NYCC: Layman & Gillory "Chew" on the Big Apple

Fans came out in droves for the "Chew" panel Friday afternoon at New York Comic Con. The incredibly enthusiastic crowd squeezed into the packed room to see writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory talk about their Image Comics series with moderator David Brothers.

The panel began at the very beginning of the series, specifically the first issue which showed protagonist Tony Chu eating a bowl of soup and using his Cibopathic talents to feel what the chef was doing. It was a dark scene, one that Layman actually wrote before he started working with Guillory. Eventually, after a few issues, Layman started switching gears when it came to tone. "Chew started off darker than it might be now," he told fans. "Working with Rob gave me the freedom to be goofier." For his part, Guillory also started feeling more comfortable with his new collaborator and began to put more of himself into the story.

"Oh, it's agony," Layman said when asked about the writing process. "I know I need to write but I've got to do my 'Warcraft' dailies and 'Grand Theft Auto' just came out," Layman said to laughter. The writer also explained that when deadlines are looming he will go to bed with a few ideas of what he needs to write the next day, wake up around 4:00 AM with ideas, write till 9:00 AM and then crash afterward.

Speaking of future issues, several upcoming covers were shown off. "Chew" #37 features two equally distributed covers that fit together to form one image. One features Tony Chu eating at one end of a dining room table with his daughter Olive at the other. Later, Layman explained the #38 will focus on Savoy and Colby in the FDA prison and #39 will pay off a story harkening back to the space plants in #14.

With four arcs left before the series concludes, fans can look forward to an entire arc focusing on Poyo, then one starring the vampire, followed by a Savoy-centric one before coming back around to Tony Chu for the final arc which ends the book at #60.

For his part, Guillory focused on his artistic approach to the title. "I approach it more like they're on broadway," the artist said of his characters, whom he says over-act and over-emote. "I think my strength is that you can probably read 'Chew' without any words and still get it. I make them over-act."

When it comes to all the wacky powers in the book, Layman admits that none of them are based in reality. "Nothing exists, but it's all root words," he said. "Everything's B.S." Instead of doing any kind of scientific research, Layman will figure the power out and then look into ancient Greek and Latin to figure out a title that makes the most sense.

Before getting into the question and answer portion of the panel, Layman talked about the upcoming Poyo-centric arc called "Chicken Tenders." "Chew" #45 will contain a tri-fold poster that showcases all of the enemies we've seen him face as well as some new ones. There was even talk of another Poyo one-shot that will either be hard sci-fi or high fantasy. When asked, the audience seemed more interested in the latter idea.

The first question revolved around the movie references and background gags that are a staple of the series. Layman said 95% of those come from Guillory. The artist said he got the idea from re-reading "Watchmen" several times. Layman also said he rarely gives Guillory direction when it comes to determining a character's nationality.

Layman returned to the book's origins for a bit, nothing that he financed the book after getting a regular job and receiving a freelance check. With a budget in place, Layman started looking for an artist and after a year of searching met up with Guillory. They figured the book would run for an arc and get to a trade and maybe do a few more whenever possible. Now they're more than halfway through the planned 60-issue series with four arcs left.

Speaking of the book's finale, Layman cited "Preacher," "Transmetropolitan" and "Y: The Last Man" as other books that told the kind of story he wants to tell, noting that 60 issues allows for a rich story without getting too self indulgent.

One fan asked about Colby's fate, to which Layman said, "Colby will be dead, they're all dead," before laughing and saying that wasn't actually the case. On the topic of death, Layman also said he was going to keep one character alive after Robert Kirkman killed off a beloved character in his own hit Image title, "The Walking Dead."

"Can't you just let me write 'Chew' and leave me alone?" Layman responded when asked what his next project would be. "I want to play 'Warcraft' and 'Grand Theft Auto.'"

Layman said Poyo started life as a MacGuffin and morphed into a full-time character, and the duo showed off a few new pieces of merchandise that will be coming out soon. First was a Poyo statue, then an FDA badge from Skelton Crew Studios that was created directly from Guillory's turnarounds.

Asked if Layman has the entire series planned out, the writer said he knows the sign posts of the arcs and will even write the issues out of order. As a result, he sometimes finds himself struggling to fill in issues that end with a 5 or 8. Layman also said that he has known what the last three pages of the last issue will be since the very beginning.

"The Showtime thing all went away," Layman said of the proposed "Chew" television adaptation. "We kind of broke up with our Hollywood people. We now have a new Hollywood person who's much more interested in animation." Showtime was having trouble making live action stuff from the comics look funny, he said and they weren't interested in animation. "We don't care as much about the money as much as we do keeping it true." They want to keep the series as close to the comic as possible.

Adding to that will be a look that they want to reflect Guillory's style. "There's very specific things in my brain about how the characters act and react," Guillory said. The artist noted that he wants to do character designs, but doesn't have time to do something more in-depth like storyboards. "I would like there to at least be some humor guys on board," he said.

Guillory and Layman were also asked about the hardest part of their job. Layman said it was usually coming up with the case of the arc because the overarching stuff is already in his head and the character interactions can write themselves sometimes. For Guillory, he does his best to strike the balance between repeating elements that appear issue after issue and also breaking new ground.

Other elements like Threadless and comic inspired T-shirts worn by characters like Olive were also discussed. Layman said they aways asked first before using them in the book. However, they did not ask permission to put Robert Kirkman's face on hunky firemen images as seen in Olive's room. At some point when the series is completed, Layman said they will do a full, annotated list of comic book professionals appearing in the series.

Though he dodged a similar question earlier in the panel, Layman did say toward the end that he is not ruling out the possibilities of doing more stories set in the "Chew" Universe after the main series ends. "I am not planning things, but I don't ever want to say never," he said.

The panel concluded with both Layman and Guillory telling a curious fan that neither of them consider themselves foodies. The fans then filed out of the crowded room, hungry for more "Chew."

"Chew" #38 arrives October 30 from Image Comics.

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