Award-winning comic artist calls Lafayette home
Artist Rob Guillory, a 32-year-old native and Lafayette resident, appears to be an average, soft-spoken guy who just so happens to provide for his family by creating entire worlds with his pen.
“I’ve been drawing since I was age 2 or 3 and didn’t start making my own personal comics until I was in the fourth grade,” Guillory said.
Guillory graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2004 with a bachelor’s in fine arts. Using the skills he picked up over a lifetime of drawing and a formal artistic education, he began creating comics in his own unique style, although he says he was influenced by the works of Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Jim Mahfood, Dave Crosland and Akira Toriyama.
“It wasn’t until my first semester of college. That’s when I started going to comic cons in 2001 and realized it could actually be a job, not just some mysterious thing where you send portfolios off and maybe get somewhere,” Guillory explained. “Eventually it led to a little bit of paying work, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I got started with ‘Chew.’”
“Chew,” created by Guillory and veteran comic book writer and editor John Layman, is published by Image Comics. It’s won multiple awards and is a national best-seller, including two stints on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
The story follows the adventures of Food and Drug Administration agent Tony Chu, a man with the superpower to know the history and memories of anything he eats — including people — and must uncover the mystery of the bird flu epidemic that killed 23 million Americans while fighting superhumans with food-based abilities.
“When ‘Chew’ started, there weren’t a lot of books out there like it. There weren’t a lot of comedy books and Image only really had ‘The Walking Dead’ at the time,” Guillory said. “We didn’t know what to expect. Layman expected it to fail miserably. I thought it could do well; I just never expected it to blow up like it did. It was a pleasant surprise.”
Guillory works with Layman, who lives in Arizona, over the Internet. Using online chat, they discuss their comic every day and produce a new issue of “Chew” each month.
“It’s actually kind of surreal when we meet in person because we talk every day,” Guillory said. “We work together all the time online, so meeting in person is a little weird.”
But Layman wouldn’t want any other artist on “Chew.”
“Rob’s great,” Layman said. “He’s a tireless artist who can draw anything, and everything is consistently excellent while consistently looking effortless.”
Guillory’s skill and alacrity with the pen, coupled with Layman’s prodigious and tireless writing, has won “Chew” numerous accolades. After six years in print and winning two Eisner Awards — the veritable Oscars of the comic book world — along with two Harvey Awards, “Chew” remains one of Image Comics’ top tales.
At one point, “Chew” was in development for a live-action television series through Showtime. Following the success of “The Walking Dead,” “Chew” was optioned and went through numerous scripts and idea meetings before the live-action series was scrapped.
“Showtime had some weird ideas,” Guillory said. “Early on, they wanted Tony to be played by Kiefer Sutherland since Kiefer was looking for a new project, but we weren’t going to do that. Tony’s Asian. We weren’t going to whitewash our main character like that.
“The script before the last version was perfect and we thought it was what we were going to go with,” Guillory continued. “But then they pulled the Hollywood thing and made it worse, so it all just fell through.”
However, “Chew” is still going to be seen on the small screen. An animated feature is set to star “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun as Chu; “The Guild’s” Felicia Day as Amelia Mintz; and “Doctor Who’s” David Tennant as Mason Savoy.
Meanwhile, “Chew” is not the only major project Guillory has worked on. Recently, Guillory worked alongside former World Wrestling Entertainment professional wrestler CM Punk on a short story in Marvel Comics’ 2015 “Thor Annual.”
After Jeffery LaJaunie, a mutual friend, helped Guillory make contact with Punk, the two realized they were mutual fans with each other’s work and stayed in contact.
“Then I suddenly got an email from Marvel asking if I wanted to do a Thor story with Punk,” Guillory explained. “So, of course, I said yes. Working with Punk was pretty cool. His scripts were very conversational and very articulate, but he didn’t give me standard panel descriptions. He did more of the ‘Marvel method.’ It was more work on me, but it played to my strengths really well, too.”
Guillory also spends time with his fans at comic book conventions. He is a yearly guest at Wizard World Comic Con New Orleans and is a guest of honor at Louisiana Comic Con. Guillory said “Chew’s” fans are a surprisingly normal group of people and he loves meeting them at cons. He’s currently getting ready for Lafayette’s upcoming con.
“I’m definitely excited about the show,” Guillory said. “Lafayette’s really overdue for a good comic con, and I think folks will really get a kick out the new experience.”
Fellow Lafayette comic creator Jason Bienvenu, 35, is an up-and-coming artist and independent comic producer. He’s attended conventions alongside Guillory, and Bienvenu counts him as one of his major influences and a sometimes-mentor in the comic book industry.
“Rob has been nothing less than inspirational,” said Bienvenu. “He’s always more than generous with his time and advice in guiding me along my journey as an artist. His talent and truly humble attitude is what I aspire to achieve one day.”
Guillory insists he is always happy to give advice to artists trying to break into the comic book industry. Besides the usual cliché of working hard, Guillory gave his three main points to help others try to achieve success as an artist.
“Be as normal as possible — try not to be weird — keep your nose clean and listening more than you speak is probably a good idea, too,” Guillory said. “That’s pretty much it. Your work is the majority of it.”
But asked about his own success, Guillory remained as grounded as a storm-canceled flight and bewildered by how far he’s come making comics.
“It’s a cool gig. I’ve really been super fortunate,” Guillory said with a broad smile. “It’s been really amazing to get to screw around and reach an audience and, you know, get paid to do it. It’s kind of insane, but it’s been great.”