Batman or Superman? What about the Kool-Aid Man?
"When you think of comics, nobody thinks of Kool-Aid Man," says Rob Guillory, who illustrates the award-winning comic CHEW. "At one point, everyone was making comics. It was a brand thing. For a while, Kool-Aid had its own comic. The Kool-Aid Man was going around and quenching peoples' thirsts. My earliest memories are of a Kool-Aid Man comic, a Jell-O Man comic, and for a while, Radio Shack had a comic."
Marvel's 1980s series The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man starred the titular jug of sugar water battling the "thirsties" through time, in outer space or inside computers. "I'd find comics through weird means," Guillory says. "They weren't your mainstream superhero comics." (Batman, Superman and other mainstream comic heroes came to Guillory later, he says, mostly through crates of comics in his uncles' closets.)
Perhaps that shaped his current tastes — CHEW, after all, is set in an alternate Philadelphia during a poultry prohibition, and star detective Tony Chu's "superpower" is his psychic ability through biting. (It works on everything — except beets.) The subversive series weaves offbeat comedy, supernatural thrills and crime drama, a cockeyed Inherent Vice for X-Files diehards. The comic began in 2008 and has won multiple awards, including two Eisner Awards — the comic world's top honor — in 2010 and 2011, and its collected volumes are New York Times best-sellers.
On the heels of the release of last month's issue No. 45, Guillory and CHEW author John Layman return to New Orleans for the 2015 Wizard World Comic Con Jan. 9-11. The pair — following a few international tours and comic conventions across the U.S. — joins the convention's artist lineup of Fantastic Four's Mark Bagley, Batman's Neal Adams, The Simpsons' Phil Ortiz and a dozen others, including Louisiana artist Kody Chamberlain, who illustrated the New Orleans noir series Sweets. Celebrity guests at the convention include stars of The Walking Dead (Norman Reedus, Michael Cudlitz, Sarah Wayne Callies, Michael Rooker and Scott Wilson), as well as Ian Somerhalder, Karl Urban, Holly Marie Combs, Shannen Doherty, Mark McGrath and many others.
In 2010, Showtime picked up a script with plans to produce a half-hour, live-action comedy adaptation of CHEW, but those plans fizzled in 2014. Instead, the series is getting an animated 90-minute feature adaptation of the first five issues. The Walking Dead actor Steven Yeun voices Tony, and Felicia Day voices his girlfriend, Amelia Mintz. Guillory hopes the feature will spin off into an animated series and another crack at a live-action series.
"Showtime took the perfect script and decided, 'Oh, we can screw this up,'" Guillory says. "It happened around the time our option ran out, which thankfully it did, or they would've really ruined it. It's so bizarre and over the top. The art style is so much a part of it. It kind of needs to retain that to fully get across the humor and everything. ...
"The Showtime deal went so wrong that now we either want to do it our way, or we don't want to do it. We could be content with just the comic and a few toys and leave it at that."
Guillory grew up in Carencro, Louisiana, and graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2005. He still lives and works in Lafayette.
"Usually when people find out what I do for a living, like, 'What do you do?' 'I draw comics.' 'Oh, do you sell them in a boutique? Your mom's basement? How does that work?' They usually don't expect good things to come out of Louisiana," he says. "Even the locals feel like if you're still living in Louisiana, you probably aren't successful. I hope we get to a place where people start to expect quality to come out of Louisiana, even from the people who stay here."
Guillory also is working on a 10-page Thor comic for Marvel written by former WWE Champion wrestler CM Punk. In addition, Guillory is writing and illustrating his own series, though it's still under wraps. "Part of it takes place in Louisiana," he says. "It's what I know. ... I could see myself doing a 10- or 20-issue series and screwing around here and there with Layman."
CHEW, meanwhile, will wrap its 60-issue cycle in 2016.
"I was initially contracted out to do five issues," he says. "In the beginning, John and I were kind of like, 'Well, best case scenario, we can go 60 issues. Worst case scenario, we can do five and go our separate ways and never speak again.'
"I don't know if we've seen the peak of our reception. I don't think we'll see how popular we've been until it's over. When it's wrapped and it's the complete thing, I think people will start missing us."