By Jarrod Jones. Hell-borne beasts, wistful love, and scuzzy goth dudes with Ouija boards—John Layman, I think it’s safe to say, is back on his bullshit. Leviathan is Layman returning to his primal comic roots, to the funky headspace that conjured such wild concepts and, er, inventive mayhem for his last Image Comics series, Chew.
Leviathan may seem like a far cry from the poetry of his critically-acclaimed AfterShock series, Eleanor and the Egret (which he realized with legendary artist Sam Keith), but that’s intentional. Layman has recharged his batteries and cut loose with artist Nick Pitarra and colorist Michael Garland for a new story that promises to test boundaries and explode eyeballs along the way. Leviathan is buck-wild, filled with vivid colors punctuating the havoc that comes when a titanic beast from Hell is set loose on an unsuspecting populace. It’s outright lunacy. And it seems John Layman wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Leviathan I consider just a return to form for me,” he tells me. “Crazy, profane, brutal and fun. What people come to expect from me, I would hope.” With Leviathan, Layman returns to Image, a publisher that the writer is happy to call home. “I don’t think there was any question about us going anywhere but Image with this,” Layman says.
Before the August 1 release of Leviathan, John Layman spoke with me about his latest Image project, working with artists Nick Pitarra and Michael Garland, and how Leviathan is the start to what he’s calling his “Apocalypse Trilogy.”
1. With the Image Comics releases of ‘Leviathan’ and Rob Guillory’s ‘Farmhand’ it feels like ‘Chew’ has cemented its place in the annals of Image history. Did you intend ‘Leviathan’ to be an Image legacy title? Was Image always going to be the home of ‘Leviathan’?
John Layman: Leviathan is not quite as… ambitious… in terms of scope as Chew. Chew was always intended to run 60 issues. With Leviathan we’re looking at 10 issues, maybe more down the road, but it is definitely smaller—though it could be argued Nick Pitarra is putting enough detail into those 10 issues that it’s 60 issues worth of work!
Both Nick and I are happy at Image. Image has been good to us and it’s home to us. I don’t think there was any question about us going anywhere but Image with this.
2. Your most recent series, ‘Eleanor & the Egret’ over at AfterShock, is decidedly a different beast than ‘Leviathan’. What storytelling demons were you looking to exorcise with this new book? Because it’s, um, intense.
JL: Eleanor came at the end of CHEW as an intentional palette cleanser. I had just killed a bunch of my characters in brutal ways and was looking for something softer and gentler. Neither Sam Kieth nor myself are known for this sort of stuff, so we wanted to play against expectations. Leviathan I consider just a return to form for me. Crazy, profane, brutal and fun. What people come to expect from me, I would hope.
3. ‘Leviathan’ begins with a party. The central character, Ryan DeLuca, is out for a beer run while partygoers in his apartment conduct a Satanic ritual which summons this titanic monster to run amok in Ryan’s city. Yet, these two—Ryan and the monster—seem more interconnected than the first issue lets on. What’s Ryan’s place in this first arc? Will he remain the focus of the story?
JL: Ryan is the POV character, but we’ll meet other characters as the story progresses. The determined military general, the haunted priest, the loony scientist… but Ryan is the everyman that keeps the reader connected to the story. He’s got a pretty big stake in it, too, since his girlfriend is currently Leviathan’s target.
4. When we first witness the ascent of the Leviathan, its in this wild two-page spread that only Pitarra and [colorist] Michael Garland could deliver: there are flying cars, debris and pink pig balloons, the mark of the Beast billows from the monster’s nostrils and spikes jut out from every which way as a city descends into chaos. Did you take any part in realizing the kaiju in this sequence, or did you step back and let Pitarra & Garland go insane with the concept?
JL: I’m a big proponent of stepping back and letting the artists do their stuff. My job is to come up with something awesome to give the artist a chance to have fun, wow the audience and go nuts. After that I am content to sit back and not interfere.
5. When you launched ‘Chew’ with Mr. Guillory in 2009, you said you were aiming for fifty or sixty issues and in November 2016, ‘Chew’ closed out with issue #60. Do you see ‘Leviathan’ going that far as a series? If so, what kind of stories do you want to tell—or, rather, what kind of manic destruction do you want to convey—with a long-running ‘Leviathan’?
JL: We’re seeing Leviathan as more self-contained. 10 issues, though we reserve the right to go further if sales and reader interest—and creator interest!—warrant.
6. Why did you and Pitarra decide to make ‘Leviathan’ a supernatural kaiju story, as opposed to the ‘look what the mistakes of man hath wrought’ type of stories we’ve seen in films and comics?
JL: It seemed like a twist that hadn’t been done. It also fits, thematically, into the other stuff I am doing. Leviathan is the first book in what I consider my “Apocalypse Trilogy,” all love stories set against a backdrop of black magic and the infernal supernatural. The second book in this thematic trilogy of creator-owned books will debut before the end of the year… and likely be announced in the next month or so.
7. Where do you plan on taking this supernatural element? This beast comes from Hell, there’s a priest character in the periphery at the moment—are you planning on going full ‘Preacher’?
JL: Dude, you’re asking me to tell you the second arc! Not gonna do that! Okay, I will. Yes, this gets far more “hellish” the further it progresses.
8. What can you tell us about General Tomesina Jaspers? I’m getting Amanda Waller vibes with her character.
JL: She’s got the unfortunate and impossible task of taking down a unconventional monster with unconventional weapons. Things ain’t gonna end well for her.
9. So are you gonna tell us what’s up with that Trump cameo, or…
JL: That was just a one-panel throwaway thing, a one-panel gag, as I recall, but Nick tends to stretch things out to squeeze in more craziness and laughs. I try not to get too overtly political in my stuff.
10. John, I want you to tell me about Goth Jimmy. From what eldritch parts of your brain doth he dwell?
JL: Assholes and creeps are fun to write, and Goth Jimmy is both. Write what you know, right?
‘Leviathan’ #1 hits stores August 1.