Today I’m proud to bring to StashMyComics.com a special interview from the Panel Pals Podcast; an interview with Rob Guillory, the super cool and amazing artist of the Image Comics series CHEW. Rob pencils, inks, and colors all the pages himself, leaving only the writing and lettering up to other people. He’s multi-Eisner and Harvey nominated, and quickly making a name for himself. So, let’s see what he had to say about CHEW, breaking into the industry, and the potential of a television show.
Leo Johnson: I have with me now Rob Guillory, artist of CHEW.
Rob Guillory: Hello.
LJ: And so, he agreed to answer a few questions for us, and we are very grateful for that. Let’s go ahead and get started. So, Rob, how did you initially get started in the comic book industry?
RG: Well, just to backtrack, to go way, way back, I’m from Lafayette, Louisiana, where there isn’t really much of a comic scene. I mean, there is a scene kind of popping up now, but initially not a lot going on with the comic scene at all. It wasn’t until my first year of college in 2000 that I really started thinking of comics as a real career. I started going to conventions and that kind of thing and started making contacts, and generating work and kind of honing my craft. It really wasn’t until about 2008, 2009-ish to do comics part-time. And then around that time, I was doing some stuff for Tokyo Pop, which never got published, and that eventually led to CHEW in 2008. So yeah, that’s kind of how it happened. It was basically just an eight or nine year process of being rejected over and over again, and slowly building momentum and it just ended up here.
LJ: Do you want to elaborate a little bit more on how you involved on CHEW?
RG: Yeah, well, like I said, I was doing a project for Tokyo Pop with a guy named Brandon Jerwa. Brandon’s great. We did this thing for the Pilot Program for Tokyo Pop that never got published, and it totally just went south and we ended up breaking ties with Tokyo Pop. Right around the time this went down, if I recall, maybe a month or two after, John Layman, who was a mutual friend with Brandon Jerwa, kind of popped up and asked Brandon, “Hey, I’m looking for an artist for this crazy bird flu cannibal book. Do you know anyone?” and Brandon referred me based off the strength of what I did with him at Tokyo Pop. We met in July of 2008 at San Diego ComicCon and we started working together about a month later on CHEW.
LJ: So, how is it working with Layman? How is he?
RG: Layman is really, really laid back. One of the benefits of working with someone for as long as we’ve been working together, I mean, we’ve been working together almost four years, is that we’ve developed a shorthand to where I know what he wants and he knows what I like. So, he basically just gives me a script and that’s pretty much it. Like, he shoots me a script, and I just send him the inked pages, and he does the lettering on top of it, and eventually I do the colors at the end. That’s really it. It’s super, super laid back. Usually we chat online at some point during the day. Usually it’s just small talk about LEGOS and Warcraft or something. But, that’s pretty much it. It’s really, really easy to work with John. That’s really why I can’t see working with any other writer in my career because it’s just that easy with him.
So, how is it working for Image? Do you feel like you have a little more freedom since it’s an independent publisher?
RG: Yeah, Image is much like John. They are extremely laid back, almost to a fault. I could see a lot of people getting really aggravated working with them because they are so hands-off. There are no editors at Image Comics at all. Dark Horse has editors; of course the Marvel and DC guys have editors. There are only 13 or 14 guys on staff at Image Comics and a whole crapload of comics that they put out. So, it’s extremely laid back. Basically, the only time we ever hear from them is whenever we’re finishing an issue and send it to them and they’re asking us questions about production or we ask them questions about future issues. We’re doing a special thing for the next ComicCon issue that we’re doing. It’s going to be the Secret Agent Poyo one-shot. It looks like we’re going to do a foil cover or something like that. So, basically, we just email them, the Image guys, and say, “Hey, what are the chances of doing chromium cover?” and they’ll look it up and give us the details and we go from there. I think Image likes working with us because we like having fun and experimenting. It’s been great working with them. Again, I can’t picture working with another publisher because I’ve kind of been spoiled at Image.
LJ: Yeah, because this is really your first venture into comics, isn’t it?
RG: I’ve done some things in the indie scene with Ape Entertainment and with Tokyo Pop. I’ve done some stuff with Random House in the UK. I’ve done a few things here and there, but Image is kind of the first big thing I’ve ever done and it’s completely different from any of the other experiences. It’s been perfect for me.
LJ: Since CHEW began, both you and the comic have gotten a lot of exposure and awards. Has this ever surprised you? Did you ever think CHEW wouldn’t be successful?
RG: Well, John and I both had the idea that we could gain a cult following because we both really liked it and figured that there’s bound to be a small group of really weird people that probably dig it as much as we do. It just so happened that the group of weird people was bigger than we expected, which was great for us. No, we never could’ve imagined. I mean, I didn’t actually know anything about the Eisners or awards or stuff until we started getting nominated for them. It was never really the goal to win an Eisner or anything like that. It just kind of happened, which is really weird. But no, we could not have forecast that it would be anywhere near as successful as it’s been.
LJ: How many Eisners has CHEW won? Three? Two?
RG: We’ve been nominated for like four, and won two.
LJ: Yeah. Pretty good run.
RG: And we’ve won two Harveys also. We’ve had a really good run so far.
RG: From very early on, when I first came on, I asked John, “When you think of Tony Chu, who do you think of? Who is he based on?” just to get an idea of visually what he would look like. He would give me actors, like for Tony it was Ken Leung from the show Lost. He was Tony. And Colby, I had a hard time getting a grasp on who Colby was. Because he was such a slob in the script, I kind of pictured him as a Sam from Sam and Twitch, a fat guy. That was not at all what John had in mind. He was like, “Colby is like a good-looking slob.” Naturally, I started thinking of Josh Holloway, from Lost also. The good thing about that was that around the time that Sawyer and Miles, Ken Leung’s character on Lost, actually started becoming buddies on the show, and their dynamic was perfect. So, I started thinking, “What if I based these two characters off these two characters and mimicked that dynamic?” The weird thing is now that we’re working on the TV show, we’ve been in contact with Ken Leung, and there is a chance that he could end up as Tony Chu. Just to answer your question, I think for all characters, whenever we have a major character come up, I actually have a list of my favorite actors, like a dream cast. A “What if?”, like who would I cast in this. For example, in issue 24, there’s a guy who creates weapons out of chocolate. So, I started thinking, who could I base this on? I immediately thought of Eddie Murphy for some reason. Just because I thought it would be a completely different role for him and I really like Eddie Murphy, even though he’s made crappy movies for a while. So, yeah, I totally cast Eddie Murphy as that guy, and it happens all the time.
LJ: You’ve basically answered this question already, but like you said, there is talk of a CHEW TV show, and who would you cast? You’ve answered a lot of the characters, but what about Savoy? Who would you cast for Savoy?
RG: Savoy is tough because he’s such a big guy. I think I would probably go for Brendan Gleeson. No one is going to know who he is, but if you Google him, he’s in everything. Like, he was in Braveheart, he was the dad in 28 Days Later. He’s a great, great actor, and he’s in everything. He’s probably such a great actor that he’s probably too good to do this. If not him, I would probably go for John Goodman. Other than that, we have voiced that we would like Felicia Day as Emilia Mintz. We’ve been in touch with her, she knows we want her. She’s actually a big fan of the book. Other than that, I don’t know. We’ll see when we get there.
LJ: The prospect of a TV show is very exciting.
RG: Totally. It’s weird because we’re excited, but we’re very realistic in the fact that this could suck. So, we’re kind of proceeding cautiously to make sure that everything falls into the place the right way, which is why it’s moving as slow as it has. This has been in the works since 2010, and we’ve been working on getting it to television. We’ve had a few different scripts since then, but none of them were quite right. The script that we have now is actually pretty damn perfect. So, we’ll see. It could happen sooner than later.
LJ: I’m definitely looking forward to it. That would be something great to see more comic oriented television.
In a lot of the panels, there are a lot of little “Easter Eggs”, like at the butter sculpting completion there is a giant statue of Butters with Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Do you come up with most of that, or do you and Layman work on that jointly?
RG: Well, in the early issues, it was pretty much all me. I’m a big fan of Watchmen. Like, Alan Moore writes insane scripts, but I don’t know how much of his scripts would be filled with descriptions of signage and things like that because Dave Gibbons drew a ton of that, there was tons of signs and posters and things that added depth to the world without needing dialogue. Just little background things that fleshed it out and made rereading that much more fun. So, I’ve kind of applied that to CHEW but in a more ridiculous way. I mean, the world of CHEW is ridiculous humor, so I just thought, what if the background signage and things like that had a sarcastic and ridiculous humor tone, but also fleshed out the world. And that just kind of took off from there. Since then, Layman has actually gotten in on it. Like, the Butters sculpture was his idea. He came back with that one. I ultimately have veto power over them whenever he gives them to me, but if they’re good, I’ll use them. Like the Robert Kirkman posters in Olive’s room in issue 24 were Layman’s idea too. He actually has some really, really good ideas. I would say nowadays that it’s about 90% me, 10% Layman.
LJ: They’re nice little things to look at, like you said it adds depth, it’s kind of fun.
RG: It’s a delicate balance. I don’t want to disrupt the story and take you out of the story. It’s just an extra thing that’s subtly in the background if you’re paying attention.
LJ: Do you have any advice for aspiring comic artists?
RG: Work hard, go to conventions, don’t develop an ego, and don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing. And not being weird goes a long way. Well, not being weird, but not being an ***hole, period, kind of goes a long way. Comics are like any other job in that it’s built on relationships. People hire people they know. If you have an opening coming up at your job, the first guy you’re going to go to is someone you know. You’re going to think, “Hey, do I know anybody that could fill this position?” And comic books are pretty much the exact same way. Opportunities go to people that are easy to work with. That’s probably the biggest “secret” to working in comics. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s all about who you know, but it is a big part of it. So, that’s the biggest thing, I think.
RG: No, that’s pretty much it. Coming up, we have issue 26 comes out I think next week. Which is going to be the beginning of our sixth story arc, Space Cakes. If you read issue 25, issue 25 is pretty insane. A lot stuff happens in 25. 26 is kind of the cool down, the breather issue before things get crazy again. I can’t really say too much about this arc. So, basically we have for this arc we have a new protagonist, Tony’s sister who is named Toni. She is going to be your primary for the next few issues. That’s pretty much all I’ll say about it. After that, next month, we have a reprint of issue 27. In case no one knows, we released issue 27 about a year early last year, which confused everyone, including me. We’re going to re-release it in sequence, and then about a month after that in July, we’re going to release a one-shot, our first one-shot, Secret Agent Poyo, who is probably our most popular character. A luchador chicken, who is now cybernetic. It’s pretty insane. After that, for the rest of the year, we’ll finish with Space Cakes and probably finish with issue 30 and march into the second half of the story.
LJ: Is CHEW set to end at a certain point?
RG: Yeah. Issue 60. Which is why I like if you read issue 25, we give a panel from issue 60, which is the last issue. That’s the plan so far.
LJ: Thank you again for doing this.
RG: No problem, thanks for having me.