‘Chew’: John Layman, Rob Guillory talk ‘Family Recipes,’ Savoy, Poyo

Nov. 11, 2013 | 8:00 a.m.

The cover art for "Chew" No. 38, out Dec. 11, shows former FDA agent Mason Savoy in lockup. His being in the FDA Supermax prison known as "The Can" is part of an as-yet-unrevealed plan. [Warning: This gallery contains profanity.] (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

The cover art for "Chew" No. 39 shows food critic Amelia , a saboscrivener (meaning her writing is so vivid readers can taste what she's describing), with a gallsaberry plant (tastes like chicken). She's FDA Agent Tony Chu's girlfriend. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

The cover for "Chew" No. 40, in which the stories from Nos. 38 and 39 converge. (Rob Guillory / Image)

John Layman is the writer and co-creator of "Chew," which has won two Eisner Awards. (Image Comics)

Rob Guillory is the artist and co-creator of "Chew." The title won the Eisner for best new series in 2010 and best continuing series in 2011. (Image Comics)

The cover art for "Chew" No. 36, which came out in September, teases the return of the late Antonelle Chu, Looney Tunes-style. She's a cibovoyant (meaning she can see the future of any living thing she takes a bite of). (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

"Chew" No. 36, Page 1 shows Antonelle "Toni" Chu visiting her brother Tony in the hospital. Tony is a cibopath (meaning he can see the past of anything he eats). (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

"Chew" No. 36, Page 3 is a second cover leading into a further flashback. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

"Chew" No. 36, Page 6 shows Tony and Toni's sister Sage. She's a cipropanthropatic, meaning she can see the memories of anyone nearby eating the same thing. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

Cover A for "Chew" No. 37 shows Tony about to eat his late sister's toe. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

Cover B shows Tony's daughter Olive about to eat her late mother's toe. Olive is also a cibopath. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

"Chew" No. 37, Page 1 shows the part-robot FDA Agent John Colby, Tony Chu's partner and secretly Mason Savoy's co-conspirator, going to visit the latter. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

This post has been corrected. See below for more details.

“Chew” creators John Layman and Rob Guillory had barely had time to push together their neighboring tables at New York Comic Con’s Artist Alley last month after a signing in the main exhibition hall when a new crowd formed. They’d been selling through copies of a $100 limited-run version of the 576-page hardcover “Chew Smorgasbord Edition Volume 1” faster than anticipated on the convention’s first day, but that wasn’t the only collectible readers were seeking to have autographed.

When one fan presented the Arizona-based Layman with a first-printing copy of “Chew” No. 1 that wasn’t in a protective covering, he paused.

“This is a $300 comic,” Layman said, noting that the 2009 debut issue of the multiple-Eisner-Award-winning Image series – originally priced at $2.99, as new issues still are – can sell for north of $1,000 if the copy receives a high mark from the comics-condition-grading Certified Guaranty Co.

Get it “CGC’d,” he advised.

It’s true that the work of Layman and his Louisiana-based artist partner has turned into a sound comics investment. The inventive series, which is nearing the two-thirds point of its planned 60-issue course, has amassed a loyal following since its debut with a singular combination of smart and silly humor, engrossing characters, crime-fighting and food obsession — few comics teams can boast that a fan has sent them homemade cookie jars shaped like a character they created.

Cover A for "Chew" No. 37 shows Tony about to eat his late sister's toe. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

Cover A for “Chew” No. 37 shows Tony about to eat his late sister’s toe. (Rob Guillory / Image Comics)

“Chew’s” put-upon hero, Tony Chu is a cibopath – meaning he can see the past of anything he eats, except, oddly, beets – and his ability is often put to morbid use in his detective work as an agent for the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency, the Food and Drug Administration.

In the world of “Chew,” the avian flu was disastrous, chicken is outlawed (one culinary substitute: the chog), and Tony is far from the only person with a food-related power: His late, NASA scientist twin sister Antonelle, a.k.a. Toni, could see the future of any living thing she took a bite out of, and his food critic girlfriend Amelia Mintz is a saboscrivener, able to write so vividly that readers can taste what she’s describing.

There’s even a murderous, food-power-absorbing “vampire,” Tony’s arch enemy.

Agent Chu has had to deal with some uneasy things – munching on corpses during investigations springs to mind – but maybe nothing makes him more uncomfortable than his relatives, including his estranged teenage daughter, Olive. He’s having to deal with those issues in the current arc, “Family Recipes.” The next chapter in the saga, “Chew” No. 38, arrives in December.

“Pretty much his whole family hates him, except for his twin sister,” Layman said of his series’ star. That’s shown “without ever explicitly saying his wife died and he basically abandoned his daughter and he buried himself in work. He’s kind of a jerk … but I’m also showing you why. He was heartbroken that he lost the love of his life.”

His wife, Olive’s mother, died years ago.

But as readers saw in “Chew” Nos. 36 and 37, the ever enthusiastic, talkative Toni is working from beyond the grave to get her polar-opposite-personality brother on better terms with the family – and to find and kill that vampire. In true “Chew” fashion, her guidance comes via her severed toe.

“Chew” No. 36: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6

Toni’s surprise death back in No. 30 created an outcry from readers, but it was something that Layman said he and Guillory knew was coming.

“We wanted it to be a very good death, a death that mattered and redeemed herself as not just a character being killed to propel the character into action,” he said.

Layman said No. 38, which involves Tony’s former partner and fellow cibopath Mason Savoy in an FDA Supermax prison called “the Can,” and No. 39, which focuses on Amelia and Olive, take place at the same time and have similar endings, with their stories converging in No. 40.

In the new issue, the grandiloquent Savoy is continuing a plot hinted at in 37 when it was revealed he’s still secretly in league with Tony’s current partner, the part-robot John Colby, working to get to somebody inside the Can while surrounded by “all these other dangerous food-powered weirdos,” as Layman put it.

“Chew” No. 37: Cover A | Cover B | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 [warning: link contains profanity] | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6

Guillory, who’s excited about the prison’s design, had semi-profanely tweeted about how weird No. 38 is. But Layman said it isn’t the strangest issue yet, promising a “really freaking weird” No. 39.

As seen on close inspection of the large versions of pages linked to above, Guillory regularly seeds panel backgrounds with jokes – which Layman said he doesn’t see until the issue is printed because of the rush to finish production.

“It’s probably better that way,” Guillory said with a laugh.

"Chew" readers' favorite cybernetic kung-fu rooster starred in a one-shot released last summer. John Layman says he and co-creator Rob Guillory are planning more Poyo "summer blockbusters." (Image Comics)

“Chew: Secret Agent Poyo” was released in 2012. There may be a new Poyo solo adventure in summer 2014. (Image Comics)

Talk turns, as it often does with “Chew,” to the fan-favorite luchador-mask-wearing, cybernetic kung-fu rooster Poyo. The furious fowl, who debuted in the series’ eighth issue, has popped up time and again, including in his own one-shot, “Chew: Secret Agent Poyo,” last year, and a figure is in the works from Skelton Crew Studio, which has made chog merchandise.

Guillory knew they had a breakout character when the No. 8 cover was released and appeared on a blog.

“I go to the comments section,” the artist recalled, “and the first guy is like – he had no idea what ‘Chew’ was – but he was like, ‘Does that rooster have a luchador mask? That’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.’ So when I saw that, I knew it was going to be hot. But I didn’t know it was going to be this big.”

So, is another Poyo special issue coming? Layman said yes, they’re planning to have one ready in time for next summer’s Comic-Con International in San Diego.

[For the record, Nov. 13, 11:35 a.m.: A previous version of this post said "Chew" No. 38 would be released Nov. 13. It will be released in December.]

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex


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