John Layman on Chew – Endings, inside jokes and POYO!

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Out of every genre covered in comic books over decades, a love of food was strangely absent from the medium. Odd really, because food is a universal love. Everyone needs it, everyone enjoys it and the idea of cooking over a stove or a slow grill is always…appetising. Chew filled in that niche, with a story that ran for over five years in a world that had gone mad.

Eating chicken was a crime, cosmic danger was on the horizon and the most dangerous person in the room was very likely some maniac who had learned to sharpen a chocolate bar into the sharpest knife possible. Enter Tony Chu, a reluctant enforcer of the status quo who happened to have food-based abilities that were incredible and disturbing.

Tony’s journey throughout Chew was one of triumph and tragedy, of heartbreak and glory. Writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory created something magical over the main course of Chew, which finished its run last year. At FanCon over the weekend, I got the chance to sit down with Layman and chewed the fat with him over the series. Here’s part one of what he had to say, which needless to say has a TON of spoilers below.

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You weaponised food in Chew. What’s it like being able to look at a meal and not have to think about how it can be used to kill a person?

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Chew’s over now, so it kinda has been a big relief to not think about food in that way, all the time. I recently wrote Judge Dredd vs Aliens vs Predator and I’m like ‘wait, they don’t have to be about food’. It was such a relief after 64 issues of that.

Chew’s ending was unexpected to say the least, with most of the cast not surviving to see it. Did you think that the final scene would be controversial with fans?

Everyone got a good death. Except for T-Bear

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I knew that there would be a small segment that would not be satisfied. Maybe 20% wouldn’t like it, and I think that’s actually good. I think it’s stronger for being polarising. I was very proud of Chew in that I don’t think it’s predictable but I do think that when you get to the end you think ‘that was completely in character’ and its all kind of led to this moment.

Death doesn’t necessarily mean death

Everyone got a good death. Except for T-Bear. When you go back to issue one, he’s a murderer, he’s a bad guy! He still has an arc and he’s likable and stuff. Everyone got their moment of triumph, some times they died a noble death. I’m not knocking The Walking Dead because I am a Walking Dead fan, but a book like The Walking Dead, people die and it’s shocking and they mourn and they move on. You’re either killed by zombies or you’re killed by humans, whereas a book like Chew is ‘you’re killed but you kind of live on’.

Death doesn’t necessarily mean death, you haven’t seen the last of them.

Have you ever given thought to continuing Chew in the future?

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Not for me, no. I got pressure from other pros, but not pressure from [Chew publisher] Image. They were like ‘Chew sells pretty good, you could go another issue’. In my head, I’ve got an architecture, a structure to it and if I don’t follow the structure, to the anal part of me the story would have collapsed.

Poyo quickly became the most popular character in Chew. Did you ever imagine that the fans would become that attached to him?

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he’s back as Demon Chicken Poyo, you literally can’t kill him

No, no! A lot of characters I knew their entire arcs. I knew when they would go, knew what they would do. But Poyo was the one character who took on a life of his own and like really kind of stole the show. Which is why he has this one-shot spin-offs and stuff. And the great thing about Poyo, is that people were so mad when we killed him.

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But he’s back as Demon Chicken Poyo, you literally can’t kill him.

Your artist Rob Guillory fills every page with inside-jokes and gags. How did that signature style develop over the run of Chew?

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He would get bored, because he works really long hours and he would just screw around for his own amusement. People really gravitated towards the inside jokes and the little Easter eggs. It helps for re-readability. On my part, I put a lot of visual callbacks and panels that are the same so you kind of feel this visual tapestry. I want you to re-read it, and I want you to get something out of every time you re-read it.

But then Rob adds these little jokes, and you won’t catch it the first time. People will still pour over an issue of Chew two or three times and will be like ‘oh I just noticed’. The funny part is, is that the way we work Rob would send me black and white low-res scans of pages that I would letter. Most comic book people don’t know how the sausage gets made, they don’t see the ugliness. There’s a point where we’re racing the clock, trying to get it to the printers and he’s feeding me colour pages and I’m pasting them up and uploading them as fast as possible.

So I’ve only seen low-res scans and the book will come out and someone is like ‘oh that Green Mile Joke in the last issue is so funny!’ and I’m like ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about [laughs]’.

Last Updated: May 2, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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