John Layman Talks Chew, Detective Comics

Update: This article states that Chew #35 will be released July 17, 2013. This is incorrect. The actual release date was July 10, although whether this discrepancy is due to error or rescheduling is uncertain. Either way, the issue is available now!

A few weeks back, at HeroesCon in Charlotte, I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with John Layman, creator and writer of the Eisner Award-winning Image Comics series Chew, with artist Rob Guillory. Layman also writes DC‘s eponymous flagship title, Detective Comics, starring Batman.

Layman talked about a little of what we can expect to see in the second half of Chew, the difference between writing Chew and Detective, and also how long he expects to be working in Gotham City.

Let’s get to the interview, with Chew up first:

Chew #35

Zac Boone: Issue 30 was about the halfway point of the series.

John Layman: It WAS the halfway point.

ZB: That was my understanding. So “Bad Apples” [the current story arc] feels like it’s building to a confrontation…

JL: It’s definitely setting the stage. Things have gotten a lot more serious. The stakes are higher. Tony’s back now, with a purpose, and you’re seeing him darker and angrier than ever, and for good reason. And you’ve also, you’ve sort of seen his evolution as a character, you know. When he starts out, he’s kinda quiet, he’s kinda meek. He’s always had a temper, but now he’s unleashed, and you know why. And the other thing is, you’re seeing a lot of long-simmering things start to resolve. Approaching the second half, it’s time to stop asking questions and start giving answers. And so things like the fact that Caesar was working with Savoy gets out there, and then, in #14, Savoy offers Colby a partnership, and he’s starting to take him up on it. You’re starting to see a change in dynamics.

ZB: Hopefully this isn’t to spoiler-y a question, but is this conflict going to play out more over twenty issues, rather than peak and subside?

JL: Oh yeah. Tony and the vampire don’t kill each other in #35, because I’ve got twenty-four issues to go. But the battle lines are being drawn. These are the initial salvoes in the war to come. And that’s kind of what “Bad Apples” is all about. Then, on a more macro scale– there’s the smaller story, which is Tony versus the collector, and then there’s the chicken conspiracy and the outer space weirdness, and that’s where the cult is coming in, and they want people to stop eating chicken, and that’s also part of the bigger story that plays out in the second half.

ZB: They’ve been, at least for the past couple issues, they’ve felt like a punching bag, to show up, and somebody from the cult gets knocked down.

JL: Yeah, a little, but it’s also a little bit of world-building, where you’re sort of seeing that a lot of the story arcs have been the consequences of the world and you’re seeing that reflected in the case. But, at the end of the day, our heroes are going to beat up the bad guys, and right now the bad guys are the chicken cultists.

ZB: Chew, at least to me, feels like, or did feel like, a comedy series first, but with darker elements. How do you balance the comedy with the plot?

JL: Well, you never forget about– that’s the glorious thing, you’re still going to have Poyo show up, and there’s a lot of inherent craziness to the situation, and it still is, but it’s a comedy series where “Oh, s***, wait, people that I care about can die.” And then it stops being quite so funny when there’s that sort of jeopardy attached.

ZB: And issue 30 was definitely an example of that.

JL: Well, it was funny, because the “Space Cakes” arc was purposefully very light, and we knew what was coming, we were building to it, but reviewers were like, “Hey, man, nothing’s happening in Chew. It’s just cotton candy now. It’s just this light fluff featuring this other character. Why? Where’s it going?” “Well, you’re going to find out and it’s going to hit you that much harder.” Because we, from the very instant [Toni] was introduced in #15, we knew she was doomed. And we didn’t want to just do the woman-in-refrigerator thing. If we’re going to kill someone, we want you to feel it, we want it to hurt and have really human consequence and impact. And I think we succeeded.

ZB: Oh, I think you did, too. And now I’m trying to remember what I wrote about those issues building up to issue thirty. Are we going to see any more jump aheads to later issues, the way we did with issue twenty-seven?

JL: Not in the same way. I don’t have any of that planned. Actually we have some weird jump backs going on. Issue thirty-six is actually issue twenty-nine-and-a-half, and issue thirty-five, coming up, we actually do a jump-back to a one-shot that we’re reserving the right to do down the line. You’re going to read this and think, “Wow, I hope they do that.” And I know you’ll be constantly saying, “Hey, when are you going to do this? When are you going to do this?” and I’ll be, “Eh, whenever we get the story.”

ZB: And that’s issue thirty-five?

JL: Yeah, next issue.

Jump to Page 2, where Mr. Layman talks about Detective Comics, villains new and old, and what it’s like to write such an iconic character as the Dark Knight. We also get a cameo appearance from Chew artist Rob Guillory, and hear a little more about what’s coming for Tony Chu and his friends.

>>> Page Two >>>

Zac Boone has WAY too much to do before San Diego Comic Con. Doesn’t everyone? Follow him on twitter.