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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:

John Layman is many things. Writer. Editor. Letterer. Excellent drinking companion. And one funny, funny dude. He's also a friend- which meant when I sat down to send him some interview questions, I couldn't take it easy on him- he'd think I'd gone soft!

MM: Let's start with rumor control- any truth that CHEW is some sort of condition related to your parole?

JL: No, but I’m hoping this interview earns me a conjugal visit!

MM:. Why a food detective? Is he more Bourdain or Lagasse? God help us- he isn't based on Rachel Ray, is he?

JL: Ah, but you misunderstand here. Tony Chu is not really a food detective. Unlike you or I, he does not really enjoy food, because when he tastes it, he knows every damn thing that goes into it, particularly when what he is eating used to be a living being. If anything, Tony Chu is the anti-food detective, because who wants to eat when your job entails eating murder victims to find out how they died?

“Chew,” the book, however, is very food-centric. And absolutely Anthony Bourdain. Surprising, adventurous, caustic, and probably more than a little bit depraved.

MM: There's obviously a sharp political component to the book. I'm honestly wondering if CHEW is the first story to ever make the FDA something of a villainous presence. Is it ever difficult to take that aspect of the book seriously?

JL: Well, I wouldn't agree that the FDA is necessarily a villainous presence. After the bird flu kills 23 million people in the US and 116 million around the world, a Poultry Prohibition is instituted, and the FDA is charged with enforcing it. They’re trying to save lives. Sure, they are taking away rights we have taken for granted for, like, ever, but they are doing it for the safety of you and me and everybody else. It’s for the best. Right?

MM: It's been a while since you had a regular comic on the stands. Have you missed it?

JL: Well, that’s not completely true, it just feels like it, because TEK JANSEN has been limping along, coming out sporadically after a very long delay between issues #1 and #2, to the point it kinda fell off the radar, I’m afraid. But that’s not completely me anyway, since I’m working with Tom Peyer, and a lot of good folks at the Colbert Report and Comedy Central who supply lots of impact.

That’s the long answer. The short answer is yes. I took a job in video games, to write a massively multiplayer online game (CHAMPIONS ONLINE) and with that and a two-year old I might have misunderestimated how much time I could devote to write. CHEW is a book that both takes a long time to write, and has been germinating in my mind for a long time—literally since I left WildStorm six years ago. This was the book I left to do.

MM: What's your working relationship with Rob Guillory like? You've shown me some amazing pages from him on this project. Will this be the book that makes him a superstar? Are Marvel and DC going to come knocking and his door and try and take him away from you?

JL: They will if they are smart, so we probably don’t have to worry about DC. Rob is insanely talented, and I think this book will make him a household name out of the gate for those who read comics who are able to look beyond spandex and capes. I could not be happier. He’s the perfect collaborator. Like Dave Crosland, he gives me everything I ask for, and still surprises me by giving me something cooler than I envisioned when I wrote the script, or something completely unexpected, and absolutely awesome.

MM: Why are beets the food that escapes your hero Tony Chu's power? Was that the cruelest fate you could think of?

JL: Well, it wasn’t a matter of finding the grossest food—though your tastes may very-- so much as it was the most inconvenient food. I’ve discovered it’s great fun to be cruel to Tony Chu, and that’s just one of the ways I make his life a living hell, each and every issue.

MM: You're doing CHEW in a series of arcs- are you planning ahead for the trades at all? Do I get to write an introduction?

JL: I already named the lead supporting cast member after you, Marc Mason, so STFU! I’m speaking of course of Mason Savoy, Tony Chu’s older, wizened and extremely long-winded partner in the FDA, who plays a pivotal role as Tony’s mentor in the story’s first five issue arc, “Taster’s Choice.”

I’m not planning for specifically for trades, but that’s almost inevitable in this day and age. The book would have to flop spectacularly for it to not have a trade—knock wood. I’m writing 5 issue arcs, because that in my experience is the perfect length for me. My six issue GAMBIT runs felt a little long, while my four issue XENA runs felt too short. But my SCARFACE and THUNDERCATS five issue runs were like Baby Bear’s porridge, just right, so I’ll be writing in that format… until I decide otherwise, anyway.

MM: How did the book wind up at Image? You pretty much know people at every publisher- was there a bidding war or anything like that, or was Image always where you wanted to be?

JL: Image seems like it was the best fit, though IDW and Dark Horse would have been fine too. I was really inspired to get off my ass and get this book going after Robert Kirkman gave his “Creator-Owned Manifesto” speech after San Diego Con last year, so that was surely also a factor. I was moving on CHEW, but that was a real inspiration to speed things along and get back into comics, which is what I love doing most of all.

MM: You're also lettering the book, a professional skill you've been using since your earliest days in comics. How have you adjusted your lettering philosophy to work with Rob's finely detailed art?

JL: Well, you try not to cover shit up, first and foremost, and it is always painful to do, because sometimes you have to, even something as simple as a waiter on the background, or a bottle of catsup.

I absolutely love lettering my own stuff, and I think if more writers realized the amount of control if gives to your writing, everyone would do it. You can alter the script, or edit it, to better suit the art. And it helps that I am not a noodler. I’ll go back and change things if I don't like it, but, in general, I don’t have a hard time moving on. Which is good, ‘cause otherwise you could sit there and play around with words and balloons until the end of time, and never get a book out.

MM: Scene I want to see: Tony Chu needs information from a woman and he makes out with her in order to "read" her gum and the martini she's been drinking. Can you make it happen?

JL: OR he could just bite her tongue real hard and claim he is a bad kisser, and get a reading from her from her blood—which would be faster and more efficient.

Marc Mason

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