'Chew' Artist Rob Guillory Dishes Dirt on His New Image Comics Series 'Farmhand'

Rob Guillory Farmhand Interview - Cover
(Photo: Rob Guillory)

Writer and artist Rob Guillory (Chew) is launching Farmhand, a new series at Image Comics, in July. The comic will be the first ongoing series both written and drawn by Guillory, with colors provided by Taylor Wells. It focuses on the Jenkins family, three generations of relatives brought back together by the family farm, which is now growing human body parts. The first issue delves into both the family drama and a wide variety of sci-fi concepts without ever losing Guillory’s distinct sense of humor. It’s one of the most idiosyncratic and entertaining new series from Image Comics in 2018.

ComicBook.com had an opportunity to read the first issue and discuss the upcoming series with Guillory. Check out their conversation and some previews of the artwork below.

ComicBook.com: I want to address just how dense the first issue of Farmhand is to start. It's an enjoyable read, but there's already a lot of ideas and future plot threads being introduced making the series feel like it has a long road ahead of it. How far ahead are you looking with this series?

Rob Guillory: Yeah, that’s always the tricky part of making an issue one, I think. I wanted to introduce a lot of this world’s elements right off the bat in a natural way that didn’t feel overwhelming, so I made the first issue an actual tour of the farm. Along the way, we’re introduced to several of the moving parts of the plot, and there’s a lot there. As it is now, I’ve got enough story outlined for around 24-30 issues. I’ve got an ending in mind that I’m working toward, so everything I’m putting into the story is pretty deliberate.

While there are a lot of high-concept elements swirling about, the first issue really grounds the story as a family and generational drama. What attracted you to this form of story and are there any specific influences (from your own life or fiction) that impact your conception of the Jenkins clan?

Well, after I’d developed the initial high concept, I knew I needed to ground it in something recognizable, or the initial charm of body part plants would get old pretty fast. So as I started toying around with the concept, I stumbled onto all these ponderings that had been in the back of my mind for years. Things like family legacy, generational curses, reaping what you’ve sown [...] A lot of that was because our family had just grown to a party of five, and with each child I was really ruminating on the repercussions of my actions on my kids. And it was both terrifying and humbling. I saw how decisions I’d made long before they were ever born were bearing good and bad fruit in my children’s lives. And that’s really the root of Farmhand. Jedidiah Jenkins has made a world-changing decision, and it’s his family that has to cope with the aftermath of it.

Rob Guillory Farmhand Interview - Family and Cast
(Photo: Rob Guillory)

Jedidiah Jenkins' farm touches on a lot of concepts that are grounded in very real scientific and ethical issues: stem cell research, DNA patenting, the corporatization of farms. Was there any specific trend or news item that planted the seed for the big idea behind Farmhand?

Again, I’d been sort of stockpiling ideas for this long before the initial idea ever existed. I’d watched a ton of documentaries over the years about how scientists were bioengineering plants and livestock to grow faster, grow bigger, decompose slower and generally be more aesthetically pleasing to consumers. And it always felt like a really bad idea. Simultaneously, I’d read all these articles about scientists really toying around with the essence of humanity with things like cloning or artificial intelligence. So when the initial Farmhand idea landed, I already had this well of information to draw from. It was a no-brainer to distill all these reflections into this one premise.

Along those same lines, as you've developed the concept for Farmhand, how much research or interest has gone into how these fantastical concepts mirror startling changes in modern science? Is there anything you've discovered that has changed your approach to the series?

I landed on a series of research papers on bioengineering plants to grow different types of medicine, and that was huge. The actual science was so weird and mind-blowing that it made my body part plant idea seem pretty tame in comparison. From there, I found a good bit of research on cloning techniques and whatnot. So again, it was just a matter of putting these two separate research streams into one. Of course, Farmhand is not hard sci-fi, and there’s a good bit of extrapolation and imagination here. The good thing about comics is that I don’t have to work out how this will work. My job’s just to ponder “How could this work?"

One other particularly potent element in the first issue is how the concept of regeneration touches upon disability. The language around disability is very impactful. How are you addressing dialogue and actions regarding characters with disabilities in Farmhand?

I’m really just addressing the idea of wholeness. What does it mean to be whole, physically and spiritually? Really, each one of my characters is “disabled” in some way. They’re all walking with a limp, even if it’s not a visible one. So again, there’s a ton of reflection on what “broke” these characters, and can they be healed. It’s a universally human thing, and I think every person can relate to it on some level.

Rob Guillory Farmhand Interview - Morning
(Photo: Rob Guillory)

Your artwork does a lot of the heavy lifting for the wide array of plots and ideas on display in Farmhand with lots of details providing background gags or elements of foreshadowing. Where does this complexity emerge in your process as you both write and draw the issue?

Lately, I’ve been writing my scripts months before I draw them. So by the time I pick up my scripts, it’s sort of like a different writer penned them. My scripts are fairly detailed, panel-by-panel breakdowns with dialogue, and I sort of talk to my future self in the scripts, as weird as that sounds. I leave notes for myself in the script. Then when I pick it up to actually draw the thing, I give myself the freedom to edit as I see fit. And 90% of the time, Easter eggs and little background gags are the last thing I add, just for my own enjoyment.

You are also working with colorist Taylor Wells on Farmhand. How did you two start collaborating, and is there anything in particular about Wells' colors that made her the perfect fit for the series?

Taylor was actually my color assistant on Chew for about six years, so we’ve had a long history. She knows my art better than anyone, and there’s no one I trust more to color this book. I knew she could walk the fine line between bringing her own flavor to the book, while still maintaining my fingerprint in the art. She’s a dynamic artist in her own right, and she’s just been killing it on every page.

With the first issue less than one month away from release, is there any one specific element you are most excited to see readers respond to for the very first time?

I’m just thrilled and a little bit nervous to have folks enter this weird little world I’ve been quietly developing for a few years now. I think it’s pretty special, and I hope they enjoy the ride.

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Image Comics will publish Farmhand #1 on July 11th.