By Jessica Dunlap
John Layman (Chew, Eleanor and the Egret) is currently working on a new series with artist Nick Pitarra (The Manhattan Projects). The Beat sat down with him at San Diego Comic-Con and he talked with us about the visual madness that makes Leviathan more than just another monster story.
THE BEAT: So, Leviathan is about monsters and magic?
JOHN LAYMAN: It’s basically Final Destination meets Godzilla. It’s a bunch of teenagers with a Ouija board who summon Godzilla. Godzilla has always been made traditionally from science gone wrong or radiation, and our twist is that it’s created during a devil worship ceremony. They summon a Godzilla from Hell. So the twist is that it’s caused by Black Magic instead of science.
TB: What’s the tone going to be? It sounds scary, but funny.
JL: Nick Pitarra is a giant goofball with a weird sense of humor, and so am I. It’s not really horror, it’s really action. Some things are like a writerly vision and some things are like you’re writing for The Artist, and I wanted to make the ultimate Nick Pitarra Book. So it’s like, “What would Nick be awesome at drawing?” The answer is “Everything.” But a giant monster, like a kaiju book, I thought would be awesome. It’s a relentlessly fast-paced book. The second issue has radioactive dinosaurs, the third issue has exorcisms and demons, the fourth issue has a mech, and the fifth issue has a bunch of giant monsters. Every issue is going to be very different and it’s just an excuse for Nick to go crazy. Have you seen any of the art? It’s super detailed. I’m just challenging Nick to draw the craziest shit possible….It is just balls-out action from beginning to end. There is no down time. It’s just one thing thrown at you after another. It’s supposed to be a visual feast of craziness.
JL: Yeah, well, it’s about a dude who goes off on a beer run and then all of the other people in the party break out the Ouija board and summon this thing. One of them is his girlfriend. Now, the monster only wants to kill people who were at this party. The monster is going to kill and kill and kill until he kills everyone who summoned him. His girlfriend is one of these people. Most of the people are dead and she is in a coma very early on. The problem is when she wakes up from the coma. It follows a guy whose girlfriend is doomed and he needs to save her.
TB: What is it like working with Nick? How do you collaborate on something like this?
JL: I write full scripts, always, and I don’t think Nick is used to that, so this is different for him. He gets a full script and I tend to give him a lot of big moments. I’ll write two and three panel pages, and he decompresses. He adds gags or adds things. He’ll take a three-panel page and make it a six-panel page, but everything I asked for is on the page. Nick’s the dude who gives a 120%. Nick is the equivalent of human cocaine or human adrenaline or, you know, the Speed movies manifested as a human. Nick’s like, “go go go,” and you see it in the art.
TB: The panels that I’ve seen have been very detailed, and you mentioned visual gags. I know with Chew there were a lot of jokes in the background, so was that Rob [Guillory] or was that you?
JL: That was 90% Rob. Every once in a while I would be like, “It would be funny to put this here,” but mostly that was Rob just keeping himself amused. And now Nick does the same thing. I’m happy for them to do things that make the story and art better, and if it gives the reader something more to see, you know, good. So like, Trump shows up in issue one.
JL: It was supposed to be one panel, just a one-panel throwaway gag, we have to alert the president and the president’s asleep. You could maybe tell it was Trump. And then of course, Nick decompresses it into a hundred different Trump gags all on one page in four panels. Which is again what Nick does with the book. He takes my story and squeezes as much craziness out of it as possible.
TB: I saw that there was some reaction to that particular page.
JL: I just troll Trump fans because they’re assholes. Yeah. I like making trouble.
TB: Will the book get political?
JL: I mean, not more than like [Trump] shows up in issue three and he’s golfing. We’ve got a Kellyanne Conway saying, “We’ve got to deal with this,” and he’s like, “Just nuke ’em.” It’s real broad, stupid satire. We’re not going to make any political points.
TB: You’ve also been teasing another creator owned book.
JL: The announcement is just around the corner…We’re about a month or so away from it going public. I am writing what I consider my apocalypse trilogy. John Carpenter did what he considers his, so I’m stealing that. I’m doing three books that all have kind-of love stories. And they all have a weird satanic bend to them. Leviathan is one and the next one is another, and then I’ve got a third one I’m working on. Thematically they all have a boy and girl in love and then either ghosts or demons or devils and so they’re all kind of horror-ish in their own way. I can’t do straight horror. There’s always some weird twist. Leviathan is the sci-fi action monster movie version of that.
TB: Is Leviathan going to be ongoing or open-ended?
JL: We’ve got a ten-issue story. We’ve got a very distinct first arc and a very distinct second arc. But we’ve also got an ending that opens it up, if it sets the world on fire and people want more. If I don’t kill Nick with ten issues we’ll go more, but at the very least we want to have two trades that we can put into one beautiful hardcover, hopefully oversized so you can just stare at Nick’s art the entire time. We’re saying ten issues for now, but we reserve the right to do more.
TB: But you have an end goal for now.
JL: Always. I never write anything without knowing how it’s going to end. The first story arc is called “Till Death Do Us Part,” and then the second story arc is called “Honeymoon in Hell.” So you get the romance thing, and then the second arc kind of gives away what’s going on.
TB: Going back to Chew for just a second. Do you have any update on the TV show?
JL: The TV show as you know it is dead, but there’s new stuff going on. I can’t talk about it, other than it’s alive, and stuff is going on. Things are looking good, but it’s a secret at this point. We’re coming up on our tenth anniversary, which is hard to believe. Rob and I have said, we definitely have to do something in 2019 to commemorate the tenth anniversary. There will be something Chew next year. Rob and I talk about it a couple times a week. We know what it is…Some of it’s even written, which is fantastic. But now, my problem is when I write something I want it out and I have to wait. Rob’s doing Farmhand, and the idea was always for us to kind of split off, get some time apart, and then get the band back together. So, it’s time.
JL: Yeah, Nick literally called me up and said, “Hey, I’ve got time. We’ve always talked about working together. Do you want to do something?” And I thought, shit, I’ve got Nick Pitarra, I’d better take advantage of that. It came together really fast. We asked ourselves, “What should we do?” I’m like, Nick, you’d do great on a giant monster book. So we brought it to Erik Stevenson last year. It got approved and we spent the year getting it off the ground. Now it’s at the printer and it’s moving.
TB: And it’s coming out next month?
JL: It’s at the printer and the first issue is coming out August 1st. We’re on time at least for now, knock wood.
TB: Do you have any favorite monsters?
JL: I like all the guys. I’m a Godzilla nerd. I wrote a Godzilla miniseries for IDW and that was a huge bucket list thing. I like Space Godzilla, Biollante, I like all the Godzilla monsters. I watch all that stuff. Leviathan is being advertised as a monster series, but really, every issue is different. The first issue is a monster movie. The second issue is dinosaurs from the center of the Earth. The third issue is exorcists and demons. People aren’t quite going to get what the book is for the first couple issues and then they’re going to realize it’s just channel-flipping madness.
TB: It sounds like fun.
JL: Yeah, it’s definitely fun. And that’s the best part of Nick Pitarra. He and I are going to have fun together, and I think it will translate on the page.