Olly MacNamee: With Chu #1 you do and you don’t return to the Chewniverse that we’ve recently been reintroduced to (kinda) in your recent Outer Darkness/Chew crossover. But, we’re rolling the black sheep of the family and the total opposite of Tony, with a book focused on Saffron Chu. I assume being a bad apple is the reason we’ve not heard much about her before now?
John Layman: CHU protagonist Saffron is completely absent from CHEW, and this first mini, a prequel set prior to the events of CHEW, is going to explain why. And, yes, CHU is in many ways going to be the “flip side” of CHEW. Where CHEW focused on by-the-book-food powered male cop Tony Chu, CHU focuses on his break-every-rule food-powered criminal sister Saffron.
OM: Out of all the characters you could have chosen to spin out into a further series, why Saffron, a totally new addition? In some ways, that takes some balls, y’know, not to go for the easy pathway and simply just bring out a Chew 2, or any more familiar and popular character.
JL: CHU did not come easy, as I only wanted to return to the world if I could do something different and explore the world in a new way. Initially I tried to fit the story to follow a character already induced in CHEW, but I simply couldn’t do it without radically violating CHEW continuity. And so Saffron was born. Saffron twin sister of Sage Chu, who WAS introduced in CHEW. Sage is the good twin, Saffron the bad.
OM: What was the initial thought process in creating and then evolving Saffron Chu? How long has she been living in your head?
JL: Not too long. I knew I wanted to return to the world of CHEW maybe a year or thereabouts after it ended. It was just a matter of finding the right story. I’d always assumed I’d return with Rob Guillory and pick up with Olive Chu’s story, Tony’s daughter, and where we left off at CHEW #60. But CHEW artist Rob Guillory is busy with his own book, Farmhand, and it’s own TV adaptation. Knowing I’d need a new artist, I decided to go a radically new direction.
OM: And, with this new series, you have a new artistic partner in Dan Boultwood? He’s a great fit for this book with a cartoon-like style that had me fondly remembering Clerks: The Animated Series, which I loved for its humour and artistic look.
JL: Rob is a little more cartoon, where Dan is a little more animated, if that makes sense, but they both have this sense of fun about them, very energetic and poppy and fun. I love Dan’s stuff because it’s different that Rob’s, distinctly so, but it has the same sort of fun vibe, which is the one thing I wanted to carry over, artistically.
OM: I believe you met Dan here in the UK at a comic con? That’s every up and coming artist’s wet dream/Cinderella story isn’t it?
JL: Nope, I put the word out I was looking for an artist and Dan was recommended to me. We’ve not met in person, though just yesterday we celebrated getting CHU #1 comps with our first ever face-to-face Zoom meeting, where after nearly a year after I first approached him we actually “met.” I was SUPPOSED to go to MCM London Con this year, returning to the UK for the first time in ages, where Dan and I would sign together, but alas thanks to our new COVID reality that will not be so.
OM: Along with Saffron, we get to meet her boyfriend – Eddie Molay – who seems something of a loser, even amongst a fraternity of criminals. What does she see in him?
JL: Saffron has many weak spots, and one of them in her taste in men. Pretty much everybody warns her Eddie is a loser, and she obstinately sticks with him. How’s that gonna end up for her, ya think?
OM: I’ve been fortunate enough to get a glimpse beyond the debut issue, and without giving anything away, it certainly seems to get worse for Saffron very quickly, doesn’t it?
JL: It’s food noir, man. Noir does not traditionally have happy endings.
OM: We also get to know more about the Chu family’s history too, don’t we?
JL: Well, in addition to sister Sage, the other big character carry-over from CHEW is Grandfather Ong. His very long life story becomes crucial to the story in later CHU arcs. Both Sage and Ong are minor characters in CHEW, but major, MAJOR characters in CHU.
OM: With her family’s involvement, would I be right in assuming this is a story of redemption, even though you’ve intimated that whatever fate Saffron eventually comes to will be even darker than Chew?
JL: No. This is definitely NOT a story of redemption. More like a slow descent. Or possibly a fast descent, into rock bottom, depending on the length of the book, which I’m keeping open for now.
OM: As always, John, thank you for your time, and all the best with this new series when the first issue drops Wednesday 22nd July. My daughter an I bonded over the original Chew series, and as it’s her birthday on this east day, Chu #1 makes for a great alternative to a birthday card too! Cheers!
Chu #1 is out Wednesday 22nd July 2020 from Image Comics.