Image Month: Rob Guillory Talks Craft, Chew, and His Love of Comics

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I absolutely love communicating in a pictorial language. I once heard Stephen King call writing "a form of telepathy", and I think comics take that even further. If writing is like telepathy, then comics must be like a kind of temporary Mind Control. And I say that with my tongue planted firmly in cheek. I get to lead the reader through a wide array of emotion, just with a few ink scratches on paper. It's pretty great.
– Rob Guillory.

Broken Frontier has been celebrating 20 years of Image Comics, and while it’s easy enough to sit back and sing the celebrations of those titles that helped define the publisher all those years ago, it is also important to look towards those that are continuing to make Image the most exciting house of ideas imaginable.

Only three years on since its fantastic debut, Chew has moved from strength to strength, an incredible feat considering its almost universal fan and critical acclaim month in, month out. Initially centring on the Cibopathic Tony Chu, an FDA agent with the ability to see the past of anything he tastes, the book has since expanded to house a diverse cast that can only be described as borderline depraved. Humour, horror and move than a heavy helping of lunacy, what more could you want from a creator owned series? 

As volume five of this runaway hit series hits shelves this week, we borrowed some time from artist Rob Guillory's heavy schedule to talk about his influences, the development of Chew and how becoming a father has changed his work habits...

BROKEN FRONTIER: This month Broken Frontier is celebrating 20 unbelievable years of Image comics, are there any Image books that hold a special place on your bookshelves?

ROB GUILLORY: I think my personal fave is a big hardcover version of Bendis' run on Sam & Twitch. I really, really love that volume. Other than that, I have a bagged and boarded copy of Rob Liefeld's Brigade from the original Image launch that I still have a massive soft spot for, since I think it was the very first Image comic purchased by a 9-year-old Rob.

BF: Lets take a trip back in time as I know many people are interested in your influences. Were you always into comics as a kid? If so, which side of the fence did you fall on - Marvel or DC?

GUILLORY: I got into comics at a really young age, thanks to a couple cool uncles of mine that were really big comic fans. They had this big collection of old stuff from the 60s and 70s, so I still have a soft spot for that stuff. I was definitely more of a Marvel fan back then, and I still am. DC heroes were always like your parents, whereas Marvel heroes were like the reader, flaws and all. And I totally connected with that.

BF: In a time when many artists are more than content playing it safe with capes and tights convention, you showed up with a style and vision that is completely unique and your own. From whom do you draw inspiration and how have you developed your art style over the years?

GUILLORY: Well, as much as comics were an inspiration for me as a kid, I think animation was a bigger influence. I was a pretty big Chuck Jones and Tex Avery fan, so a lot of my sense of humor and sense of character acting comes from their cartoons. On top of that, my comic tastes have been pretty diverse over the years. I love everything from Steve Ditko, John Buscema and John Romita Jr., to more contemporary guys like Jim Mahfood, Dave Crosland and Gabriel Ba, to Japanese Manga artists like Akira Toriyama and Rumiko Takahashi.

All of these influences sort of meshed into this way of drawing a story that is just very natural to me. It's just like a handwriting. Back in 2001, when I decided to really give this comics-as-career thing a try, I just stripped down all of my drawing to simple, almost stick figure characters, focusing more on learning the fundamentals of storytelling than how to draw abs showing through spandex. And as I got the hang of it, I started experimenting more and adding new levels of detail. And over a 10-year span, my art evolved into what it is now.

I actually did a big post on my blog a while back, chronicling my style evolution. It's pretty in-depth, with tons of embarrassing old art, but I think it's helpful for young guys thinking about comics as a career.


Interiors from Chew #26

BF: Chew, despite the quite literal horror that runs throughout, Chew is an inherently fun book, thanks in no small part to the easter eggs you plant in every issue! What inspired the idea, and just how far in advance are you planting seeds for future storylines?

GUILLORY: The Easter eggs were inspired by Jim Mahfood's Stupid Comics and Dave Gibbons' art on Watchmen. Mahfood would always give cool shout-outs and music references in his art that I loved. And Gibbons' use of background detail- signs, notes, etc..- went a long way toward fleshing out the world of Watchmen beyond even Alan Moore's script. It gave a new dimension to the story that begged for multiple reads and rewarded the reader for paying attention, and I like that. I want the readers to be able to pick up Chew ten years from now, and still find something funny that they'd never noticed before. It's another way to give the reader the most enjoyment possible for their buck.

As for planting seeds for future stories... I don't want to spoil the surprise.

BF: You pencil, ink and colour all of your pages right? How much do you fall back on digital tools and have you ever thought about bringing anyone in to collaborate with?

GUILLORY: Well, I have a color assistant, Taylor Wells, who helps me with color separations. Then, I work out the shadows and lighting, texture and effects work. It's a lot of work, and I occasionally flirt with bringing in a full-time colorist, but I like finishing the page myself.

For me, each comic page is like giving birth. Drawing the page is the labor, and coloring it is like watching the work grow up and go to college. After all the sweat of drawing something from nothing, I really think it's the joy of finishing the page that keeps me feeling fulfilled and pushing on.

BF: Has John scripted anything so far that it's made you step back from the drawing board? Every issue you seem to push a new boundary in one way or another, and to say Chew hinges utter lunacy would be a gross understatement. 

GUILLORY: The scene at the beginning of Chew #25, featuring the 80-year-old woman in a bustier, complete with c-section scars and liver spots was pretty close to "too far". HA. But making her look that disgusting was really my fault.

Layman's actually very sensitive as a collaborator. He's always asking "Are you okay with drawing this?", and I've never had to refuse to draw anything. Gross stuff doesn't bother me, and we never throw in gross stuff just to be weird. Plus, neither of us are trying to make a political or religious statement with Chew, either. We're both just trying to make the best comic ever, so that keeps us on the same page.

BF: You and John are about half-way through the planned Chew story right? What can fans expect in the coming months – anything you can tease for us?

GUILLORY: Yeah, we're ending at issue #60, which should be in 4 years or so. I think the first half of Chew has been massive setup- introducing all these crazy characters, concepts and proving that they can work. I feel like the second half of Chew will be playing with the toys we've created in new ways. Lots of shifting of loyalties, heartbreak and death, all in the midst of still being a funny comic. The second half of the run is going to have some massive payoffs that I cannot wait to share with readers. I think they're going to be shocked how many seeds we've been planting will bear fruit later in the book. We've been playing a way longer game than most people think.


Upcoming covers from Chew #26-28

BF: You recently became a father, has this changed your work habits? Have you a new found desire to draw something he can enjoy and read as well… or are you still more than happy drawing a happy-go-lucky cannibal and his cyborg partner? 

GUILLORY: Becoming a father's forced me to be more disciplined in keeping a work schedule. I can't work all these crazy, random hours that I used to because it wouldn't be fair to my son, who is a pretty big fan of mine. So it's been good for my workflow and my general quality of life.

I think I'll definitely be doing something kid-friendly for my son down the road, but I'll never turn away from drawing these weird, more adult stories. I have a twisted sense of humor that way.

BF: Can fans expect to see your pencils turning up anywhere else anytime soon? I've been talking to people the last few days on Twitter and it seems there is a real desperation to see you on either a Spidey orTMNT title…

GUILLORY: I've got a few solo creator-owned things that I'm working on, but it'll be a while before I'm ready to talk about them. And I'm pretty sure Layman and I will be bugging Marvel about a Power Man & Iron Fist mini when Chew's done. And it's no secret that I would love to draw TMNT.

BF: Finally, when young artists look back on Chew in 20 years, what do you hope they will gleam from your work on Chew - What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

GUILLORY: I'm hoping I leave a legacy of being the best, hardest-working, funniest artist in comics. I really want to be the Will Eisner of ridiculously funny comics. And hopefully, it inspires a few folks to chase their crazy dreams, no matter how silly they seem.

"If this Rob guy can do it with this weird-ass art, then I can DEFINITELY do it!" HA.

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