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!"
For this month's column, CBR News spoke with Layman about "Chew" #12, which just arrived in stores this past week. Layman discussed the return of Poyo, the sexual tension between Applebee and Colby, the growing relationship between Tony and Amelia and the return of Mason Savoy. Plus, he gave us a rundown on his plans for Comic-Con International!
CBR News: John, it seems that tinkering around with format is a constant fixture in "Chew," whether that's through the various character introduction pages or the opening of this particular issue, where you're breaking down the fourth wall to tell the reader that the pages of "Chew" #12 were shuffled out of sequence. Is that a specific goal for you in "Chew," shaking things up with new narrative devices? Is it something you're consciously planning ahead of time, or is it something that sort of flows once you hit the scripting stage?
John Layman: Nah, I was just having a little fun. I'm constantly trying new things narratively and structurally. I like playing with format and doing things I've never done before, and seeing how they work out. For instance, in "Chew" #16, I have two double page spreads in a row, which is something I have never tried. But it's rarely something I plan in advance; it usually just comes organically when I'm working on the script.
We get some more narrative misdirection as we believe we're watching the announcer commentate over Raymond Kulolo's beating, but instead, he's actually presiding over a brutal underground cockfight - starring none other than Poyo! How can you not love a killer chicken?
Yeah, there are big plans for Poyo, and he is going to appear more or less once per story arc. I also know what Poyo's ultimate fate is, and his overall arc. I think it will shock people what a large and important role Poyo will ultimately play in the "Chew" story. It's funny, because I've laid out all the pieces, but I would bet anything that nobody can guess what has been set up with this character.
Going back to the idea of character introduction pages, you're cementing the relationship between Tony and Amelia here. It's still relatively early in the run of "Chew." What are some of the pros and cons of getting Tony and Amelia together at this point in the series, and what ultimately led you to pull the trigger on the relationship?
I dunno. I never could stand the shows that sort of existed on the sexual tension of its protagonists, like "Moonlighting" or "Cheers." The characters spent all sorts of time attracted to one another and as soon as they got together, they got boring. I guess I wanted to skip all the will-they-or-won't-they fake drama and throw the couple together right away. I was also interested in presenting a healthy, monogamous, adult relationship in comics, because I'm not sure we see a whole lot of them. This is not to say there will not be some complications, and one big one is coming pretty damn soon, but, in general, Tony and Amelia were made for each other, figuratively and literally, and their love story is one of the big overall stories in the book.
Later, Tony figures out why Applebee has been acting so strange lately - Colby "took care of it." The relationship between Colby and Applebee has definitely provided some great laughs, as well as adding a nice layer of depth to both characters. But as much as it's getting played for laughs now, is this relationship something to keep an eye on for dramatic content going forward? Are we going to see it play out on a deeper level than the comedic routine?
I don't want to explain that. It may be, it may not be. I'm doing something else in "Chew" that's totally devious - I'm presenting something, playing it for laughs, and down the line readers are going to feel terrible for thinking this particular thing was funny. As for Colby and Applebee, it could be deeper. It could also be totally juvenile humor, played for cheap, gratuitous laughs. And just maybe it will be both. I guess that's one of the liberating things about "Chew," is it could be both, or either, or neither, and there's no expectation about how something has to be.
Tony gets paired up with D-Bear for a sting operation to bring down the chicken fights. These two have a bit of history together.
This is D-Bear's third appearance in the book. He's been around since issue #1, and is not somebody that Tony is particularly fond of. Remember, Tony and Colby were trying to bust D-Bear when their case went haywire and Colby ended up with a hatchet in his face. D-Bear is a murderer, a liar, a manipulator and a thug. He also knows how the system works, and how to work the system. Usually he ends up on top. We'll see how long that lasts.
As Tony and D-Bear go to meet Mr. Jones, the audience is briefly introduced to another one of "those weird special people," a man who can apparently identify the ingredients in anything he eats. Safe to say we haven't seen the last of this guy?
Yeah. [Laughs] That dude will be back. In issue #21 in particular, I think.
Just as Tony and D-Bear are about to be on the receiving end of Mr. Jones' method of enforcement, Tony frees Poyo and Poyo saves the day. I don't really have a question here, John. Just wanted to point out the awesome action-packed double-paged spread. Nicely done!
Poyo will be even more badass in his next appearance. You seriously have not seen anything yet as far as Poyo is concerned. I'm currently writing his next appearance right now.
After all that adrenaline, we get to one of my favorite bits of the issue where Amelia is essentially feeding Tony with her words. It's a great interplay between their respective abilities. Was this something you had figured out early on - Amelia's powers can essentially gift Tony with the sensation of taste -Â or was it a happy accident you realized along the way?
Well, as I said before, "Chew" began as a lot of very different ideas and stories, which all seemed to rotate around food. I knew about the "cannibal cop," just like I knew about the "food writer who writes stuff you can taste." It was pretty early on in the pitch stage I knew her ability would compliment him, and that she was probably destined to be the book's love interest.
"Just Desserts: Chapter II" ends with a major teaser - the return of Mason Savoy. We've seen him on the solicited covers for the next couple of issues, so his return isn't a complete shock for fans that keep themselves abreast of that kind of thing. But what can you tell us about the return of Savoy? What's he up to as he comes back into the thick of things?
Savoy is doing what he was doing at the FDA, investigating the "real story" behind the Avian Flu. Now he is a wanted man, in on a collision course with Tony Chu, who Savoy has warned to stay out of his way. Their meeting in this arc has repercussions that fuel events of subsequent arcs.
We've got our first ever fan question to throw your way before letting you off the hook, John. Tom Fitzpatrick wrote in and asked: "'Chew' focuses mainly on the sense of taste. The human body has five senses - taste, sight, hearing, touch and smell. Are there any stories that will touch upon the other four senses that people enjoy normally, or abnormally?"
Not really, or not immediately, anyway. I won't rule anything out, but "Chew" is primarily a food comic, so most characters' "powers" have to deal with the sense of taste. Which is not to say somebody might pop up later with something having to do with another sense, but all the characters appearing in upcoming issues have abilities and specialties that directly relate to food and/or taste.
Before we punch out of here, Comic-Con is getting close enough to taste. Got any exciting plans for the show?
Well, there was some miscommunication with Image, and I was under the impression that the "Chew Omnivore Edition" hardcover would be out by SDCC, and that Rob and I would also have our comps, so we only ordered 50 for the booth at the con. Again, thinking that it would be available everywhere and we'd bring plenty of our own copies. Turns out the book is not out until August 11, and we're not gonna have comps, so we're going to have 50 copies of this gorgeous oversized hardcover, and only 50 copies. First come, first serve, at cover price. It is not going to last long on show floor!
We're also going to have several hundred copies of a Poyo Convention Exclusive #12. I felt like it was kinda exploitive to charge the rates a lot of people charge for exclusive covers, so I wanted to do something a bit above and beyond to make it worth the price - beyond the rarity, at least. We talked to Image and the printer, and are using a Pantone "5th Color." I have not seen the printed cover, but it should have an almost fluorescent/neon green to it not regularly seen in comic covers.
Rob and I will both be manning a booth at Image Isle, splitting a table with Kody Chamberlain's "Sweets." If you're going to the con, please stop by and say hello. You can admire how handsome Rob is, or mock me for being so fat!
Final final order of business: give us a look at what's ahead, sir. What are we in store for when "Chew" #13 rolls around next month?
You want to talk about screwing with formats? I play a really, truly devious narrative trick on the readers, and really deserve to go to hell for it. More than usual, that is. I think people would be pissed about what I'm doing in #13, based on what they are expecting and perhaps wanting, except that #13 is so damn good. Way better than #12 in my opinion, and certainly funnier. And yes, there is more Mason Savoy. And "Just Desserts'" theme of "partnership" becomes a little clearer.
"Chew" #12, written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, is currently on sale.
Check back in next month for another edition of "CHEW ON THIS," and make sure to send us your questions!