5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 13 October 2017
Category: Feature
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It's October. It's Friday the 13th. It seems like a good day to talk about horror and zombies. Comics writer John Layman, a recent guest at FanCon Cape Town Comic Con, tackles five questions and answers an unsolicited one of his own.

John Layman is the creator, writer, and letterer behind the award-winning series Chew, which was illustrated and coloured by Rob Guillory and which they published through Image Comics. The series ran for 60 issues (plus a few standalone single issues) and concluded late last year.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

The story focusses on police officer Tony Chu, who has a very special ability: he's cibopathic, which means he receives psychic impressions when he eats animals, plants, and vegetables (everything except beetroot). The impressions will tell him all about the tree, farm, and environment that fruit came from or the life and death experiences of an animal, for example.

Consequently he is transferred to the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, which is "the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet" (it's a very American planet) so that his skill can be used on some of the agency's weirdest, and most complicated, cases. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a bird flu has wiped out millions and, consequently, chicken is now banned for consumption, although it still can be found if you know the right people. Conspiracy theories abound, and not everyone is convinced that a bird-flu epidemic is the truth behind the deaths.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman
Above: Les Allen, the zombie death stare of John Layman, and Eric Powell at FanCon Cape Town Comic Con.

Though he's most known for Chew, John Layman's career spans more than 20 years (he was an editor before he began to write comics in the mid 1990s). His body of work includes a number of comics based on licensed properties, as well as a number of crossovers. In the mix there's everything from Xena: Warrior Princess, Mars Attacks, and Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths to work on various titles for DC and Marvel and, notably, Marvel Zombies Vs. The Army Of Darkness, in which Ash Williams from The Evil Dead series of movies (and comics) ends up in the Marvel Zombies universe.

His current project is a five-issue collaboration with illustrator Sam Kieth and colourist Ronda Pattison titled Eleanor & The Egret, which is published by AfterShock Comics. It's a gentle tale set in Paris (beautiful Art Nouveau inspired art abounds) and is the story of a detective investigating an art theft whose only clue is a white feather.

5 Zombie Questions

Due to Tony Chu's cibopathic ability cannibalism (and a number of other sins) occurs frequently in Chew, which is a great mix of horror and humour, yet zombies never feature in the main issues. They can be found, however, in two special places: in the one-shot crossover comic Chew/Revival, in which the teams from Chew and Revival, a zombie series, tackled each others' worlds and characters, and as the pinnacle of fan service in the already entirely fan service Chew one-shot comic Warrior Chicken Poyo.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

In the Revival main series, which was created by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton and ran for 47 issues before concluding earlier this year, something causes the dead to come back to life on one day in Wausau, Wisconsin, and police officer Dana Cypress is tasked with investigating crimes caused by the "revivers".

In the Chew/Revival crossover, which was published in 2014, Tony Chu visits Wisconsin to help Dana Cypress with some of her cases. It comprises two unrelated stories, one on each side of the comic. The Chew side is, of course written by John Layman, with art and colours by Rob Guillory, and has a heavy humour focus, while the Revival side is written by Tim Seely, with art by Mike Norton and colours by Mark Englert, and is darker in tone and more of a horror noir.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

Poyo is an increasingly cybernetically enhanced rooster agent of the FDA who is sent all over the world to tackle the most dangerous and over-the-top villains. Although he occasionally appears as a supporting character in Chew the story frequently hints at all sorts of missions he's involved in that we never see so snapshots of his escapades are often thrown into the story to give the main narrative a break (Chew may be humour but there are some heavy moments peppered through the series).

Due to his popularity he appeared in a couple of one-shot comics, which included Warrior Chicken Poyo, which was also published in 2014. In this comic Poyo fights injustice in a fantasy world set many centuries ago but he also finds himself facing zombies with some very familiar zombie slayers.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

Meanwhile, the alternate universe of Marvel Zombies, which has been explored in comics since 2005, sees a zombifying contagion spreading through the Marvel universe and infecting heroes both on Earth and off world. Wolverine is one of the many characters who is infected, so this is one place in Marvel comics history in which the fan debate over whether Wolverine ever could become a zombie, which I have previously discussed with writers Mike Carey and Jason Aaron, is solved.

There are even more zombies to be found in unlikely places: subsequent to John Layman's appearance at FanCon Cape Town Comic Con the Judge Dredd/Funko Universe crossover one-shot comic was published by IDW - yes, this crossover world is a real thing, so, of course, who else would have written the comic but Layman - and zombies appear in one of the issue's three short stories. Perhaps there will be more zombie questions for me to ask in the future.

Question 1: There's a lot of debate online as to whether Wolverine could be turned into a zombie. In the Marvel Zombies story you wrote he was already a zombie so there's justification for it being possible - what do you think the explanation is?

John Layman: Maybe the infection was so prevalent that his system couldn't fight it - or what if it's not a disease? What if it's magic? You know, what if it's supernatural? That's one explanation that I could come up with. I mean there's always the scientific bullshit mumbo jumbo about the virus being too strong or too alien or whatever but supernatural probably works even better.

Question 2: How did you end up writing that Marvel crossover?

John Layman: [Robert] Kirkman [the creator of The Walking Dead] didn't want it - and Kirkman recommended me. I had already been working with Dynamite and basically they were trying to get Kirkman to do it but he was busy with other stuff so he said, "Get John Layman." Simple as that.

Kirkman has been really good to me over the years, for no particular reason. I mean, sometimes in comics you get a job because of who you know and that was a case of him not being able to do it so he was, like, "hey, try this guy" and they took his advice.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

Question 3: You've established in Chew that part of Tony's cibopathic talent includes being able to absorb special powers from people once he's eaten them even when they're dead. What do you think he might absorb from a zombie, especially since you nicely dodged going that way in the Revival crossover?

John Layman: I don't know if he would absorb anything because it's a power. If it's a zombie infection spread by them biting - nothing. But if it's like 28 Days Later - how the drop of blood got in the dude's eye - then it's an infection spread by eating bodies that doesn't adhere to the real zombie rules so, according to traditional zombie rules, I don't think Tony would get anything out of it except maybe see the person's life pre zombie... and he'd probably see their post-zombie life too because, I mean, if he's seeing the life of a vegetable or a plant or whatever - something non sentient - he would probably see the life of a zombie too.

Wow, that's a good question.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

Question 4: How did the Chew/Revival crossover come about?

John Layman: I liked Revival and I wanted to do it and no one else wanted it and everyone's all: "This is stupid. This couldn't work."

Rob [Guillory] didn't want to do it, [Tim] Seeley didn't want to do it, [Mike] Norton didn't want to do it. And I'm friends with all these guys and I'm, like, "Goddamn you guys. This is good." They didn't understand how it would work because they want their own continuity, whereas we would each just do our own story and not care about each other's continuity.

So I basically wrote my story as almost fan fiction and said, "This is what I'm talking about, fuckers!" Then they got it and were like, "Oh, ok", and then we all did it, it sold really well, everyone had fun, and I got to say "I was right. You were wrong."

But yeah. In this case I was the driving force - just because I thought it would be fun.

5 Zombie Questions: John LaymanQuestion 5: Have you ever thought about what the Undead Apocaplypse Poyo storyline might have been, which you hinted at in Warrior Apocalypse Poyo, even though you said you were never going to write it?

John Layman: I just assumed that he would kill them all. He would take down all the "walkers" and save Rick and Michonne.

You did catch that that was Rick and Michonne in there? It was one of those things where we kinda asked Robert [Kirkman] permission. We said we're not going to show them, we're just going to heavily allude to it. And we're all Image [Comics] so it makes it easy. We don't have to sign papers or anything like that.

Bonus Question

John Layman: Do you want to know what my zombie plan is? It's real easy - get bitten. Just fuckit. I don't want to live there. Just let them bite me, let me go through it. I don't want to get torn to shreds but just get bitten, go through some pain, and be done with it.

5 Zombie Questions: John Layman

Mandy J Watson was a media guest of FanCon Cape Town Comic Con.

Tags: #books, #cape_town, #comics, #fancon, #horror, #speculative_fiction, #x-men, #zombies

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