Welcome to the weekly feature MATT CHATS. I’ve been doing regular interviews for awhile now, but now they have a name! Every Tuesday I chat with someone involved in the making, distributing, marketing, selling, etc. of comic books. For this inaugural edition, I spoke with cartoonist Rob Guillory.
Six years into a run pencilling, inking and coloring the almost-monthly Image series CHEW, Rob Guillory has started to illustrate interior pages for other titles. Most recently Guillory added his artistic flair to a story written by CM Punk in the Thor annual and a backup story in Howard the Duck written by Chip Zdarsky. I spoke with Rob about the toll of a 60-issue epic, collaborating with writers other than John Layman and a whole lot more.
Six years in, have you been getting antsy to do interiors for comics other than CHEW?
Not really antsy, so much as just excited at the prospect of starting something totally new. It’s also a bit scary. CHEW‘s been my backyard for a long time now, so jumping into a new world with new characters is challenging and pretty thrilling.
A lot of writers and artists get worn down writing or drawing an epic and go on to focus mostly smaller stories. Right now, do you think you would do another 60 issue series, either in the near future or ever?
I doubt it. For a few different reasons. First off, 60 issues is a massive commitment, obviously. So I can’t really grasp committing another 6-8 years of my life to one series at this point. That may change, but that’s where I’m at right now.
Plus CHEW was in the rare position of having the sales to sustain such an extended run. It’s very, VERY rare for a book created by two virtual unknowns to have a loyal monthly fanbase big enough to warrant 60 issues, and that’s been a major blessing. These days, books typically debut with high numbers and major press attention, then peter down quickly and quietly. That never really happened with us. Our monthly numbers over 6 years have been very steady, and our TPB and digital sales continue to grow. Could we have the same luck with another 60 issue series? Who knows, but it doesn’t happen much for creators that aren’t at Kirkman or BKV levels of name recognition. Time will tell, but I sort of lean toward doing 20 issue stories in the future.
How anxious are you to draw that last page of CHEW?
Not anxious at all, really. It’s not really something I think too much about. There’s still 15 issues of CHEW left, so I’m just focusing on making those better than the 40-something issues that came before. We’ve had a strong run, and we need to end it in a way to honors what we’ve built. The last page will be here soon enough, though.
What was your relationship with CM Punk prior to working together on Thor?
We were mutual fans of each other’s work. I’m a big wrestling fan, and CHEW is one of Punk’s favorite books. At some point, we crossed paths and hit it off. I never expected that friendship to eventually lead to me working with him at Marvel, but life is weird that way.
Can you describe what CM Punk’s script was like?
Punk worked Marvel Method, with a lot of general scene description, but no panel-by-panel work. So I got to handle all the pacing and layout for the issue, which is very different than my CHEW work, but it worked well on this story. Punk’s really good with words, so his script was very conversational and super-articulate, and I got what he was going for right from the beginning. And he was smart enough to play to my strengths with a ton of physical comedy and character acting. He did good.
You’re at a kind of similar stage of your career as Chip Zdarksy, coming off successful Image books and starting to do work for Marvel. With that in mind, what was it like drawing from his script?
Well, at this point, after 40-something issues of drawing John Layman’s scripts, drawing anyone else’s is always a little weird. But Chip’s script was great. Brimming over with absurd, silly detail that was right up my alley. Plus, using Luke Cage and Iron Fist was a personal request of mine, so that was fantastic.
You’re known for adding a lot of extra elements to CHEW. Did you add any to the Thor or Howard the Duck stories?
Yeah. With Thor, there are a few little background gags in the tavern where it takes place. Nothing crazy, just a few subtle Easter Eggs. My personal fave is getting to change Mjolnir’s inscription to “DO YOU EVEN LIFT, BRO?”, which I’m not even sure the Marvel guys caught. Plus, I came up with all the Marvel-themed drinks that Thor and Mephisto are chugging. Sorta my love letter to various Marvel characters.
And with my Howard story, which takes place in a court setting, Cage and Iron Fist’s lawyer is basically Ben Matlock, and Howard’s is a skeevier Saul Goodman. These are all little details that very few people would catch, but they’re there, and it’s always super-rewarding to see readers catch them.
Do you enjoy handling all the art duties, or was that more something that was necessitated by the low budget for CHEW?
Well, finding dependable creative partners was nearly impossible when I was a young, aspiring artist. So early on, I just decided to do it all myself. I never thought it would turn into a creative advantage, but it really has. Nowadays, I have a color assistant, Taylor Wells, that handles my flatting and cleans up my rough shadow work. But I still handle the bulk of my coloring work, and I love it.
Do you ever want to either just draw or just color a comic book, or has total control over art duties become kind of addictive?
It’s a give and take. On one hand, I love the creative control. On the other, I love the idea of taking the week that I usually dedicate to coloring and napping instead, because it IS an intense work schedule. I can see myself hand-picking a colorist for a future project, just to see how it feels. We’ll see.
Is there any inclination to start writing comics, either for you or other artists to draw?
Yes. I wrote a lot of my own pre-CHEW work, and I’m already in the rough stages of writing my own post-CHEW work.
Do you know what your next big project is after CHEW?
Not yet. Layman and I have toyed with the idea of doing something else, and I’m sure we will eventually. I expect to pitch Marvel a mini-series at some point in the next year. After that, I’m expecting to do another creator-owned series. Again, we’ll see. Part of me wants to take a little time off after CHEW ends, but I’m a workhorse, so that may not happen. I may jump right into new work the day after I draw the last page of CHEW. Who knows.
You described your intense work schedule on Multiversity recently. What keeps you going making comics, day after day after day?
Aside from earning a living, this is just something I’ve always done. I was beating myself up for a self-imposed deadline for a mini-comic that only I would see when I was age 9. I’m built for comics. It’s a love-hate relationship sometimes when the deadlines get hard or some comic outrage blows up on Twitter, but I’ve been on a path to make comics from the very beginning. I just love it.
You can follow Rob Guillory on Twitter