A few weeks ago we excitedly announced details of FARMHAND, the latest creator-owned offering from Rob Guillory, co-creator of the multi Eisner Award-winning CHEW.
With a uniquely disturbing take on the world of agriculture, not to mention Guillory’s distinctive artistic style, the new series grabbed our attention right from the get-go. And, ahead of its release next month, we were thrilled when Rob was able to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to sit down and have a chat with us about the series, its creation, and what we should expect as from the story as it unfolds.
BIG COMIC PAGE: For readers who may have missed the initial press release, can you give us a quick summary of just what FARMHAND is all about?
ROB GUILLORY: FARMHAND is the story of a Southern farmer named Jedidiah Jenkins, who is hit with this seemingly supernatural event that gives him highly-advanced scientific knowledge. From this knowledge, he creates the Jedidiah Seed, which, when planted and watered, grows into human body parts. So Jed transforms his family farm into a one-stop shop for plug-and-play organ transplants. He heals a ton of people, gets rich, then everything goes horribly, horribly wrong.
BCP: I know creators pretty much universally loathe the whole “where did you get your ideas” from question, but seriously man – where the heck did this one come from?!
ROB: Ya know, I’d been percolating on this idea for longer than I initially knew. My college art thesis back in 2005 was paintings of humans as plants, so I was already intrigued with the plant/human tie. Since then, I’ve sort of been fascinated with the odd scientific advancements that keep popping up, particularly how scientists were bioengineering plants and animals to taste better or grow larger. So I think I’ve always been really interested in the idea of science gone bad. FARMHAND was just how these interests manifested.
BCP: Outside of the brilliant central premise, there’s a heck of a lot going on in this first issue. Tell us a little bit about Zeke, our leading man. What’s his story?
ROB: Ezekiel Jenkins is the farmer’s son. He’s a writer, long estranged from his father for reasons that will be revealed later. Now he’s returning to the family farm with his young family, looking to reconcile with his dad and leave old things behind. Unfortunately, his family gets caught in the crosshairs of Jedidiah’s decisions. Jedidiah sort of opened Pandora’s Box when he made the Seed, so now Ezekiel’s family has to cope with the repercussions.
BCP: What’s the plan for the series? Do you have a set numbers of issues in mind, or are you just going to take the story and the characters as far as they can go?
ROB: I’m working with an ending in mind, and I’ve got enough story outlined for around 24-30 issues. It’s a pretty flexible story structure, but I think 30 issues is about right to keep the story nice and focused.
BCP: It feels like there has been some genuine scientific research going on behind this one, in spite of how ‘out there’ the premise is. Is that the case, and if so, how do you even begin to start researching a series like this?
ROB: Well, like I said earlier, I was sort of accidentally researching this in a roundabout way since the early 2000s. My wife’s a huge foodie from a family of farmers, so her interest in where food comes from was contagious. Suddenly, we were watching all these documentaries on organic and non-organic farming. And certain things just stuck. I remember this scene of these chickens who were bioengineered to grow so much larger than what is natural that they couldn’t even walk. And I remember thinking “How is this legal, and how can no one see this is a bad idea?” Then I came across all this other research on cloning, artificial intelligence and “pharming”, and I noticed a core theme. And I’m working more from this core theme than any hard scientific data I found: Science tends to move faster than humanity’s capability to cope with it. And that’s really the heart of FARMHAND. Jedidiah gets ahold of this new thing, and before he even thinks about what he’s got, he’s unleashed it on the world.
BCP: You’re obviously best known for your seven-year Eisner Award-winning stint on CHEW alongside John Layman, but what prompted you to turn your hand to writing after all this time?
ROB: Before CHEW, I wrote most of my own stuff. I was actually working on a solo title when CHEW fell into my lap back in 2008, so this is a full-circle moment for me. And it’s been the most terrifying and fulfilling project I’ve ever been a part of.
BCP: How does the scripting process work when you’re writing for yourself as an artist? Do you still feel the need to go into detail in terms of descriptions, layouts, etc. or do you just trust that Rob will know how best to interpret Rob’s instructions?
ROB: HA. What’s funny is that I really do write as if my artist is another person. I write full scripts with dialogue. And since I tend to script months before I ever draw it, so by the time I begin to draw an issue, it really is like I’m working with a different writer. I give myself free reign to edit the script on the fly, if I need. The script is basically a guide for me, and I generally stick within its parameters.
BCP: You’re working with frequent collaborator Taylor Wells on this one. What do you feel she brings to the look of the book?
ROB: After 40+ issues of working with her on CHEW, she knows my art better than anyone. At the same time, she’s a phenomenal artist in her own right. So she’s able to really bring her own feel to the colors, while at the same time letting my fingerprint shine through. It’s a delicate walk, but she nails it.
BCP: And finally, what would you say to someone on the fence about picking up FARHMAND to help convince them to give it a try?
ROB: The first issue is 32 pages of pure story, and I couldn’t be prouder of it. I’d just encourage folks to give this book a read, and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot more to this book than meets the eye.
FARMHAND #1 (Diamond Code MAY180011) hits stores on Wednesday, July 11th. The final order cutoff for comics retailers is Monday, June 18th.