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Chew Creator, John Layman Interview | Trash Cookies

Chew Creator, John Layman Interview

Posted on 27 October 2009 by LoryGil

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On September 7th, just after the sleeper hit, Chew released its 4th issue and final printing of its first issue, your humble narrator had the unbelievable opportunity to sit down with the decrepit-minded creator of the CSI-gone-Fringe comic book, John Layman. I’ll tell ya folks, listen to your moms when she says, “It’s the nice ones you gotta watch out for.” Cause this guy’s got it in spades, but I’d hate to see what he’s hiding in his basement. Issue #5 hit stores last week. Read the interview, then go out and buy all five issues as soon as your sweaty butts can skateboard to your local comic shop.

How has the success of Chew affected your life?

The video game company is my full time job and I didn’t expect this. The video game was supposed to come out in June, so I just did this comic to get back into comics. I thought, Chew wasn’t going to sell and it wasn’t going t be popular. I would just show it to editors and I’d get some Marvel work, or I’d get some DC work. But then, suddenly it sold, and now that’s no longer an issue. I can’t quite live on it, but almost.

Why did Chew get so big?

I really have no idea. I mean, I did all the normal circuit interviews with, like, Newsarama [dot com] and CBR and, you now, little blog posts and all of that. But, it seemed like just a normal amount of buzz, so it didn’t seem like anything special and the numbers were good, for Image [Comics], but not spectacular, and no one knew. Suddenly, it sold out really quick and started, just, steamrolling on the Internet. Then, people noticed it on the Internet and started talking about it… [Breaks for Phone call]… I thought it would be this weird little cult hit where, some people would like it. I’d do five issues… cause I’m financing it. I wrote Soldier of Fortune; Payback and I put the money I made from it into a slush fund to pay for five issues of a comic. I thought, I’d do this little cult hit, put out a trade and eventually make the money back and then do five more issues. But now, its taken of at such a stratospheric rate that we can now do it as a monthly, which is like a dream… but it is kinda scary, ‘cause I’ve got a full-time job, Rob is fast, but he is doing everything.

67a7ceb240e4724e49186c3f8f5dbcb8With the success of Chew, are you looking to get back into comics full-time?

Yes…Yes. Or, at least not have an office job ‘cause it’s hard to work in a cubicle all day, and it’s hard to then go home and work. That’s not a surprise to Cryptic [Studios]. They knew I was just going to be there for launch, and maybe I’ll stay on in some capacity, but not as a staff writer.

You’ve been there a couple of years, right?

Yeah. I got hired June 2007 to write the Marvel game because I’d written for Marvel and they wanted a real comic book writer, and I was just on the heals of the Marvel Trading Card Game for the PSP. So they hired me. [Brian Michael] Bendis was going to write the game and they wanted someone in-house so that they could coordinate while he plot-mastered. I did that for about four months, and then Microsoft came in and killed the game. I had moved there, to San Jose from Seattle. My wife had quit her job. So, I was like, “Wow, this is a bad situation.” But then Cryptic bought Champions [Role-playing Game] and turned it into a completely different game, and I got a lot more, sort of, autonomy to do my own thing and add my own mark to the game. It turned out for the best, even though it wasn’t Marvel because the game now has a lot more of my touches in it.

How did you get that job?

Well, I blundered into video games because I had a friend at Nintendo who got asked to write a gig and he said, “I can’t do it, I work at Nintendo, sorry Activision, but here… my friend is a comic book writer and he could do it.” So, I wrote for them and they really liked it, and they through another at me, and another at me. Then, my friend’s boss at Nintendo heard how much Activision liked me, so they hired me for something. I don’t know how Konami heard about me, but they came to me because I had written some Marvel stuff for the Marvel Trading Card Game. In the mean time, I was living in Seattle, and I had hung out with Ed Brubaker and some other people. I played X-Box with Brubaker and Bendis, and even [Matt] Fraction on occasion. I also had friends that worked at Microsoft. Microsoft recommended me, Bendis recommended me. For Cryptic, I had everything they were looking for because I was a Marvel writer and a video game writer.

Here’s the ironic thing: video games pay so much more, and I’ve never had to look for video game work, it just falls in my lap. But I’ve struggled and struggled with comics, which pays dirt.

Do you see the possibility of quitting your full-time job and just writing Chew?chew01_c1-195x300

Yes, but I mean, its not the wild thing that everyone thinks, you know… “Hey what are you doing with your Chew millions?” It’s not really like that. But, once we get a trade or two, as long as the bottom doesn’t fall out, we’re going to get to the end.

So, you already have the end to your story?

Oh, yeah. I don’t write anything without knowing the end.

How does that affect your issue-to-issue writing?

I know some milestones. I mean, five is a game changer… 15 is a huge game changer. I kinda know what each story arch is gonna be about. I kinda know what this is gonna be about. I know certain points, and then I’ve told Rob the ending. I said, “When this happens, we’ve reached end game, when this character does this thing, we’ll start to tie up loose ends, and that’s it, but its going to take a while to get there. It was going to be 20-25 issues if it was bare bones without meandering or exploring anything, but now I’ve got the freedom to have a little more fun.

You seem to be really passionate about this comic.

I really am. I mean, its my character in the way that Army of Darkness or Tek Jansen never was. I’ve done a lot of license stuff, and you can’t get too attached to those characters. Even Puffed was a lark. It was a guy’s night. This is a character’s life and the life of multiple characters.

You’ve mentioned that Chew’s story will end at issue 60. When you reach that, let’s say, five years from now, do you think you’d keep going?

No. [Robert] Kirkman has said things like, “Oh, Walking Dead, I’m going to make that last forever… Invincible, this book is going to last forever.” I have got to work toward an ending.

Do you have ideas for another book then?

Yeah. In theory, if I can get this going and get my life in order, I’d have something like a Kirkman-verse where I’d have a Walking Dead and Invincible and Wolf-man, you know two or three books. So, yeah, I have some other ideas, but they would be wildly different and… not successful. But then, that’s what I thought about Chew.

A lot of the stuff you have written has a bit of humor, mixed with a bit of dark-edge. Is that the universe you are working toward?

Yeah, all of the stuff is a little bit twisted, but I like humor in it as well.

Where did you come up with the idea for a guy who gets psychic impressions from food, anyway?

I don’t know. I’ve had it for a super-long time. I’ve been talking about it for a super-long time. People just kind of laughed about it. I told another comic book publisher about it. It was like, “Oh, what are you working on?” Oh, I’m doing this bird flu/cannibal cop book. And they were like, “Ah, good luck with that.” But, I’ve had it forever and I’ve talked about it forever and people looked at it like, “Oh, that’s lame. It’s that weird book that he’ll eventually get around to, and it won’t do well and he’ll do his next thing.”

chew-2What are some of the differences between writing for a label-owned comic and a creator-owned comic?

Well, for a licensed comic, you’ve gotta work for this comic editor who has licensed this out and you’re also writing for the fans of that. Marvel Zombies [Vs. Army of Darkness] is a perfect example of that. This guy accused me of ripping off Ash lines, verbatim, from the movies. And I came back to him and I was like, alright dude, tell me what lines I ripped off. He went back to the movies and didn’t find anything. He was like, “I was wrong, you are writing in his voice. There is nothing you said that Ash said in the movies, but the fact that I thought you did tells me that your writing is good.” That ended up turning an insult into a complement. But you have to try to get the character’s voice and write with respect for the fans and still get your sensibilities across.

So I’ve been pretty lucky because Army of Darkness was a good match, and even Xena has some humor, and Tek Jansen, even though their were a lot of hurdles, was pretty fun, and Gambit had a lot of humor in it as well.

Even though you obviously get to be more creative with a creator-owned comic, you still seem to have an appreciation for writing for label-owned titles.

Oh, yeah. I mean, there is still a huge fanboy thrill putting words into Spiderman’s mouth and stuff like that.

Your comic script reads sort of like a T.V. or Movie script with a lot of details.

I think a lot of that comes from being an editor. I got to read Warren Ellis and I got to read Joe Casey and Kurt Busiek. I’ve taken the things I like from all of those guy’s scripts. You learn what to do and what not to do. Most guys have a script that is like, 18 to 20 pages and my scripts are like, 45 pages. It’s also because I’ve got nothing else to do. I mean, when you’re Bendis and you write four or five books a month, you’ve gotta keep it concise, where as I’ll kind of go off on tangents and talk for a long time. I’m also not a control freak, so I may say, this is how I see it in my head, but if you’ve got a better idea, go for it. Since I know Rob now, it’s sort of just a jumping off point.

You wrote the first issue before you had an artist, but now, you write with Rob Guillory. Howcover-medium is that dynamic working out?

Well, now, I’m writing for Rob [Guillory]. It is kind of like I’m talking to him on paper. I’ll make jokes for him, like something will happen and it will look like a coloring error and I’ll be like, oh Rob, now everyone is going to make fun of you and think you suck. I understand his strengths are, and I don’t really know what his weaknesses are because I haven’t seen them yet, but I know that he is really good at action scenes and he is really good with movement. There are things I would be reluctant to do with other artists that I’m comfortable to do with him because I know he can pull it off.

Why Beets?

I really don’t know. I had to pick something and I knew it would gross some people out and some people wouldn’t care and I don’t really care. So I thought it would be just there. It is also blood colored so I thought it might help in future issues.

How do you do it all? You work full-time, you write full-time, you have a family…

Well, I’m pretty burned out all the time. I play a lot of [World of] Warcraft. I don’t read a whole lot, I don’t watch a lot of T.V. I work. I put the kid down. I try to run three and a half miles a day, and then I work on Chew. Then I play a little Warcraft and then I go to bed. There are no weekends because you still have to do letters pages and interviews and all that stuff.

Do you have anything else you want the readers to know?

Only that, I think issue five is going to shock a lot of people. Four has been my favorite, because I look at it and think, holy shit. This is bizarre even by my standards. Three, I thought, would be the issue that would decide the readers. If they liked the girl and they could handle all the throwing up, then they are in it for the duration. But four is just crackpot. People are not going to be prepared for what issue five has coming. It was gut-wrenching to write and I was exhausted for a week, and then Rob was like, “That is so emotionally draining.” So I’m interested to see what people thing about issue five.

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1 Comments For This Post

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  1. msilver Says:

    Can’t wait for the trade! I have to force myself not to buy single issues so I don’t have this mountain of comics sitting in my house.

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