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.
With 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?
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.”
What 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. How 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.
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.
In April of 2007, I was lucky enough to interview MC Chris for Geek Monthly Magazine. Here is the interview as it was published in Issue 6 of the magazine.
Known best for his voice-over work on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” as Hesh on “Sealab 2021” and MC Pee Pants on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” mc chris wrote “I Want Candy” for his diaper-wearing spider persona. His Internet hit, “Fett’s Vette” gained him notoriety as a nerd-rapper and his popularity has been growing ever since. He writes songs with titles like, “FTW”, “Geek” and “Wii’d,” and made his big-screen debut in “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters.” Though his music may transcend boundaries, he is still a geek, spelled G-double E-K. Geek Monthly spoke with mc chris on the phone while he was on tour supporting his newest album, dungeon master of ceremonies.
Geek: Hi mc chris. How’s it going?
Things are going really well. We’re touring with Piebald right now. We’re on our way to Denver. We’re about a week into the tour and we’ve got about a month to go. Piebald is a great band. It’s really cool that I get to watch them play every night after I’m done rapping. They’re cool to hang out with and they’re nice guys, so it’s a fun tour.
Do you have any good tour stories so far?
Well, we’ve just been pulled over by the police twice for speeding. Last night we were stuck in Kearny Nebraska and I just made a blog saying, “Who wants to hang out with me,” and a bunch of kids just kinda came out of the woodwork and we had a little party and it was fun. Other than that, we just did South By Southwest and Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave brought me up on stage.
I noticed on your newest album dungeon master of ceremonies there is a heavier pop-punk influence. It sounds like there is a lot more live band backing you up. How is this different than the previous recording on Knowing is Half the Hassle and eating’s not cheating?
Well, it was all done by the same DJ, but this time he decided that he wanted to bring in a lot of musicians and have, kind of a guitar sound to the album. Before that, it was kind of sample based or computer based and melodies were a lot more keyboard driven. He wanted to kind of branch out and try something new.
Have you started on the fifth album yet?
Yeah, I started on it as soon as I was finished with the last album. There are only one or two finished songs, but there are a lot of notes, and a lot of song ideas about where I want the album to go and how I want it to lean. There is a lot of stuff that I won’t be doing that you’ll expect me to do, and there is a lot of stuff that I’ll be bringing back that you thought I was not really into bringing up any more. So I hope to be shifting the way I do things that will keep it interesting, but there are also some throwbacks in there that people will recognize. But there will definitely be some new stuff, some new attitude.
What kind of new stuff?
Well, I’m being kind of general because I don’t want to reveal too much. I have a problem with reveling an entire album before I even put it out. I’m being pretty secretive about it, but I’m pretty excited. This is the first time I’ve kind of looked at these albums and felt like I’m escaping to go do this fun thing that is an escape from the stress of life. Usually it’s been like, “I have to make rap, and I have to make it good, and I have to get noticed, and people have to like it.” This time, I’m just going to write songs that cheer me up. I’m gonna express myself a lot more openly than I ever have before. It’s gonna be an mc chris album, but it’s gonna be a little deeper than before and hopefully a lot better.
Have you had any offers from labels to put out your next album?
Yep! I can’t really say who we’re talking to, but we’ll figure it out. We’ve been given some offers and most of the response that my team has is that we could probably do better, but that remains to be seen. We just have to see the way the rest of the year goes.
What Star Wars character do you most resemble?
That little snaggletooth guy that has to reach up at the cantina to get his drink off the table, that’s me.
When I was at Star Wars Celebration III in 2005, I sat in on the Q & A with Jeremy Bullock and they played “Fett’s Vette” while he was on stage.
No way! That’s really cool.
What is your favorite comic book that you’re reading right now?
Well, there are all kinds of comic book that I love that I am reading right now. Like, I really love the Avengers; The New Avengers, The Mighty Avengers, The Teen Avengers. Anything Avengers I’m pretty much down with. I like the Runaways, although the last couple of Runaways have been a little rough. I think Joss Whedon is gonna take over in the new year, and that’s gonna be pretty cool. I like the New X-Men a lot, the one where it’s all the kids. I like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’m always going backwards and doing little researches on certain storylines like Kraven’s Last Hunt,
Or I’ll go back and read Punisher or Daredevil. I read all kinds of stuff though.
So you’ve read the new Mighty Avengers?
Yeah, I thought it was o.k. but I don’t particularly like anyone on the team. They’re kinda the bad guys in my eyes, so I’m looking forward to the New Avengers kicking the Mighty Avengers’ butts.
Whose side were you on in Civil War?
I was on Captain America’s side. I think the people who were on Tony Stark’s side were the more conservative people that feel that we need to reign in ourselves and have things under a lock-and-key. I guess what Marvel is saying is that liberty is dead, but I’d like to think that it’s still alive. I’d like to think there is still hope.
How did you meet Tony Moore and Robert Kirkman?
A kid came over to my table at a Chicago comic book convention and said, “Hey this guys are fans of yours,” and I was like, “No way. I’m a really big fan of theirs.” The kid who was the messenger actually does all of my artwork now, all my t-shirt designs and album covers, a kid named Nate Bellegarde. He brought me over to their table and they gave me every book they had and signed it all. They said that they listened to my music while they made “The Walking Dead.” For dungeon master of ceremonies, we had Kirkman write a letter that is in the middle of the lyrics page where he talks about his first mc experience. He’s a really cool guy and I hope to work with them in some capacity in the future.
What types of video games do you play?
I play console games. I like third person tactical games like Tom Clancy stuff. I like God of War II. I’m a big Resident Evil fan. I also like Kingdom Hearts. I like a lot of different stuff, but right now I am really into is the sneaking around games where you’re not killing anybody, but just turning lights on and off, like Rainbow VI and Splinter Cell and stuff like that.
Do you get to watch “Lost” while you’re on tour?
Yeah, my tour manager downloaded it for me last week and I got to watch it on Friday. I’m really a hardcore “Lost” fan, so I am kinda flipping out. A lot of important stuff is happening, and I’m on stage when it happens, so it’s kind of difficult. All I can hope is that a fan thinks to bring me a burned copy at the show or my tour manager will remember to get it as well. I mean, I have to know what’s going on on that island.
Over the past few years, you’ve gotten significantly more popular. How has that affected your life?
I love touring and performing and making music. There is a lot of stressfulness that goes along with that. Sometimes when it gets really difficult, I don’t want to do it at all. Sometimes I just want to talk my job back at Cartoon Network. But then I’ll see how happy everyone is at the shows and how these kids keep saying to me that there isn’t anyone else out there like me and that they’re really happy that there is stuff like me. So I really want to keep doing it for them and not let them down. I can’t keep doing it forever, but I feel like I haven’t made the perfect song or the perfect album yet, and that really keeps me going.
Do you have anything else that you want the readers to know about you?
Just that I’m going to be in a live action pilot on Adult Swim that’s coming up soon, I can’t say what the name of it is. I’m going to be doing fests this summer and a headlining tour in the fall, or I’ll be making an album in the fall and putting it out this Christmas.