John Layman and Rob Guillory swamped a room at New York Comic Con today with a discussion of the rise and rise of the long-process road to success book Chew, coming soon to Smorgasbord Edition, signed and limited at the Con in only 350 copies. The edition collects the first 20 issues and Layman says there will "never be a compendium of 60 issues" because it's too dense and reading them all at once would make your "head explode". Layman explained the long, painful process with developing Chew on his own dime and time, taking his time, as Vertigo continued to pass over the pitch. He also said there are 4 more arcs coming for Chew and that it will conclude with 60 issues.
Layman: It's enough to tell a rich novel without getting self-indulgent or wasting your time. Everyone will be dead! Everyone dies! I was kidding, by the way.
Q: I was impressed by the sexuality and diversity in the book, but drawn in a funny way. How did you decide to put that in?
Layman: It wasn't really conscious. Comics are too "white", especially Big Two comics (applause from fans). Rarely do I tell Rob in the description "this is a black dude". Rob makes it more diverse. Image will let us do anything. Chew's as shocking as it's going to get and we try to make it accessible and to some extent we've accomplished that.
Q: You just said that Chew has 4 more arcs…will you guys be working together in the future?
Layman: See you guys keep asking that stuff! I want to play Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto. Why can't you all just let me draw Chew and let me get on with my life? (laughter)
Layman "cut ahead" to show a 2014 vinyl in development from Skeleton Crew of Pollo. He also showed an FDA badge coming from the same company. They want to do an apron, but Layman thinks they are "dumb". He's being prevailed upon, however, to allow it.
Q: Is the USDA exclusively women?
Layman: No, we just wanted everyone, every company to have their schtick, and each one does. I wanted everyone in the Navy to look like someone from the Village People but have bionic seals, but Guillory held back on that.
Layman previewed Pollo arcs, vampire arcs, and arc moving back to Tony.
Q: How far out do you plot?
Layman: I know the beginning and the end of each arc, and to an extent, as I get closer, it gets more filled out more specifically. So the middle, whatever ends with a 3 or an 8 is either really crazy or hard for me because I don't know what I'm doing. But I do know the beginning and the end, and who lives and dies.
I got so bummed with Glenn died in Walking Dead that I decided to have one more character survive (in Chew) as pushback for Kirkman killing Glenn!
I have always known the last 3 pages of the comic series.
Layman: That all went away, but now we have a new team. We have a new dude and he's working on stuff, but he's more focused on animation. But we don't have anything solid yet.
Q: You guys do a lot of merch, which is very cool. The hardcovers, there's a lot going on.
Guillory: Early on we did t-shirts and we'd print them and sell them ourselves. We're only just now branching out into "real stuff". It's for the fans.
Layman: We're doing it for the fans. Money is nice but we'd rather do it with people who care about the book.
Q: What instance is one of your favorite parts of the comics?
Layman: It's usually the next issue. We both loved 30 and 36. Some reason I loved 36 a little better, and I'll tell you why. It introduces Sage, the little sister, and you'll never see her again (laughter).
Q: Every name in the book is a food item?
Layman: Every single name. I look up Russian fruit and Polish food.
Q: What are your journeys as creators?
Guillory: I started really early. I drew my first comic at age 9. I started going to conventions in college. I started early.
Layman: I started in '95 as an assistant editor at Wildstorm. You do stuff to pay the rent. I've written Xena, Thundercats, stuff no one knows about. Some "mild erotica" for Avatar. When I saw the art, it was completely rated X!
Q: What's the hardest part of your job on Chew?
Layman: My hardest part is the case, having the characters doing something, and it typically has to be some wacky food power and that's hard.
Guillory: We have repeating motifs, so it's a fine line between repeating yourself and innovating and doing something new. We have layouts, origin page, the bed page. Themes that we use over and over again. The balancing act is the hardest part for me.
Q: What's your favorite food?
Layman: I'll eat anything. I'll eat Taco Bell. I'll eat chicken wings. Whatever my wife cook's that's good, which is everything. We're not really foodies. When I went to Italy, somehow our Italian publisher thought that I should eat every weird gross thing he could possibly give me. It was like "Dude I don't want to eat this stuff".
Q: Did you ever cameo yourself in the book?
Layman: Rob was in issue 43, and Rob has put my picture in like 40 times. At some point we will annotate all the Easter Eggs and all the friends like Bendis and Liefeld and stuff.
Guillory: We have a cameo of both of ourselves in issue #31. There's an energy drink that sets people on fire. We did an image of ourselves at comic con as comic cosplayers catching on fire.
Regarding personal reading, Layman said that he likes keeping up with plenty of Image books, IDW, Oni stuff, since he's "always been an indie dude" and always will be. Guillory is a huge fan of Locke & Key, Saga, and both Guillory and Layman like Revival.
Hannah Means-Shannon is Senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.