Of the many titles Image Comics has launched in the past decade, few have left the staying power of John Layman and Rob Guillory's foodie crime drama Chew.
And now like a surprise second course at your favorite restaurant, the idiosyncratic cop drama with a healthy side of foodie-related psychic abilities returns with a follow-up: Chu.
Layman is back, this time joined by artist Dan Boultwood, to forge ahead with a new story following Saffron Chu, the sister of Chew's central character Tony Chu. Like her brother, Saffron has food-based psychic powers, but while Tony's powers come from eating an item, Saffron's come from eating a meal exactly like the person who's psychic impression she wishes to receive. And while Tony Chu was a cop trying to prevent crime, Saffron's story is about her working in crime.
Newsarama spoke with Layman about his return to the 'Chew-universe,' bringing in a new artist, and expanding the unique world he and Guillory developed.
Newsarama: John, how familiar with Chew should a reader be before hopping into Chu? Could a new reader go in blind?
John Layman: I try to write everything with the awareness that every issue is somebody's first issue, so I strive to put a certain level of accessibility to everything. This goes doubly so for a first issue, even one spinning out of an existing property.
Obviously there will be layers over the story more meaningful to longtime Chew readers, but anybody should be able to pick up Chu and know everything they need to know, with no prior knowledge of the stuff that came before it.
Nrama: How long have you wanted to do a Chew-universe story from the other side of the law? Was there a specific moment this idea came to you?
Layman: I had the idea for a 'flip side of Chew' focusing on the criminal element long before I knew who the character would be. I tried to have it be a featured character, specifically a Chu sibling that was previously introduced, but I could not do it without massively violating Chew continuity. So I came up with Saffron, the sister you never met, and this first story will both introduce her to Chew readers and explain why she was absent from Chew.
Nrama: Joining you on this book is artist Dan Boultwood. Could you give us a window into what it's like working with Dan? What makes him right for this book?
Layman: Chew artist Rob Guillory was not available, so I started a very long hunt for somebody who would bring the same sort of energy and humor to Chu, somebody who would be not radically different than Rob, but have distinctly their own style.
I think Dan has worked out absolutely perfect. He found his groove almost instantly.
Nrama: What was the most surprising thing you discovered about this universe while writing Chu? What about Chu do you think will surprise hardcore fans of the original series?
Layman: Well, Chu is not Chew, though there is definite connective tissue. Yes, it spins out of Chew, but Chu will have its own 'rules' and be distinctly its own thing. It's not simply 'more of the same,' and I hope readers will be on board with that, not simply seek the "comfort food" of giving people more of the stuff that's come before.
Nrama: Chu is a prequel, set before the ban on poultry that was responsible for so much of the original series' criminal activities. What does crime look like, pre-bird flu?
Layman: The first arc is a prequel, which for Chew readers shows the initial outbreak of the bird flu, and recounts how Tony got partnered up with John Colby. It also introduces Saffron Chu, and explains why Saffron was absent from Chew. Subsequent Chu arcs will not be prequel, but will run concurrently with the events of Chew.
Nrama: Our main character, Saffron Chu, is Tony Chu's little sister. But while he's a by-the-numbers cop, she's a seat-of-her-pants crook. Why are these two siblings so different?
Layman: Probably has to do with their powers.
Tony, a cibopath, gets impressions from what he eats whether he likes it or not, which tends to make him miserable.
Saffron is a cibopars, who learns the secrets of whoever she shares a similar meal with. Her ability to learn secrets makes it easy to take advantage of people, and given her a moral flexibility that Tony has always lacked.
Nrama: In your opinion, who's smarter?
Layman: Saffron is certainly smarter when it comes to seeing all the angles, and sussing out opportunities and easy ways out. Tony's a little more slow-and-steady. Saffron, however, is more inclined to make really stupid errors.
Nrama: Do you have an end planned for the saga of Saffron Chu? Or will you continue telling her story for the foreseeable future?
Layman: I know the ending, but I'm in no hurry to get to the end. There is no set ending. Chu will go for as long as I feel like telling crime stories in the Chew-universe, and as long as readers are interested.
Nrama: Even beyond that, is there another area of the Chew-universe you think you'd like to explore? Another character, piece of history, etc.?
Layman: I am carrying Chew 2 in my back pocket, which picks up after the events of Chew, and is a very sci-fi story following Tony's daughter Olive Chu, navigating a brave new world inhabited by alien occupiers.
Nrama: If you had Saffron's powers, with whom would you share an identical meal? Whose thoughts would you want to know?
Layman: Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh, obviously!!!