Rob Guillory made a name for himself with food that can talk in Chew with John Layman, but now he's going solo with farm-raised human organs in his upcoming Image series Farmhand. Guillory described the series at Image Expo as “still heavy in horror aspects, but at the same time a lot more grounded than Chew was."
With the book ebuting July 11, Newsarama spoke with Guillory about the upcoming series, its characters, the father-son relationship at the heart of the story, but still very much full of horror elements that echo classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but on a much more mass-produced scale.
Newsarama: Rob, this is your first solo creator-owned series, and you have mentioned a lot of false starts and sheer terror in a letter to fans in the back of Farmhand #1. What was the most daunting part of this experience?
Rob Guillory: Probably the fact that, if this book was garbage, I wouldn’t have a collaborator to blame it on. [Laughs] I’m half-joking here, but it really was daunting to go from sharing a creative burden with a partner to shouldering the load myself. Where I succeed or fail with Farmhand, it’s ultimately on me, and it took me some time to work through my fear of failure to just give it my best shot and let the chips fall where they may. In the end, I’m proud of this book, and I think I’m improving on my craft with every issue.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the world of Farmhand and how this all came to be?
Guillory: Farmhand centers around a Southern farmer named Jedidiah Jenkins who is hit with this seemingly supernatural vision that leads to the creation of the Jedidiah Seed. This seed, when planted and watered, grows into human organs. So overnight Jed’s family farm becomes a one-stop shop for fast-healing plug-and-play organs. He heals the world and becomes rich beyond his wildest dreams. Then everything goes horribly, horribly wrong. So this book is all about the awful consequences of Jed’s invention on the world at large, but specifically its effects on his children.
As for the genesis of this idea, I think this is just the manifestation of a lot of interests I’ve had over the last decade. I’m endlessly fascinated (and horrified) at scientific advancements like the “pharming” bioengineered crops and livestock, cloning and A.I. At the same time, as the father of three young kids, I’m always ruminating on the effects of my choices on my family. So Farmhand is sort of a meshing of these two streams of obsession.
Nrama: Yeah as you just mentioned, growing human tissue isn't exactly new, but how do you think a real-world scenario would go if this kind of mass production could take place in our reality?
Guillory: Farmhand’s definitely drawing from a lot of my imagination, but I think if farm-grown bioengineered human organs made it through the necessary regulatory systems, there would certainly be those who would take the chance. Especially if it’s a case of life and death, which I’ve seen a loved one walk through before. Transplant waiting lists can be Hell for someone whose body is failing them. If a safe alternative was proposed, I think it’s safe to say many folks would take the risk.
Nrama: Let's dive in a bit about Zeke's relationship with his father. That definitely seems to be the heart of the story.
Guillory: Absolutely. Ezekiel is Jedidiah’s estranged son, newly returned to the family farm with his young family in tow. At Farmhand’s core, this is the story of one family trying to move forward toward reconciliation, while their own past demons threaten to tear them apart. In this case, the Jenkins family is coping with the Pandora’s Box that the Jedidiah Seed has been. It has brought Jed fame and riches, but it’s also brought monstrous complications to the family and their community. And Zeke is at the heart of it, torn by the desire to forgive his dad and the inescapable feeling that his father is a snake in the grass. It’s a complicated relationship, as parent/child relationships tend to be.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Zeke as a character? He seems to be a "Friend of Bill" and somewhat struggling as a writer, but that's all we know so far.
Guillory: Yeah, Zeke’s been through a lot, and we’ll be exploring some of that in the first arc. He’s definitely coming from an addiction background, but that’s all I can say. Zeke’s a man haunted by his father’s ghosts, on top of his own. Like I said, he’s just trying to move forward. But, ironically, for Zeke to move forward, he had to move back to the place of his childhood.
Nrama: How much of any did you put yourself into Zeke because it seems like a lot. You both come from Creole folk for example.
Guillory: Zeke’s definitely not my direct analog, but he’s certainly the most characteristic of some of my worst tendencies and neuroses. Like I said, I’m a guy that’s been reflecting on my history and its effects on my family, and Zeke’s very much of that same mold. And yes, Zeke and his family are also from South Louisiana, where I’m from. There’s a lot of richness to the Cajun Creole culture that really lends itself to not just stories of family, but to a horror story. So that informed my decisions there.
Nrama: You brought Taylor Wells on board as your colorist again, what is it about her palette that you enjoy, or was it just you can't imagine anybody else touching your linework at this point?
Guillory: Well, working with her for 40+ issues on Chew, no one knows my art better than her. She’s an incredible artist in her own right, so I knew she could bring a very unique look to Farmhand, while still retaining my fingerprint on the art. Her use of color is totally different than mine was on Chew, and I wanted that for this book. I wanted Farmhand to stand apart from anything I’ve done before, while still being recognizable to folks that have followed my work over the years. She nailed it.
Nrama: I see you put in a small Chew easter egg in there, should fans expect more of that down the line?
Guillory: [Laughs] Maybe. I love giving little shout-outs to pop culture stuff, and Chew was such a huge part of my career, I couldn’t resist showing it some love.
Nrama: Lastly, for readers that might have missed out on Chew, but want to jump into this, what can they expect?
Guillory: Expect a fun comic with a lot of heart, some great intrigue and some scares. Farmhand #1 is an oversized issue that introduces a lot of different aspects of this world, and I couldn’t be prouder of it. Give it a shot, and I think it’ll be the best book about farm-grown human organs you’ll ever read.