change, and I wanted a book I had more “ownership” of, if that makes sense. The Batman stuff was fun, and I am both friends and fans of James [Tynion], Ray [Fawkes], Tim [Seeley] and Scott [Snyder], but after two years of living in Gotham I was ready to try something new. As I’ve said, Batman will always be there, where “Chew” will not. Hopefully Gotham will take me back when I am ready.
So I’m not actively looking for anything, just sorta waiting to see if something cool falls into my lap while I get ahead on “Chew.”