2011 has been a good year for Image Comics’ “CHEW”. The series has not only been successfully optioned for TV rights thanks to Showtime, but it has also netted itself 3 Eisner Award noms. Not bad for a series that most publishers didn’t think would ever sell, much less become an industry-wide hit. However, for all of the odds that were against it, “CHEW” has beaten them all in order to become one of the most surprising creator-owned hit series in years, and all because of the creator himself, writer John Layman. John was gracious enough to sit down and talk to me about the project, the Eisner nominations, and the foray into Hollywood, which you can read beyond the break. Read on for the skinny…
THEoDEAD: “John, thanks again for taking the time out of your schedule to do this with us. Obviously it has been a huge year for you, and, of course, “CHEW”. Recently it was announced that Showtime had picked up the rights to bring the series to the small screen (we will touch on that more later), and you have also been nominated for 3 Eisner Awards this year. Congratulations, it has to be an honor to be nominated for the Eisners, much less multiple times! What was it like finding out that all your hard work had translated to getting multiple nods for the highest prize in comics?”
John Layman: “It’s still very surreal. I never expected CHEW to be a hit, especially considering the long rocky road it too to get the book off the ground. I had pitched it for a very long time, and it was rejected by so many people that my expectations for the series were very low. In fact, I went in thinking it would flop, or be –best case scenario– a well-received cult hit I’d be able to show to editors to get other work. That something so seemingly off-kilter could get so much attention, critically and commercial, is something I never expected, but am grateful for every single day.”
THEoDEAD: ““CHEW” has done nothing in the past months but continue to grow in popularity for yourself and publisher Image Comics. I know that you have said in the past that while you were pitching “CHEW” a lot of publishers told you that the series was a “bad idea”. How does it feel, looking back on those days compared to how things are now, and being able to say that you were right? It has to be a great feeling.”
John Layman: “I still don’t know that I was “right.” CHEW was a perfect storm of timing, I think, and it filled a hole that nobody knew needed filling. In retrospect, the universality of a food-based comic seems obvious, but it was not at the time, and sometimes I think I did not pitch it correctly to adequately convey what the book is. Even today, when I describe the book, I’m thinking as I’m talking, “This sounds pretty horrifying and repellent… the book is actually much more fun and funny than it sounds.”
THEoDEAD: “The biggest theme in “CHEW” is the food industry (its effect on animals specifically) and sort of the horror of where our food comes from. I know that you aren’t a vegetarian yourself, but this seems to be a theme that is very near to your heart. What made you choose to use this as a central theme, and why do you think it is such an important issue for people to stop and think about these things?”
John Layman: “I don’t think I was looking for a message or a moral so much as a story hook. I had a lot of disparate ideas that did not seem that strong individually, but I looked at it for a while realized they all had a common thread: food. I decided combine my ideas into a food based comic and suddenly it seemed like a very rich universe, rife with story possibilities.”
THEoDEAD: “With the newest issue of “CHEW” (Which, at the time of this writing, is Issue #27) we are left with quite the cliffhanger, while at the same time reading what to me is one of the funniest issues we have seen of late. When you are writing each issue how do you sort of walk the line of slapstick and humorous, while still being able to deliver a series with so many undertones about the real world?”
John Layman: “I don’t know. I’m not real conscious of it. I like to abuse my characters, and sometimes that is through comedy, sometimes through horror, sometimes a little of both. I did not set out to make something intentionally kooky, I just wanted to write something I would like to read. Of course, now that CHEW has reached levels of success I never expected, sometimes I freeze up, feeling like I am under a microscope. Eventually I have to shake it off and just do my own thing in order to make the strongest story.”
THEoDEAD: “In the past I know that you have said that you aren’t sure how “CHEW”, with its unique brand of humor and off the wall premise, was able to find the audience it did. However, now that the series has reached new heights in popularity, that looks as if it will only continue to grow due to Showtime prepping a television series based upon the book. Do you think that “CHEW” has already or might in the future open doors for creators who are currently going through some of the same hardships you did when you were originally trying to sell the story?”
John Layman: “I think the doors in comics open and close based on network, timing and luck. Maybe people are looking for the “next CHEW” now, but after enough of them don’t pan out, they will move on to looking to the next big thing. As a creator, I would always advice a creator to follow their own muse and interest, and a healthy dose of pessimism is pretty healthy and realistic.”
THEoDEAD: “Right now the series is on its “27th issue” with Image. You have touched on it before, but being a fan myself I have to ask since you have mentioned that you would be working on more creator owned projects in the future, but only once you got closer to the end of “CHEW”. Do you have the entire run of the series mapped out? If so, how long can fans expect to see the series to continue?”
John Layman: “I have landmarks mapped out, certain points in the book where I know where the story has to be or where a particular character is. But it is not so mapped out I don’t have room to play and for spontaneous discovery. There are stretches of two or three issues where I have no idea what happens, but I know where the story has to go. And, of course, I know the ending, down to the final panel.”
THEoDEAD: “Outside of the “CHEW” comic, there is also the new television show on Showtime that is in the works. How has that affected things for you? How did you find out about all of this?
John Layman: “Well, it’s percolating slowly on the sidelines, and I’m just sorta watching with fascination. None of it seems real, ya know? I keep waiting for it to move a little further along before I declare it is real yet. That is the pessimist in me again.”
THEoDEAD: “Is there any sort of idea of when fans can expect to find out who will be portraying their favorite “CHEW” characters on the small screen, or is all of that still further out?”
John Layman: “Way out, still.”
THEoDEAD: “Besides “CHEW”, do you have any other projects in the works?”
John Layman: “Not creator owned. I did a trio of annuals for Marvel and a Godzilla mini for IDW and am doing another licensed book for Dark Horse with Sam Kieth. Mostly I took those for fun, but CHEW eats most of my limited brain space, at least as far as creator-owned is concerned. I’ll probably start exploring other ideas as CHEW gets a little further along.”
THEoDEAD: “Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans who are reading this, or people who might not have already picked up an issue of “CHEW” and are thinking about giving it a try?”
John Layman: “Um. CHEW’s not nearly as gross as it sounds. I promise!”
We would all like to thank John for taking the time to do this interview with us. If you would like to pick up the latest copy of “CHEW” (Issue “27”), it is on sale NOW at your local comic shop as well as the first three trade paperbacks. Also, be sure to keep it locked here at Bloody-Disgusting.com’s Graphic Content as we continue to bring you more exclusives throughout the week.
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