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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 08/ 3/2010

The 'Riffs Interview: New Eisner winner JOHN LAYMAN relishes the success of 'CHEW'

By Michael Cavna

(All images used by permission courtesy of John Layman)

When your line of work often involves covering people who openly aspire to be good and great and legendary, you hear a lot of boasts and bravado. Rarely, though, do the hungry headline-seekers make good on their boasts. One of the few was adolescent cub Tiger Woods, who told me, the college cub reporter, that he planned to become "the Michael Jordan of golf." (Yes, he certainly made good on that.)

But sometimes, in your very midst, are the true talents who wear their humility like a comfortable T. They simply want to practice their craft and create their work and hone their talents. And if they can make a full-time living at it, they feel especially blessed.

So it was that I first met John Layman.

Layman and I worked in the same California newsroom more than a decade ago (where also toiled such real and future "Chew" names as "Elizabeth Bacon" and "David Graham"). At that time,he humbly shared one clear goal: He wanted to make a full-time go at writing comics.

Ten-plus years on, the gifted Layman, 42, has succeeded but deliciously.

Layman moved from editing at Wildstorm to full-time writing in 2002, working for Marvel and Image. From "Puffed" to "Xena: Warrior Princess" to "ThunderCats," he displayed keen talent and craft. And then came "Chew."

To say that "Chew" -- written and lettered by Layman and drawn by Rob Guillory -- has won a voracious following in merely a year is to understate the point. (A fitting approach, given its creators.)

"Chew" -- the tales of a government crimefighter who wields a psychic palate -- has quickly proved both a commercial and critical hit. And the bouquets keep on coming. The stylishly rendered comic, already one of Image's top titles, last month won a coveted Eisner Award for "best new series" at San Diego Comic-Con. And at the Baltimore Comic-Con later this month, "Chew" is up for twin Harvey Awards: for best new series and best new talent (Guillory).

And during the San Diego 'Con, it was also announced that "Chew" will be adapted into a TV series.

Comic Riffs recently caught up with Layman, though there's little catching up with his recent run of success, to talk Eisners, television and gastronomic crimefighting.

MICHAEL CAVNA: From WildStorm on forward, John, is "Chew" the most creatively rewarding comic you've ever worked on?

JOHN LAYMAN; Yeah, absolutely. I've been doing this for a while, and "Chew" is the first book that people have cared about. A lot of people, anyway, and they seem to really care about it. The response to the book has been phenomenal.


MC: And now you're just coming off a whirlwind Comic-Con.

JL: San Diego Comic-Con was huge for us. We sold a ton of books, both a convention exclusive variant cover of No.-12, and a hardcover "Omnivore Edition" collecting Chew No. 1-10. We had the Hollywood announcement that the book has a director attached for a TV show, and, best of all, we got the Eisner for Best New Series. That was absolutely the high point, and something I never would have expected in a trillion years when we first planned this book. All that, plus I was tailed several hours a day for the Comic-Con documentary that Morgan "Super Size Me" Spurlock is doing.

MC: Speaking of San Diego, how many Comic-Cons have you been to now, and do you hope it stays in San Diego?

JL: I've been going every year since 1991. I don't see it leaving. That's just an empty threat to get more money for the convention. Comic-Con is too big an institution for San Diego -- they will never let it go, and they would lose scads of money if they are stupid enough to do so.

MC: Since "Chew" is a "police procedural," can you readily see it adapted to TV -- and what details about the project are you at liberty to share?

JL: On the first night of Con, the news went out that Stephen Hopkins, director of the first season of "24" and a lot of other excellent stuff, is set to executive- produce and direct the as-of-yet-unsold "Chew" live-action TV show. I think we'd be happy if it is animated or live-action. ... We're happy there is Hollywood movement, but since that is not really our world or area of expertise, we're just concentrating on the comic, and letting people behind the scenes do their thing.

The talent behind "Chew" basks in the success at San Diego Comic-Con 2010.


MC: Has Ken Leung -- as fairly Tony Chu's inspiration -- ever contacted you to say: "Hey, man, I read 'Chew'!" or "I like what you're doing!" or even just "Yo, that line is eerily me -- knock it off!"

JL: No, but recently a friend of a friend got him the contact info for Ken Leung's management company and we sent them some books. Hopefully he'll take it as the compliment it is intended to be.

MC: Can you speak to your creative process with Rob -- how much do you guys communicate (or not) aside from through the page itself?

JL: Daily, but it is mostly by instant message. I am online most of the work day, and he pops up a few times every couple hours between pages to check in, talk, update me, whatever.

MC: So do you know exactly what's ahead for Tony and Amelia and their relationship, how that arc will next unfold?

JL: The current arc (Nos. 11-15) is called "Just Desserts," and it is all about partnerships, past and present, profession and personal. So yes, Tony's new girlfriend Amelia plays a considerable role.

MC: I enjoyed your Tek Jansen work. Did you communicate much with Stephen Colbert about story and character and plotting and look -- or did you pretty much have creative free rein?

JL: I spoke with Stephen Colbert a few times while we did the five-issue "Tek Jansen" comic, and he was very friendly and involved. He took a big hand in things... so much so we had to remind him comics were not like TV: You can't keep rewriting until airdate. At some point you have to sign off on it and move on, otherwise it never gets drawn. So there was a bit of a learning curve for him, but it was flattering how much attention and time he gave to the project.

MC: Can you speak to being a game writer, too? How are those challenges different, and do you like the change of pace from writing for comics?

JL: I've found game writing to be easier, for more money, and with a lower bar of quality. I think for the longest time, games have focused on technology and razzle dazzle, and only (comparatively) recently have come to appreciate the importance of a good writing, dialogue and storytelling. On the other hand, there are a lot more chefs in the kitchen with game writing, and if you want something that has more of your personal stamp on it, stick to comics.

MC: Lastly what might Tony Chu psychically divine were he to munch on Comic-Con concession food?

JL: I put Tony though a lot of terrible stuff, but that's a fate I would not wish on anybody!

By Michael Cavna  | August 3, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  | Tags:  Baltimore Comic-Con, Chew, John Layman, Rob Guillory, San Diego Comic-Con  
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