Rob Guillory didn’t just wade into the comics zeitgeist- he dived in with a cannonball splash. With his first regular series, CHEW, which teams him with veteran comics writer John Layman, Rob took home the 2010 Eisner and Harvey Awards for best new series and the Harvey Award for Best New Talent. He recently appeared as a guest at the Phoenix Comicon for the first time, and I caught up with him there for this interview.
Marc: This is Marc Mason with the Comics Waiting Room, and I am here today with Eisner Award-winning and a Harvey Award-winning artist Rob Guillory. Rob, thanks for joining us.
Rob: No problem!
M: Rob, let’s go back to the beginning. You are young Rob Guillory, somebody hands you your first comic book; what is it?
R: Oh, man. I want to say it was, like, a He-Man comic or something. It was – I had a lot of comics that weren’t, like, Marvel, DC Comics. I remember Duck Tales and Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, that kind of stuff. It wasn’t like your mainstream superhero stuff at all. I did have some uncles that were really into the Green Lanterns, and man, I don’t even remember all of them. But some early DC stuff. They were all really old.
M: Was there one in particular that inspired you or captured your imagination?
R: Not really. I just loved the medium as a whole. I don’t think I had one – well, Iron Man, yeah; Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle was one of the first ones I really got into, probably way too young, because it was such a mature story, I guess. But yeah, Iron Man, probably.
M: At what point did you start drawing and cartooning?
R: I used to draw in the backs of my coloring books in kindergarten, and apparently I made a flip book at some point when I was 2. I’ve never seen it. My mom says she has it. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not. But yeah, I always kind of sketched here and there. I made my first mini-comic in the 4th grade, and I made a shitload of them afterward.
M: Did you sell them to your friends or your classmates?
R: No. I think I showed a few friends of mine that were into comics and that kind of fueled me to make more of them. I didn’t show my parents any of that stuff. They were just for me, and I still have all of them.
M: At what point did you say, “You know, this drawing thing is for me. I think want to make a life out of it.”?
R: Well, I’m from Louisiana, and we didn’t have an actual community as far as art-wise, and I didn’t think it was a real career until college. That was the point where I figured well, I can maybe make this into a thing, because the internet was kinda in and everything, and I started going to conventions and things like that. But it wasn’t until 2001, my 2nd year of college that I got serious about it.
M: Tell us about your first work in comics.
R: Oh, man. I did a lot of free stuff. I did, um – – the first published thing that was in Previews was a thing called Bubba the Redneck Werewolf. It was a comedy kinda thing. I made 10 pages for it for free. It was actually a lot of fun, we kind of ended up writing it. Yes, that was the first thing. Teddy Scares for Ape Entertainment. I did a bunch of stuff for Random House in the UK and it never got published, that I think they’re gonna publish now off of Chew.
M: So, you’re doing this work and you’re not necessarily seeing the wide distribution that you kind of deserve. Where is your head at, at that point?
R: I didn’t think anything like Chew would ever happen. I mean, I thought that I had a good concept of storytelling, but I didn’t think that it would ever stylistically catch on, ever. I just didn’t ever really see anything like what I was doing, and it wasn’t that I was, like, better or worse or unique; it was just different, and most editors were afraid to really put it out there. So I was kind of waiting for the right vehicle to kind of showcase that I could do, like, horror, and drama, and comedy, and all of that simultaneously, and action, and all that stuff, and Chew was kinda that vehicle.
M: You know, that’s one thing I have noticed about your work. I’ve seen a lot of your work at this point, and you have shown, you know, initially in the pitch for Chew, you did it in a completely different style. How many different styles did you test out?
R: I tried out a lot of stuff. I actually – – while I was going to conventions and trying to break in, I also drew weekly comic strips for the school paper, and I did two of them every week, and they were extremely experimental. Every one of them was a different style- different color palate, different medium, everything. And as a painter – – my degree is in painting- I’m very diverse. So I did super cartoon-y stuff, way more realistic stuff, photo realistic stuff, it kind of – – I have a lot of stuff.
M: Was there another comics artist who you sort of pulled from initially?
R: Jim Mahfood. His stuff was really super independent, and super different than anything I had grown up with, and I loved it because it was so accessible and so….it was something I could do. I couldn’t do the superhero, super photo-realistic stuff, and I didn’t care too, and the Mahfood stuff was so much fun and so accessible that I could do it and grow off of that.
M: Your style now is unique, and Chew is a unique-looking book, and I think part of that comes from not only the Easter eggs you leave in the background of the art, but also the color. Do you have a philosophy in how you do the colors?
R: Whatever looks good is pretty much the philosophy. Actually, the first time I met Jim Mahfood at the first convention I went to in Houston, I showed him my stuff and everything, and his first response was, “Hey, have you ever thought about being a colorist, of breaking into comics as a colorist?” And I said, “Nah, I don’t want to do that.” And I apparently have good color sense, and as a painter, I do know some color theory. I just kind of go off of what feels right and what looks right, and I’ve just, you know – – it’s gotten more sophisticated over the years, but it’s exactly what I grew up with.
M: As a painter, do you still ever want to stretch a canvas and just go to town?
R: It’s been a while. I graduated from college almost 6 years ago, and I haven’t really painted much since then, except for live art stuff and that kind of thing.
M: Have you ever considered doing an exhibition of Chew art?
R: Actually, I’ve done a little one back home, that was just, like, 16 prints from the book, and it went pretty well, but I would love to do a big show showcasing tons of art from the book, maybe even just print the entire first issue and just put it out there in a gallery setting.
M: That would be really, really interesting.
R: I think it would be cool. The Chew stuff is accessible for non-comic-booky people. I mean most of our fans are either fans that have – – people who have never read comics before ever, or people who grew up with comics and left, and came back to it, and don’t want to read Superman. So, yeah, I think the style helps.
M: You make an interesting point about who the fans of the book are. How do the fans respond to you when they meet you?
R: They’re cool. I mean, I usually just hang with them and chat with them, I’m not really, you know – – I think most people are just kind of invested in us, not only as a book, but as people. A lot of our fans follow us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and are invested. I think there’s something to be said for having a positive relationship with your fans, because you always want the support of good people. So I feel like we’re nice to these people, they get really, really are involved in our whole thing, and they’re wrapped up in it, and they’re going to support it to the end of the book. I mean, they’re loyal. So, I think they’ve been cool.
M: As you go forward, last year you won the Harvey and the Eisner for Best New Book, and you won the Harvey for Best New Talent. This year, the Eisner nominations are out, and you’re up for Best Artist. How do you feel about that? Are you excited this time around?
R: I really wanna win. I hope it doesn’t make me a bad person to say it, but I kinda wanna win everything that we’re nominated for. I mean, it was awesome winning it last year. This year, I really wanna win Best Continuing because that would cement that we weren’t a fluke. I mean, being nominated pretty much cements that, but winning it says… you know, how many books have done that? And as Best Artist, man, that would be the same, because it would be such a practical joke almost, for people who think comics should be, like, one way, but our stuff is so not that way. I mean, I would love to win it. I’m hoping it happens.
M: I think you have a pretty good shot.
R: I think Skottie Young’s gonna take it. Because, I mean, he’s amazing. He’s an influence on me, and he’s done, like, every Marvel cover there is, so… but he’s a good guy to lose to.
M: As you’re going forward with Chew, what’s exciting for you, coming ahead?
R: We’re almost done with a third of the book, so we’ve kinda gotten over that whole freshman thing. Now we’re actually getting to play with the toys we’ve created, and moving forward between 20 to 30 is really exciting, because it’s – – we’re experimenting with changing the dynamic of the book even more, and then entering that second half of the book from 30 onward is going to be insane, because everything’s been building up – tension and introducing things. Now it’s almost time for payoff, and the payoffs are huge. So I can’t wait to get there.
M: I think the fans feel the same way.
R: I hope so.
M: Rob, thanks a lot for your time. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Appreciate seeing you here at Phoenix Comicon for the first time.
R: Yeah, it’s been awesome!
M: This has been Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room with the award-winning artist Rob Guillory. See you next time.