John Layman Cooks Up "Chew's" Half-Way Point

When it comes to Image Comics' hit series "Chew," it's hard to write about the book without making food puns.

Part of that is due to the series' high concept -- Agent Tony Chu's struggles as a "Cibopath" who gains psychic impressions from his food living in a world where chicken has been outlawed. And part of it is writer John Layman's penchant for naming his characters after every edible substance known to man (aided by the robust illustrations of artist and co-creator Rob Guillory). And of course, part of it is just that it's fun to say things like "Layman Cooks Up 'Chew's' Half-Way Point."

But however you want to justify the puns, there's no denying that next week's issue #30 promises to be a major moment in the ongoing story of Tony Chu -- even if he's not around to see most of it. The comic marks the end of the "Space Cakes" arc and the end of the book's first half, and Layman and Guillory have promised some major shake-ups to the story as a result.

To help readers get caught up on their regular diet of "Chew" news, CBR spoke to Layman about all the twists and turns that have led to this moment. From the flash-forward issue, readers have been waiting months to understand to the secret relationships set to tear Tony's world apart and from the revelations about the powers of the Chu family to the vampiric visitor who takes a bite out of #30's wedding event, Layman dishes all the details below.

CBR News: John, the "Space Cakes" arc of the book contained a lot of revelations, a lot of changes and a lot of silliness leading up to this half-way point. In covering that ground on our way to #30, I thought we'd start at a mid-point story from the arc: issue #27, which you published as a "flash forward" way back when.

The only other instance I can think of where a comic published out of sequence like this was the original "StormWatch" in the '90s, though I'm pretty sure they did that with little to no idea where they were going. Here, we knew you were teasing everything from Tony's hospitalization from "Major League Chew" to Toni's precognitive powers. Were there some other pieces you wanted to specifically play with early, or was the opportunity for a fun stunt the main draw?

John Layman: I think "Spawn" did it too, but I'm not 100% sure. For me, it was a bit of a fun gimmick and a neat way to focus on a character that sees the future with a stunt that jumps ahead and shows the readers the future. More practically, #27 was an issue I had pretty firmly in my head, so I went ahead and wrote it and then thought, "What the hell? Let's get it out there" rather than sit on a script for a year or more.

I think one thing we'll be talking about a lot moving forward is how hard and fast you've got the rest of the series plotted out. For example, when you actually got to the "Space Cakes" arc, were there any troubles caused by having done #27 so early?

No. I mean, it was a bit of a cheat, because I knocked the lead character out of commission, and then introduced a fair amount of new characters, so I didn't really have to worry about tying things up too terribly much. I knew Tony would be in the hospital, and it was pretty much just a matter of putting him there.

Speaking of which, Tony's hospitalization has allowed us to see some other character dynamics from Toni and Chow to Colby and Poyo to Toni and Valenzano. Why take your main character off the stage like that?

I knew I wanted to focus on some other characters -- Olive and Toni, specifically -- and the best way for them to not be standing in the shadow of the main character was get rid of him altogether. And while Tony is the main character, I also wanted to stress that this is an ensemble book, and can stand on its own just on the strength of the rest of the cast. In that, I think it succeeded, but it is nice to be working with Tony again, who returns in a big way, post #30.

One of the big changes in the book over the course of the past few issues is the fact that we now know how the core cast's powers work in full -- at least it seems we do. From Toni's aforementioned precognitive abilities to the continuing drama of Tony's (and Mason and the Vampire and Olive's) ability to retain the knowledge they absorb from others, it seems that some of the cards are turned over now for "Chew." How important a lynchpin for the book is this phase?

This might be the obvious answer, but with the first half of "Chew" over, or nearly so, all the major elements, questions and mysteries have been set up. Now comes the hard part of explaining and resolving. I don't think too many more crazy elements are going to come out of left field at this point. Everything has been set up that needs to be.

Let's look at some of the simmering plot details we'll be dealing with in #30 and beyond. One of the ongoing gags in "Chew" is that every time there's some new global freakout, a different government agency is elevated to being the most important one of all. Right now, we've got Toni at NASA in the lead spot, Colby slumming at the USDA and Caesar Valenzano still at the kneecapped FDA. Will all these agencies remain in the mix moving forward?

Things are going to return to status quo a bit after #30. And this will be apparent after the events of #30 why it needs to. Tony will be back with the FDA, as will Colby, and there is going to be a very big new threat they are going to have to deal with.

Meanwhile, Olive is undergoing her "menteeship" with Savoy where recently she's seem to get in line with his plan after absorbing some pretty crazy chocolate carving powers. What does all this hold for when Tony finds out?

Tony's been out of things for a while. When he comes to -- issue #31 -- there's going to be a lot of things different that he's going to have to adjust to. And the collision course between Tony and Savoy gets even more inevitable. They want the same thing, after all -- they are just going about it through very different means.

Our Vampire -- or should I call him The Collector? -- is also out there. He's obviously one step ahead of Colby and the rest of the government agents, but the most enticing tease seen so far in the book is the fact that he's been feeding off Tony himself. What extra advantage does that give The Collector?

The Vampire is at this point an amalgamation of abilities and powers, very dangerous as a result, and getting more dangerous with every meal. A confrontation between Tony and the Vampire is also inevitable, but Tony is clearly not going to be able to manage to take him down on his own.

Lastly, we've got Toni and her boss Paneer who are set to be married, yet who, thanks to Toni's powers, we know may actually be doomed. If she's seeing such a scary end for the man who's infatuated with her, why is Toni going through with this wedding?

Toni agreed to marry Paneer despite whatever horror she sees in the future because she sees some good coming out of it. Maybe a long-term good trumping whatever scary thing in the future she sees. Toni doesn't love Paneer, but she clearly has some affection for him, and making him happy, at least briefly, probably plays into her decision as well.

Over the first half of the series, we saw a number of recurring elements, from D-Bear to breakout star POYO. There are a few other elements that could carry forward further, like Chogs and exploding cows, but I thought I'd put it to you: what are the most important things for fans to have in their minds going into #30 and beyond?

If I could assign homework, I'd say reread issues #14 and #20. Those issues in particular play a very important role moving forward, for the next arc in particular.

Let's end where we started: your long term plan. You've noted in the past on CBR that the only character guaranteed to survive to issue #60 is Applebee -- which we saw a tease of in #25. So at least we know one specific scene that's set for the finale. How hard and fast do you have things plotted out for the back end of the series, and are there any parts of the overall story that you're still trying to figure out?

It's weird, because some stuff I know very clearly: certain landmarks, the cover and ending to issue #44, the last two issues, who dies and when. Other stuff is an absolute blank slate. It was difficult starting on Vol. 7, which initially I did not have the firmest hold on, while I have a crystal clear notion of all of Vol. 8 or issues #36-#40. At one point I thought maybe I'd jump ahead and just do an entire arc out of sequence, but then saner thoughts prevailed.

"Chew" #30, the milestone halfway point of the series, ships next week from Image Comics.

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