If you’re unfamiliar with the series, Chew centers around FDA Detective Tony Chu. After a Bird Flu Pandemic, the FDA declares a poultry prohibition and becomes the most powerful government agency in the nation. Tony’s special gift as a “cibopath” make him invaluable as an agent. Everything Tony eats (save for beets) gives him a mental picture of where it was raised, grew or harvested. Sometimes duty calls for him to solve murder cases, and you see where it goes from there.
TFAW.com: Could you set up what happens in the third story arc: Just Desserts?
John Layman: Really, there’s not a lot to set up. Just Desserts is about relationships, specifically partnerships, both workplace and romantic. After 10 issues of police work, it was time to delve into the lead character’s personal life a little more. On the onset of the new arc lead character Tony Chu has a girlfriend. And that’s it–that’s pretty much the set-up.
TFAW.com: Would a new reader need to start from the beginning, or is Chew a newbie-friendly title?
JL: We try to keep each issue a relatively self-contained case, so in that regard it’s probably easier than a lot of comics. And it’s only 12 issues deep, so it’s not too hard to get caught up to speed. That being said, each storyline and issue builds on the last, and our cast keeps getting bigger, so there is probably going to be a point in the next year where the book gets a little less new-reader friendly.
TFAW.com: We’ve already been introduced to a few different characters with powers: several cibopaths who get mental images from the foods they consume, a saboscrivner who can project the sensation of taste through the written word, and a cibolocutor who can communicate complex ideas through the food he cooks. Is it safe to assume that we’ll see other people with unique abilities in the near future?
JL: Yep. One in #12. And if I’m not mistaken, one in 16 and 17. D’oh . . . and 18!
TFAW.com: What’s so important about Altilis-738, the planet that the Americans and Russians are working on. Is that where the mysterious Gallsaberry originated?
JL: Ha! No comment!
TFAW.com: Tony and his partner John Colby are pretty close, almost like brothers. Colby seems to be getting along fairly well with their boss, Mike Applebee. Does that mean Applebee is going to take it easy on Tony from here on out?
JL: Applebee is going to be nice on Tony, and that’s a lot of the humor between them in Just Desserts. Tony does not make it easy for him, and whatever peace they reach is ultimately going to be short-lived.
TFAW.com: The USDA and FDA seem to be working the same types of cases in Chew, is that going to come to a head?
JL: In a manner of speaking. We certainly have not seen the last of the USDA.
TFAW.com: Each issue is a real treat. Not only is the story fresh and fun, but the art really enhances the flavor of the story. It seems like every issue has a few “Easter Eggs.” Do you write those things in there or is it Rob the culprit?
JL: I’d say 95% of them are Rob. He started slipping them in, and I don’t mind them, and the readers seem to love them, so now he does it more and more. It certainly makes for good re-readability, because even I catch stuff he throws in there, even after reading an issue a dozen or more times.
TFAW.com: The bird flu supposedly wiped out 23 million Americans in a pandemic. It seems like something more sinister and mysterious may be the culprit. At the end of “Taster’s Choice” you hinted that Savoy might be investigating another theory for the pandemic. Can we expect to find out more about his investigation?
JL: Yeah, I think we start to see more pieces of that in the fourth story arc, issues #16-#20 . . . Flambe.
TFAW.com: Other than the poultry prohibition, you haven’t really gone into the topic of what the world is like in the post-pandemic world of Chew. Are there any other changes or do most of the differences stem from the absence of chicken?
JL: Well, it’s not just chicken . . . it’s ALL poultry. #12 delves into the seamy, illicit world of cockfighting, which is considerably more seamy and illicit now that its competitors are illegal. Issue #15 is Thanksgiving. Where, remember, turkey is now illegal.
TFAW.com: Now that Chew has been running for 12 issues, is it following your original vision for the series, or has it changed a bit?
JL: Is pretty much what I wished it would be in my wildest dreams, but never expected it to happen.
TFAW.com: Where were you/what were you doing when you realized Chew was a hit? What went through your head at that moment?
JL: Still don’t believe it. Still waiting for the fans to turn on me. Keep thinking I am gonna do something that pisses people off and sends them away in droves. Issue #15 in particular.
TFAW.com: Have you had any crazy ideas for the series that you just couldn’t use?
JL: Not yet. That being said, I think #16, which I just finished yesterday, is the straight-out craziest issue since Issue #4. When #4 came out and I stepped back and realized just how bug-f**k insane it was, and that people STILL liked it, I sorta gave me the freedom and courage to really just go as nuts as possible, when the story calls for it.
TFAW.com: What is it like working with the folks over at Image?
JL: They’re great. Eric Stephenson, Tyler Shainlaine, Drew Gil and Jonathan Chan in particular. Plus, every so often I call up [Robert] Kirkman just to bend his ear and get advice or perspective.
TFAW.com: When we last spoke at ECCC, you had said you had so many issues in the can that you might need to start another project. Any word on that?
JL: Nah, I did some Marvel stuff, and may have a bit more in the pipeline. And I fell behind a little going to cons–particularly Chew‘s Italian tour. Well, not really fell behind, but I’m not as monstrously far ahead as I was before. As I said, I’m done with 16, working on 18 (‘coz it will go quick), Rob is working on 13 and 12 is in stores in a week or so. So we’re doing well, schedule-wise, and I’m not in a hurry to stress myself out over a second title. Chew occupies a LOT of my time.
TFAW.com: Okay, let’s say I’ve just heard about Chew and I’m still on the fence. What do you say to me?
JL: Er, I dunno. I hate being a salesman. If somebody is on the fence, my natural inclination is to just push them and laugh. But, I dunno, if I’m feeling charitable, maybe I point the person to all the nice blurbs about Chew. Shockingly, people seem to really like and respond to the book, for reasons I STILL can’t completely figure out.
What a nice dude. We want to thank Layman for taking the time out of his busy pre-SDCC schedule to chat with us about Chew.
Issue #12 just hit last week. We’ve only got a few more copies left, due to the overwhelming response we received from last week’s eight-page First Look preview. And don’t forget that the Chew Omnivore Edition HC is due in this week, make sure to get your pre-order in now if you want to save 20% off the retail price.
What do you think? New to Chew? Been with the series since the beginning? Excited to for all of the crazy stuff John & Rob have in store for upcoming issues? Let us know below.