Lafayette native Rob Guillory illustrates the acclaimed series Chew (Image Comics), an Eisner Award-winning series following a taste-psychic FDA agent following a string of murders and mysteries in the midst of a chicken prohibition.
Protagonist Tony Chu (a dead ringer for Lost's Miles Straum) and partner John Colby (again, a dead ringer for Lost's Sawyer) engage in a brutal black comedy-meets-police procedural, all set against Guillory's surreal, layered images and backdrops.
The series' first two issues made the New York Times bestseller list earlier this year. Read more on Louisiana's comic scene in this week's cover story, and check below for an excerpt from my interview with Guillory (and more artwork).
I want to talk a bit about Chew. It's taken off quite a bit. Did you anticipate that? Or was this a pet project that just kind of exploded?
My writer John Layman had been sitting on it for several years. He was an editor at Wild Storm. He pitched it over there a bunch of times. He was saying,'Being an editor, it would be easy to get picked up.' They all thought he was nuts, that there was no way it would be a success. They told him that if he tried to publish it, it would be the end of his career. Eventually he got inspired to find an artist for it. He found me through a mutual friend. We didn't expect it to be as successful as its been. I figured ... people would either love it or hate it completely and I'd never be able to work in comics again. I never thought that people wouldn't care. He thought it would do best as a cult thing.
When I met you at the Alternative Media Expo in March, the first thing you asked was if I saw the TV show Lost. I'm curious if people are coming to you as (Lost characters) Sawyer and Miles fans.
(Laughs) We actually have a lot of fans who are Lost fans. We've been in touch with the actor who played Miles (Ken Leung). He's pretty much our first pick for Tony Chu. He didn't know we thought of him for the role. He found it, right before Lost wrapped, he said he was in Hawaii when his family was there, and he found it online and ran downstairs, and had no idea it was him. The TV show is in its early, early development. We have writers and a director attached. We've been in pretty regular contact with him and he knows we want him for the role.
How much can you tell me about the show at this point? Is there a network attached?
Not yet. They're working in reverse. They want to generate a script, get a couple actors attached, make it a total package and get it to a network. They're kind of banking on an Internet buzz and the general buzz over the book kind of carrying it to get it the network we want to get.
Will it pick up where the comics left or will it bring some of the comic's storylines?
I don't know. It's going to be weird. Personally, I leaned on the side of wanting to see it be more animated, just because it's so weird and they could never make a direct live-action adaptation of Chew, with all of its sci-fi elements. There's some pretty out there stuff in the book that wouldn't make it in live action unless they had a gigantic budget — which we so are not going to have. I'm optimistic, but I don't hold my breath on it.
Did you grow up with comics?
I was born in Carencro, Louisiana, which is a small sister city to Lafayette, where I live now. I totally grew up with comics. I had two uncles who were really into it. They were comic nerds before there were comic nerds. I always thought it was cool, but I never thought, you know, it seemed like such a distant dream, like, 'How do you work in comics? That's not a real job. You can't possibly make a living off that. Especially in Louisiana.' So, I went for the next best thing. University of Louisiana at Lafayette has a program for 3-D animation. So I thought, 'Video games can be cool.' I didn't want to pay the huge amounts of cash to go to Savannah College of Art and Design, or anything like that. I had been doing comics since like fourth grade. I would draw them and never show anyone. By the time I got to college, I thought, 'What the hell, it couldn't hurt, I might as well give it a shot.' I started going to conventions, started showing my work, met with other artists, editors, writers. I graduated in 2005 — in painting. I hated 3-D animation.
You're in a larger publishing scope compared to a lot of guys locally. Where do you see Louisiana compared to other comics scenes?
It's starting to take off. More people are starting to realize what I realized early. I have a lot of friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco, that are into art and comics. I graduated with a lot of people who left to go to New York or wherever to look for the scene because there was nothing going on here. You're not going to make any money starting out, and you're going to be dead broke, so you might as well be dead broke in the cheapest place to live. Going (away) doesn't guarantee everything. With the Internet you can live and work anywhere. I'm not going anywhere.
This is the best place to do it, practically because of how cheap it is. But it's the perfect place to find your voice and not starve. Now there's a growing professional field here, which is weird. There's probably never been a better time to do it.
What's next for Chew?
The plan from the beginning, when we realized we could sustain and not go into bankruptcy, we were going to do 60 issues, like our favorite books, like Preacher, Transmetropolitan. They all have 60 issues arcs. We know what the ending is, we've known from the beginning. We just released 15, so we're a quarter the way there.
Me and John are definitely going to work together on something else. We just work really well together. That may be five years from now, but eventually.