Rob Guillory is a comics writer and artist. He's best known for his work on Chew. His other work includes WWE, Thor, and Secret Wars Too. The first issue of his creator-owned series Farmhand, released July 11. The second issue is set to release August 8.
Tim: You were the artist on Chew for eight years. Did you always want to write your own story?
Rob: Yeah. Before Chew started I was writing my own stuff. I always intended to return to it. It was just a matter of having the time to do it. I was a full-time artist on Chew for the eight years. I pretty much hung it up. I did some writing on the side here and there, but I knew I couldn't give Chew the attention it needed while developing this other thing. I meant to come back. It was just finding the right time.
Tim: When did the first seeds of Farmhand get planted?
Rob: January 2016. I remember exactly when it came to be. We always knew that Chew was going to be 60 issues. But eight years to get there. It hit me in January 2016 that this was the year. I gotta find where. What am I gonna do? I was stressed. I went through all my idea lists. I had tons of stuff over the years. I hated everything. I kind of gave up trying to make something happen. That's when it popped up.
Initially, it was just an image. The tree with limbs growing off it. This real creepy image. Images of limbs growing from soil. That sort of thing. Immediately, I got the hook. Organic farmer who actually grows human organs. Which seemed too punny and on the nose. Like someone's done this. It's too obvious. But I always Google my ideas and without fail someone had already done it. So I promised myself I'm not gonna look. I'm gonna make it personal and my own thing. If only by the virtue of the art, looking different. I knew nothing was going to look like Farmhand. I knew we would be different. I went all in on it for like a year and a half. I told maybe a handful of people. I didn't tell Image about it until summer of last year. They didn't know anything about it. I kept it really under my hat for some time.
Tim: Farmhand is about an organic farmer who grows human organs. Why won't you let puns die?
Rob: I don't know. I like a good pun. It hit all the right notes for me. It was dark. Well, it had the potential to be dark. But it also had the potential to be really, really funny. Gross out and silly. But the deeper elements didn't come into play until later. I started digging into who the characters were. What kind of guy would grow human organs. Why would he do it? What's he doing it for? It spiraled out into his family and all of a sudden I started to realize these metaphors. Reaping and sowing lended itself so well to the family thing. It all kind of made sense in hindsight.
Tim: What's your history with body horror? Do you lean more on comedy to counter the horror?
Rob: I've never really watched much [David] Cronenberg, though his name keeps coming up. The stuff I was really into was more Stephen King, Twilight Zone, and Hitchcock stuff. But at the same time I was more into slasher stuff. I was exposed to entirely too much horror at a really young age. I had an uncle, the same guy who got me into comics. My parents were nuts. I was watching Hellraiser, the Friday The 13th series, Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween. I had seen all that by age 8 probably. I knew all that stuff. Psycho. I was into all that stuff. I think it came in and manifested in this.
It just made sense to have that humor counteract it. It would be soul-crushing and depressing if we went full horror with no humor. Oh god. Even with the ending of Chew, it was still humorous, but it was super sad. By the end, I told John [Layman], "I don't ever wanna do anything like this again." This is too intense and too sad. I need something to balance it. With Farmhand, it is that balancing act.
Tim: Farmhand is a slower character-driven family drama in comparison to Chew. Was that a conscious decision?
Rob: Yeah. I'm kind of taking the opposite approach of Chew. With Chew, you didn't know anything about Tony Chu until way later. You didn't know anything about him except he had a brother early on. You didn't learn that he had a daughter or he was married before. You don't learn any of that until you're 15-20 issues in. That's what really brought the depth later.
What I wanted from the beginning to go there immediately. Let's meet these people. Let's get invested in their lives. Let the sci-fi hook be the thing we work into. That's the mysterious part. With Tony Chu, there was never any mystery about his ability. He just was. We never really explained where it came from. With this, I'm digging into the family aspect from the beginning, then we're getting into where this thing came from. Where did the seed come from? That dark mystery.
Tim: You've dabbled in licensed work, Thor, Power Rangers, WWE, but most of your career has been in creator-owned. Do you get more out of doing creator-owned?
Rob: Yeah. I'm a geek at heart. I came up with this stuff. It's always really tempting. It sounds great on paper to work on like Spider-Man. That would be awesome. But then you get into it. And don't get me wrong. My experiences with Marvel have been positive. Surprisingly positive. But you find out how little control you have. There's all these interests.
I think the WWE stuff was the perfect example of that. It was a positive experience. They were surprisingly cool. We did The New Day story. It really wasn't about wrestling. They travel back in time. There's a T-Rex. This has nothing to do with wrestling whatsoever. But surprisingly they were totally into it, which was awesome.
At the same time, there's all these corporate interests. The story was actually very different. We wanted to travel back to integral parts of WWE history. Go to the Attitude Era and go the '80s. Go all over the place and have The New Day interact with central moments. There's all these like, "Well, we can't use Stone Cold because he's really sensitive about how he's portrayed. And we can't use Hulk Hogan because there's legal stuff going on." It's like crap. We can't use all the best people, so we had to work around that. With licensed stuff, that always tends to be the case. It's very rare that they'd say blank check, do whatever you want. With creator-owned comics, we do what want. We do it when we want. We do it how we want. Chances are if it does well, you'll probably make more money doing it. And you won't have to deal with the headache of being told don't do that. It's a win-win for me, I think.
Tim: What's your creative process like? Do you do full scripts for yourself?
Rob: Yeah, with Farmhand. I talked to a lot of different guys that are writer/artist. I was drilling them for info. "Do you guys do full scripts?" Some guys did. A lot of guys did an outline and worked it out on the page. But I knew that would never work out for me. There are so many characters and so many dynamics and moving parts, that I knew it would take me forever. And it would probably suck.
With Chew, Layman was always full script. His dialogue was so key to dictating how my art paced. If someone was saying or emoting something, I would need those beats to nail it comedically and draw it the right way. I couldn't just phone that in. I couldn't just make it up on the page. I'm pretty much a page a day guy. I can pencil and ink a page a day. But if I was working from an outline, essentially what Greg Capullo does, and I respect the hell out of him, but it would take forever to do a book. It would be insane. I'm actually doing full scripts, dialogue, panel breakdowns, as if I'm writing for a different artist. I'm not really multi-tasking because I suck at multi-tasking. I'm actually doing all my writing in chunks.
I wrote issues 1-5 in a 2-3 month span, where I wasn't even drawing. I was just scripting everything single day. I nailed those down and then I'm going into the drawing. With arc one, I wrote these issues last year. I'm drawing issue 5 right now. I really hadn't read issue 5 since I wrote it last year. I'm reading it as if I've never read it before and as if someone else had written it. I was able to enjoy it on another whole level. I had a distance from it that I wasn't so attached and couldn't change things. I'm kind of separating myself like two people and working back into it.
Tim: What made you decide to bring Taylor Wells, your color assistant on Chew, on as your full colorist?
Rob: She was just perfect. We worked together for like six years or something. I mean, 40-something issues. She knew my art about as well as I knew my art. She knew exactly what I needed. She knew what worked with my art. She's an artist also. Phenomenal artist. I knew that she would bring her own thing. I wanted Farmhand for the Chew fans to be like coming home to a degree. I wanted it to be familiar so they'd come. But at the same time, I wanted it different enough that it would be its own beast. She achieved it. I knew by virtue of me not coloring it, it would be different. To be honest, she's probably a better colorist than I am. I'm so ghetto with coloring. She uses channels. She's using Painter or something. I'm just using Photoshop and layers. I don't know anything about channels. I don't know any of that stuff.
Tim: Chew had a finite ending planned. Do you still see Farmhand running 24-30 issues?
Rob: Yeah, if the sales are steady. That's the plan. I'll never do 60 issues again. Especially if I'm writing them. That is intense. I have enough story for 24-30 issues. I know my ending. This weekend, while I was here at the show, I spent a lot of time writing into my character bible and writing the finer details of some things. I know my outline. I know my beginning, my middle, my ending. I know character arcs. But there's some rules of the game that I needed to really make firm. With the seed, the antagonist of the story, and what happens to the people of the town. I had to really dig in more to make it more firm. That's the plan. I picture it as a three year project.
Tim: Since Farmhand is an Image book, how long until it's optioned?
Rob: That's funny. These days things get optioned before they ever make it to print. I've had interest in Farmhand since the day I announced it. Something is in motion. I can't say what. I'd say it's exciting. I am looking at co-writing the pilot. It would be a live-action thing for television. I am working with a studio already. I haven't announced anything yet, but we're looking at probably announcing something by the end of the year. Hopefully, I'll have a pilot script written by the end of the year. The people that are involved with it are really, really passionate about it. Fingers crossed. With our luck with the Chew stuff, Farmhand will probably make it to TV before Chew hits TV. We'll see.
Tim: Do you see farming in your future?
Rob: Yeah, actually. It's funny. I knew there was some farming in my history. I have great-grandparents who farmed and owned land. It's funny. I met with my grandmother, who was pretty instrumental in raising me, and she was the woman who would drive me to the comic shop every week. We were talking one day months ago and I was well into Farmhand and everything. She was talking about her childhood. "We were sharecropping." She was talking about picking cotton. I was like, "Wait, what?" She was like, "Yeah, yeah. We used to do that. We were sharecroppers. We came in and worked for someone. We picked their cotton, picked their crops. We got paid." I was like, "Damn, all right." I didn't even know that was a thing, like cool.
I kind of romanticize farming. Over the course of Chew, we bought land and we started developing it. My kids are all into it. My oldest son especially is like, "When are we gonna get a cow?" When are you going to learn to milk a cow? That's when we'll get one. I can see that eventually. When my life slows down and my kids get older. And I have the time to do it. I can see it.
Tim: Not the answer I was expecting.
Rob: I can totally see it.