I first heard about Image Comics’ monthly title Chew when it won the Eisner Award for Best New Series back in 2010. When I read about the bizarre story revolving around a Philadelphia cop named Tony Chu who is a “Cibopath” (someone who can take a bite from anything and get a psychic sensation of what has happened to that object) I was more than a little intrigued. But it was Rob Guillory’s unique and brilliant artwork that made me drop everything and race to the comic store.
On a monthly basis Rob (and writer John Layman) transport me to the bizarre world they’ve meticulously crafted for over three years, filled with conspiracies, action, humor, and more food-based superpowers than I ever thought possible.
I recently had the chance to chat with Rob Guillory about the story behind Chew, the in-development televisions series, his love of caramel, and his favorite movie of 2012: Battleship.
No, that wasn’t a typo – you’ll have to keep reading to learn more.
Blake Northcott: Hi Rob. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
Rob Guillory: Thanks for having me!
Blake: As a huge fan of Chew, I have to ask you about how this whole thing got started.
Rob: Well, it’s kind of a long story. I was kicking around in the indies, doing a lotta work that I try to hide now. This was back in 2008, and I had been working off and on for Tokyopop with a writer named Brandon Jerwa. The Tokyopop guys liked my work, but weren’t sure it’d sell, which is sort of the story of my career.
Blake: Because of your unique style?
Rob: Yeah. I mean, my stuff’s Manga-influenced, but it’s not exactly standard Manga.
Blake: Oh for sure.
Rob: So eventually, the Tokyopop thing went south and died. Then a few months later, John Layman started looking for an artist for Chew, which had been rejected numerous times by DC.
Blake: Wow, DC sure dropped the ball!
Rob: Turned out that the first guy Layman asked was Jerwa, who happened to be a good friend of his. And Jerwa referred him to me. And we just sorta clicked.
Blake: That is awesome! So was the idea already there with Chew, or did you help him develop the characters and storyline?
Rob: Layman had the first 3 issues scripted when I came onboard, and most of the primary cast. My claim to fame is that I helped make them look weird. That’s changed as the series has progressed. I contribute a lot more, generally just with offbeat food powers.
Blake: That is maybe my favorite aspect of Chew. I could read about Cibolocuters and Voresophs all day.
Rob: Yeah, it’s surprising how much range you can get out of an idea as simple and weird as “food powers.”
Blake: You had a ton of success right away with Chew; multiple prints selling out of issue #1, awards, tons of positive press and reviews…did it hit you all at once, and were you surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response?
Rob: Well, I kinda believed it was a good book before it ever came out, and I had been bragging to Layman for months before that we had a hit on our hands. But when it actually did hit, it was pretty nuts.
That first post-Chew San Diego Comic Con was the scariest experience I’ve had in my career.
Blake: How so?
Rob: Mostly because the success was real. It’s easy to read reviews online and kinda accept that we were doing okay. But when we went to the show and were mobbed by tons of fans that loved us, it scared the crap outta me and Layman.
It took us a week or so after the show to work up the courage to start the next issue. The weight of success, I guess.
Blake: Wow, that’s a great story. So the success seemed to snowball, because in 2010 it was announced that Chew would be developed into a television series – is there any update on that development?
Rob: Nothing I can really talk too much about. We have an awesome script written by a great writer named Brian Duffield. It’s shockingly loyal to the comic.
Blake: excellent news for fanatics like myself.
Rob: All the favorite characters are there, and the tone is dead on. Stylistically, it’s about as close as you can get to something as weird as Chew. So right now, we’re basically going back and forth with Showtime. Network stuff, which can move super-slow.
But the good news is that we’re taking our time with it. If it does happen, it will be good. It won’t be something we just crap out.
Blake: One thing that surprised me is that, at least initially, I read it would be a half-hour comedy series. Is that how you envisioned it, or more of a one-hour drama with some comedy elements? Or has that changed during talks?
Rob: Well, it got changed to one-hour episodes as it evolved, but I don’t know if that was ever announced. It’s just something that happens as we experiment with getting the adaptation right.
Blake: I once read that you and John Layman hoped that Ken Leung (Lost) would be cast as (main character) Tony Chu…since they were partners on Lost, does that mean Josh Holloway would play John Colby? Because that would seriously be awesome.
Rob: That’s our dream cast. I don’t know about Holloway’s availability, but we’ve been in touch with Ken Leung, and we send him books periodically.
Blake: Ken was amazing on Lost – I’d love to see him get a leading role.
Rob: He’s a fan, and if the timing came together, he would be our Tony. But it’s Hollywood, and there are a million other factors. So we’ll see.
Blake: So what can we expect from Chew, and from you, in 2013? Are you doing anything non- Chew related you want to talk about?
Rob: Well, we’re coming off the events of our series halfway point, issue #30, which rocked the series to its core, really. We’ve been dreading the events of that issue for the last 3 years, so now that’s it’s done, the second half of Chew brings back some old faces, old villains, and some big loyalty shifts.
And a character or two might die.
Blake: Oh my god…I’m seriously freaking out right now.
Rob: Basically, we’ve moved from the world-building era of Chew to the part where we start paying off some of the things we set up; big fights, confrontations that have been building, and some major revelations. The second half is vastly better than the first.
Blake: Nice! Well I am on board. Are you ready for the lightning round?
Rob: Go for it.
Blake: Quick questions, quick answers, and big prizes. Here we go: You’re stuck on a desert island and can only bring one graphic novel. What is it?
Rob: Hmm… (silence)
Blake: If that’s too a question tough I can rephrase…
Rob: Watchmen’s too depressing, so I can’t say that.
Blake: (laughs) That ruins one of my standard questions!
Rob: I dunno. I’d probably bring something classic, like some Steve Ditko Spider-Man. That stuff always holds up.
Blake: One comic or series that you’d recommend that people might not have read or heard of?
Rob: I always recommend Locke & Key. It is my absolute favorite comic series, and I am always shocked when folks haven’t heard of it. So good.
Blake: I read the first trade! Joe Hill is amazing.
Rob: Yeah, and it gets better.
Blake: Best movie of 2012 so far?
Rob: Well, my favorite movie of 2012 is my favorite because of how bad it is. And that movie is Battleship.
Blake: I missed that, sadly. Or maybe it was for the best.
Rob: Battleship is a laugh-riot.
Blake: Battleship looked like a worse version of Transformers, if that’s even possible.
Rob: Oh, it’s monumentally bad, but I get endless laughs just thinking about it.
Blake: Okay, I might need to check that out at some point just so I can be in on the joke.
Rob: It’s worth it.
Blake: Most underrated comic book movie ever?
Rob: Hmm. I feel like The Incredible Hulk was very, very good.
Blake: The one with Ed Norton?
Rob: Yeah, Ed Norton did good. Then Mark Ruffalo totally outdid him as (Bruce) Banner.
Blake: What flavor should more things come in?
Rob: Caramel. Not enough things are covered in caramel.
Blake: Correct! 100 points. What did you ask Santa to bring you this year?
Rob: I may have asked for a Ninja Turtle Van.
Blake: One question selected from my Facebook friends: Brandon Moses asks, “How awesome is Louisiana cooking?”
Rob: Have you seen how fat people get down here?
Blake: I have not.
Rob: It’s epic. The food’s epic, I mean. Not the fat people.
Rob: Yeah, amazing food.
Blake: I guess super-fat can be epic, in a way.
Rob: There’s that, too.
Blake: And one final question: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Rob: “Good job. That thing you did was pretty friggin’ hilarious.”
Blake: Okay, you can’t end on that note…are you going to leave the ‘hilarious thing’ as a cliff-hanger?
Rob: Ha! I so am.
Blake: Meanie. Well thank you so much, Rob!
Rob: No problem. Thanks for having me.
Blake: It was fun chatting with you – I’m so excited to read issue #30 and beyond, and I can’t wait for more Chew in 2013!
Rob: Yeah, let me know when you read issue #30. You may hate us after!
Blake Northcott is an author, Twitter-er, and occasional Slayer of Vampires (only the ones that sparkle).You can follow her on Twitter, or pick up her best-selling Sci-Fi/Superhero books Vs. Realityand Relapse over at Amazon.com.
Blake figured out The 10 Most Underrated Comic Book Movies (part 1) and Part 2, and documented The 5 Hottest Trends of 2012’s Summer Fan Conventions.