FAN EXPO: "Chew" creators talk comics, television and the disgusting end

Creating comics, Hollywood, secret-agent chickens and C-section scars were on the menu as writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory discussed their comic, "Chew," at Fan Expo 2012 this weekend.

At their panel "Chewing the Fat," the pair told their origin story and shared some of their adventures in the world of television. They discussed their creative process and their casting pick for the lead character, Tony Chu.

Published by Image Comics, "Chew" takes place in a world where chicken is banned and Chu, a detective with the power to see the history of anything he eats, solves crimes by tasting anything, from people to evidence, that will give him a clue.

Before "Chew," Guillory was a penciller for manga publisher Tokyopop, where he said his editors didn't know how to handle his work because his art didn't fit the style. His final project with the company fell apart just as he finished work on a one-shot.

"The day I finished it, Tokyopop fired 85 percent of its staff, including our editor," Guillory said. "Literally as I pressed send, I get an e-mail saying our editor is fired. And this is has happened many times in my career."

Three months later, Guillory received a copy of Layman's first script for "Chew," and they met for the first time at Comic-Con International in San Diego in 2008. The two have been working together since then, enduring low sales but seeing rocketing attention once "Chew" became a flipbook paired with Robert Kirkman's and Tony Moore's "The Walking Dead."

Even with success, Guillory and Layman still run into creative glitches from time to time. For instance, Image Comics has suggested they get a colorist to help them work faster, but Layman and Guillory like the purity of "Chew" being a two-man project. There's also scheduling conflicts as Layman writes out of sequence, sometimes putting him far ahead of his artist, and other times, not so much.

"I got 'Poyo' a week before I started drawing," Guillory said, referring to the bionic chicken that stars in the one-shot "Chew: Secret Agent Poyo."Layman added, "I had written [issues] #28, #29 and #30. So I was 66 pages ahead, just not on the issue he needed."

Once the comic found success, Hollywood agencies started calling them, asking to represent them. Layman and Guillory settled on the Circle of Confusion management agency because the company already represented comic book writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Kirkman.

"So these guys [at the agency] take us out, wind us up and tell us exactly what we want to hear. You assume they're lying," Layman said, reflecting on the first few times he dealt with Hollywood managers. "And everything they've told us has come true."

"Chew" is currently in production as a television pilot on Showtime, and the creators already have an idea who they'd like to play Tony Chu. They want Ken Leung, who played Miles Straume on "Lost."

Layman, eager after he had won an Eisner Award, started sending copies to Leung's manager and mentioning his name in interviews. Two weeks later, Layman received an email straight from Leung.

"A week later I got another one, saying he was rereading it, and giving it to other 'Lost' cast members," Layman said, though he admitted he has no control over casting decisions. "Now I talk to Ken a couple times a year by email, knowing we have no power... We have no assurances beyond that it will have an Asian-American lead."

In the question-and-answer session, the theme shifted to shock and obscenity as fans asked about cannibal cookbooks and the series' conclusion. One fan suggested that since "Twilight" and "True Blood" have recipe books, maybe it was about time for "Chew" to take a shot at the literature-based culinary scene. The crowd replied with a unanimous cry of disgust. The creators laughed. They're used to it by now. Gross-out humor is part of the backbone of their series.

"I've kind of grown numb to it," Guillory said. "In issue #23, Tony is getting force-fed a foot, and [John] thought it was the most hardcore thing we've ever done. But I looked at it and went, 'Really?'"

Instead, Guillory said he thought the most revolting scene was of an elderly fat lady with C-section scars. Layman pointed out that was incredibly easy for him to write.

With a reminder that "Chew" is supposed to end at issue #60, fans immediately asked for hints about the end. The finale was supposed to be Layman's big secret, but thanks to some drinking at CCI, Guillory also knows.

"It ends on a joke--" Guillory started.

"Screw you, man, that's years of my life," Layman teased.

Laughing, Guillory continued, "It's a very significant joke that is so painfully obvious that I can't believe no one has figured it out. But it's there. That's what the secret is."

Layman merely asserted that the final issue will probably be over-sized and late.

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