Chew: "It's My Job To Make It Real." [Interview]
August 6, 2015
IMAGE: I can't think of a comic that swings from slapstick hijinks to heartbreaking finality so quickly. How do you describe what you do on CHEW? "Comedy" seems too small, and "grim" seems incomplete.
JOHN LAYMAN: Somebody on Twitter recently described CHEW as a mix of “surreal comedy and gross-out action,” which is maybe as good a description as I’ve ever heard. I think it’s more gross than grim, but because it’s character-based with a finite ending, and characters who die, perhaps occasionally it does seem grim, particularly after issue #50.
IMAGE: We've come a long way from the first issue. Rob, I remember you talking about how you feel you didn't hit your stride with the book until a few issues in. How do you feel now?
ROB GUILLORY: It feels pretty insane to look back and see the world that we've built. It's been a crazy amount of work, and I've been working so hard over these last 6 years that I often move too fast to really take it all in. I'm looking forward to wrapping things up in a big way, then stepping back and really taking in what we built.
IMAGE: John, you've been talking about a finite end for the book for a good long while, and we're certainly creeping up on it. How close has what you've written stuck to your original plan for the series?
JL: Pretty damn close. I’ve given myself room for exploration, but usually the way arcs start and end are pretty well mapped out. I like to explain it that I know the skeleton, but I have a lot of freedom to add stuff as I put the meat on the story’s bones.
IMAGE: I want to dig into the covers a little bit. Rob, outside of special variants, you've done all the covers for the series. That includes several special edition covers that connect or interact with other covers from the series in some way, shape, or form. What's the planning process like for your average CHEW cover? What about the special connecting covers?
RG: Layman is ridiculously visual, so a lot of our initial cover ideas originate with him. Generally, I'll ask him if he has a concept in mind, and he usually does, and it's my job to make it real. That's where the interconnecting covers came from. But overall, we usually just bounce ideas back and forth until we find something that works. Really, that's how all of CHEW has worked. One of us gets an idea, runs it by the other guy, and we come up with something that functions.
IMAGE: It's rare for a comics writer to letter their own comic, but CHEW is a rare comic to begin with. John, why do you do the lettering instead of hiring someone else? Was it a steep learning curve for you?
JL: Not at all. Before I worked in comics I knew how to use Illustrator, which I used in my pre-comics job, designing graphics for a newspaper. My first job in comics was an editor, where I did balloon placement. A time came where it was faster to do corrections on my own than wait around for a letterer to do it. And when I first made the jump to freelance lettering gigs came quicker and easier than writing gigs. Lettering is something I enjoy. It relaxes me, and, short of being able to draw a page myself --which I can’t— lettering gives me another layer of control over a page. I recommend to all my writer friends to learn lettering. It’s invaluable.
IMAGE: Let's talk trauma. It's safe to say, even without spoiling, that CHEW #50 is upsetting, at the very least, and it's part of a group of CHEW issues that are real tearjerkers. How do you know when it's time for a character to go? Is there anyone you've kept from going to Four-Color Heaven because they were just too much fun to write or draw?
JL: It’s been predetermined, when different characters say their goodbyes. Killing Toni in #30 was hard, because she was and is my favorite CHEW character to write. Of course, I’m trying to give everybody “good deaths,” deaths that matter, or are important to the overall story, which lessens the sting of it.
IMAGE: CHEW's bloody, but never off-puttingly so. How'd you two find a balance with depicting violence but not going so far with it that you alienate your readers or gross them out too much?
RG: Well, that's sort of my specialty, and a big part of the reason Layman picked me as CHEW's artist. My art style is naturally light and "cartoony", and that naturally softens a lot of the more violent moments. Of course, there are some moments where the violence is supposed to be slapsticky, and that's right up my alley. But there are some of the more important story moments where the violence needs to be impactful, so that's when I scale back the comedy and amp up the drama through facial expressions, lighting and color. It's a fairly fine line to walk, but we've gotten really good at navigating it.
IMAGE: Speaking of grossing out...have you two ever grossed yourselves or each other out? Have you ever had to pull back?
RG: The panel in issue 3 where Tony gets puked on made me nauseous. I had to take a walk.
JL: Nope. I’ve been fine with it all. I don’t know about grosser, but there have been times where I could have had it be a little more violent.
IMAGE: CHEW #50 is out. You've got ten issues to go, plus a special. I'm not going to ask what's next, but I do want to know: What do you hope fans will get out of the end of CHEW?
RG: I really hope fans feel like they got their money's worth in the end. And I hope they're able to go back and re-read CHEW a million times, with it feeling fresh every time.
JL: I just hope they get over the inevitable disappointment which will be Issue #60.