“CHEW”-ing the fat with John Layman

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Originally published at Fangoria.com on April 23, 2011

Image Comics’ CHEW is about an FDA agent who receives psychic sensations from the food he eats, including from the people he bites as well. This series successfully manages to be so many things at once-a police procedural, horror/comedy and crime fiction. FANGORIA spoke with creator and author John Layman about his comic book series, his plans for his protagonist, the cannibal Tony Chu and the recent Will Eisner Award nominations.

FANGORIA: How did your writing career in comics begin?

JOHN LAYMAN: I started writing about comics for the San-Diego Union-Tribune and over the course of a couple years, I got to know people who worked at Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios. This eventually led to the offer of an assistant editor job, which led to an editor job. After about five years of learning the ins and outs of comic book-making and editing, I made the jump to freelance. That was about 10 years ago; so I’ve been in comics for about 15 years before CHEW made me an overnight success.

FANG: How did you come up with CHEW and Tony Chu, the cannibal detective?

LAYMAN: I have no idea. I smoke a lot of dope, so that may be the part of it. But I really have no recollection where the idea came from.

FANG: The banter between Tony Chu and his partner, John Colby, is full of humor and dry wit. Is it difficult to write dialogue such as this for each issue?

LAYMAN: Dialogue has never been difficult for me. I do like John Colby because he is so crazy and unrestrained. Colby and Tony’s sister, Toni, are my favorite characters to write.

FANG: CHEW has horror elements, a family drama and a police procedural all rolled into one. Is it difficult to bring all these elements into a cohesive story? How do you keep a clear vision of where the story might be heading?

LAYMAN: Some issues are easier than others. Sometimes I just breeze through an issue. Other times, particularly close to the end of a story arc, it’s absolutely torture. As for a clear vision, I may not know what happens in every issue, but I have certain landmarks and points I am working toward, and I know what happens then. I know how the book ends too; when we reach the 60-issue end point.

FANG: Comic book buffs were given an inside look at your writing in CHEW SCRIPT BOOK #1. When writing, is it easier to guide the artist in your vision by being more descriptive and having references?

LAYMAN: Yes. I pack a lot of details into my scripts. I add web links and describe how I visualize a page in my head. That being said, I’m a detail freak, not a control freak. I supply the details, but ultimately leave [artist] Rob [Guillory] with the power to veto me an idea and do his own thing at least visually if he thinks he can improve upon it, which he almost always can.

FANG: What is the collaborative process like between you and Guillory?

LAYMAN: I provide a script and he gives me back black and white low-resolution files. I letter the page and he colors it; and paste it all together in Photoshop. We basically do the entire book, just top to bottom, the two of us-all writing, pencils, inks, coloring, lettering and production.

FANG: In recent news, the 2011 Will Eisner Award nominations were released. CHEW is nominated for Best Writer, Best Penciler/Inker and Best Continuing Series. Do nominations such as these put pressure on you and your writing?

LAYMAN: Yeah. Between this and the TV show Showtime is developing, I have flashes of nervousness. It’s certainly fair to say I never expected CHEW would merit this sort of attention.

FANG: The Will Eisner Award is a prestigious prize amongst the comic book industry. What would a win mean to you and the series?

LAYMAN: Well, this sounds like a cliché, but it really is an honor just to be nominated. We won the Eisner and the Harvey last year, and this just shows we are not a flash in the pan, debuting strong and then fading away.

FANG: What can readers expect from the next issues of CHEW?

LAYMAN: Things are going to get very dark for Tony Chu very soon. He’s not going to keep his job much longer, and that’s not even the worst of what’s in store for him.

FANG: What are you working on now?

LAYMAN: CHEW 19, a GODZILLA miniseries from IDW Publishing, SPIDER-MAN, DEADPOOL, HULK annuals for Marvel Comics and an unannounced project with artist Sam Keith. Busy, busy!