Guillory & Layman Talk About Wrapping Up Chew [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: We're creeping up on the end of the penultimate arc. From here, I imagine the bodies are going to continue hitting the floor and things are going to get increasingly hectic. What's it feel like to be this close to the end of your sixty-issue run? The final issue comes out later this year, but are you close to being done with it already?

ROB GUILLORY: It feels pretty surreal. It literally feels to me like we just started CHEW yesterday, even though it was almost eight years ago. There's some excitement and some sadness, but I'm immensely proud of the body of work we've built.

JL: The writing is not done, but I'm getting closer to saying goodbye, at least mentally. I've already said goodbye to a few characters, and there will be more. Really, after 58 or so issues, these last 5 issues is an exercise in goodbyes. Everything is coming to an end rapidly.

IC: Very early on, Tony Chu was focused and driven, but a little unsure. By this point, he's something else. Tell me about how you see Tony Chu as a character at this late stage of things. What frame of mind is he in?

JL: His character is pretty consistent. Tony's got more confidence, certainly, more comfortable with his powers, and his powers have definitely grown as the book has progressed. But there are aspect of his personality that don't change, and probably can't. He's focused, he's driven...he's also stubborn and a bit vindictive.

IC: What about Olive Chu? She's got a difficult relationship with the two father figures in her life, but has proven to be incredibly capable despite that conflict. How do you feel about where she is as you rocket toward the end? How do you describe her place in the cast?

JL: As far as I'm concerned, Olive's story ended in the Blood Puddin' arc. She kinda "graduated" into her own as a full-fledged cibopath and capable, competent individual. Any subsequent appearance of Olive in CHEW after #50 is just epilogue for her. She is, sorta as all children are, the person who gets passed the torch of her lineage. She ultimately replaces Tony. But CHEW is also ultimately Tony's story, not Olive's.

IC: Rob, CHEW has always had complex visuals, and these last few arcs feel like they're pulling more and more out of you—dinosaurs, giant cows, alien worlds, sci-fi stories, and more besides. What do you enjoy most about drawing this book? What's the most challenging thing?

RG: I've really enjoyed how each issue is sort of its own thing. One issue can be a romp with dinosaurs, the next could be a sci-fi adventure. There's never really been a chance to grow bored with CHEW, because it's always been in motion. I feel like I've gotten to draw just about EVERYTHING over sixty-something issues. And I'd have to say that the most challenging thing is balancing the repeated panel layouts and callbacks to earlier issues without becoming stale. We've sort of built our own visual language over the course of the book, and we often reference earlier issues through the use of similar page layouts and whatnot. It's a tool that shows how rich the book is, but using that tool while simultaneously trying to innovate can be tricky.

IC: How do you two coordinate the covers, especially the ones that riff on another subject, or the special variants you do? What was the conversation like that led to the cover for CHEW #55, The Hateful Ate?

JL: One of my favorite aspects of CHEW is that there are no generic pin-up covers. Every cover is distinct and has a specific meaning for that particular issue. Most times doing a cover involves me running an idea by Rob and seeing what he comes up with. Sometimes the issue is done and Rob can come up with something based on a finished script (though that's been happening less and less often lately). As far as homage covers, there has not been a lot of them. I had the funny idea to a "Pullet Fiction" pulp fiction cover for #13, and when it sold out we did a "Reservoir Chogs" second printing follow-up. From there, we did two more Quentin Tarantino-inspired covers, a "Kill Bill" SDCC variant for #35, and this final one for #55. No particular rhyme or reason to it, other than the puns presented themselves and it seems like a fun thing to do. Safe to say Rob and I are both Tarantino fans. Other than that, we've only done one other direct homage cover, which was our D&D Player's Handbook inspired cover for WARRIOR CHICKEN POYO. But for the most part, CHEW covers have been unique to the particular issue, and story-specific.

RG: Just what Layman said. John's got a ridiculously good sense of design, so most of our covers start with him. From there, I get a lot of wiggle room to bring my own feel to what he's visualizing.

IC: What's surprised you most in the evolution of the series? Have the characters stuck to your outlines and designs, or have you found yourself pushing them in new directions, either in terms of characterization or visual design?

JL: Poyo was the biggest surprise. He started off as a McGuffin and sorta took on a life of his own, and got progressively larger-than-life. Sister Toni also ended up with more screen time than I originally envisioned, just because she was my favorite CHEW character to write. But, other than that, I've stayed pretty true to what my vision for the story and characters have always been.

RG: Honestly, looking back, I'm sort of blown away at how bold the character designs were from the very start. I mean, Mason Savoy has a monocle. Poyo is a luchador chicken. Fairly bold from the start. Because the characters' designs started off so outrageous, I've found that it was their presence that grew. Each character started to have their own gravity, in a way. Their presence got bigger and bigger. Mason started off as a big character, and over time, he just became bigger and bigger. Poyo started off as a big, wild character, and he just got bigger and crazier. It's been strange, but very rewarding to watch our characters grow, and it's been a pleasure to take part in that growth over eight years.

CHEW is available in a variety of comprehensive collected editions, from paperbacks to deluxe hardcovers, in addition to ongoing single issues. CHEW #55 is available now. CHEW: DEMON CHICKEN POYO, the finale of the Poyo trilogy, arrives 4/20.