“Cannibal detectives and human organ growing plants… welcome to the world of Rob Guillory”
If you’ve been a fan of comic books for any amount of time, and you’ve paid attention to anything evenremotely relevant outside of the “big two” publishers, you’ve probably heard the name Rob Guillory. Rob was the artist in the award-winning Image Comics title “CHEW”, and more recently launched his own title “Farmhand” as both writer and artist.
CHEW debuted through Image comics in 2009 to absolute rave reviews. It’s a twisted and funny story set in an era of banned poultry meat about a Philadelphia detective who has been blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see the graphic history of anything he eats… for better or worse. I can imagine how this might limit one’s dietary desires, but fans were eating it up, and kept ordering more. CHEW ended up running for 60 issues, spawned multiple collected editions, special editions, and garnered numerous awards in the process. Rob Guillory was the artist that worked with writer John Layman on this one, and the two created one of the finest cuisines the comic world has ever tasted.
Fast forward to 2018, and Rob has sewn fertile ground for his newest agri-sci-fi tale Farmhand. Farmhand tells the story of Ezekiel Jenkins, who reluctantly returns with his family to his father Jedidiah’s family farm in the town he was raised to reconcile many years after leaving. Zeke has his own family now, a wife and two children, and things are different these days for the struggling artist. Still, the town is uneasy about the new variety of crops that Jedidiah has been producing, and the danger is something that many, including Zeke have seen coming for years. Human organs- eyes, lungs, noses, limbs… are being grown in this large highly advanced farming facility, and what could possibly go wrong with that? What is it they say about good intentions…?
Rob has an art style that’s instantly recognizable to many comic fans, and the odd humor that accompanies it makes his projects disturbingly fun. I had a chance to talk to Rob about his history in comics, and his newest exciting tale down on the farm.
Jeremy Waldorf: Thank you for the opportunity to get
to know you better.
You were born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. Who or what drew you into art and how old were you?
RG: Well, I had a couple of cool uncles that were really into comics and cartoons, so I was immediately drawn to it from a very young age. I probably got my first comic around age 4 or 5, and that hooked me.
JW: How did comic books come into your personal life, and what were your favorite titles when you were growing up?
RG: At first, I would spend most of my time flipping through my uncles’ comic stash, and that was mostly superheroes: Teen Titans, X-Men and that sort of thing. When I began to collect on my own, I stayed within that genre for the most part. I was a big Superman, Batman and X-Men fan.
JW: What was your first job as an artist?
RG: My first paid comic gig was a five year stint as the staff cartoonist for my college newspaper. I did two weekly strips and learned a ton about meeting deadlines, working consistently and whatnot.
JW: You have a very recognizable art style, who influenced your style?
RG: I’ve got a pretty diverse list of artists I count as my influencers. Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Jim Mahfood, Dave Crosland, Akira Toriyama and Tex Avery, to name a few.
JW: Your first big title CHEW sold out multiple printings, was on the New York Times bestseller list, won an Eisner award as well as two Harvey awards and has become a legendary title for both you and Image Comics. What were your expectations for CHEW when you first started working on it?
RG: I was hopeful, but never expected the book would do so well. Really, I was just happy to be making my first book under the Image banner. Of course, it succeeded well beyond anything we could’ve imagined, so I’m immensely proud of it.
JW: You worked with John Layman on CHEW. What was the creative process like between the two of you?
RG: Very conversational and professional. Layman’s scripts were very detailed, while leaving me enough freedom to put my spin of things. From the scripts, I’d produce about a page per day, which I’d send him at the end of each workday. From there, he’d letter it up. Between that, we’d text or chat online regularly to talk story and make general plans, but it was just that simple. We did a new issue about every 5 weeks for our entire 8-year run.
JW: Farmhand is your current ongoing title with Image Comics, and readers are loving it – including me. From the very first issue, it does a wonderful job of pulling you into the story. When did you start writing for this book?
RG: I began outlining the story in January 2016, but didn’t write the first script until December 2016, because I was busy finishing CHEW.
JW: In Farmhand, Zeke reluctantly returns to the family farm with his own wife and children to be reacquainted with Zeke’s Father Jedidiah Jenkins, who has taken a controversial new direction with his agriculture down on the farm. Are there any personal touches to the Jenkins family, and how did the idea for Farmhand come to be?
RG: Oh, there are tons of personal touches in FARMHAND. Though it’s definitely not autobiographical by any means, there are a lot of personal reflections on my own experiences as a young parent myself. It’s interwoven into this weird story about body part plants. The initial idea just sort of emerged in January 2016, but I think it was just the merging of lots of ideas I’d been ruminating on for the last 15 years or so. It’s hard to say where ideas come from.
JW: Do you prefer writing and drawing your own series, or collaborating with other talent?
RG: I like all of the above, and each has its own pros and cons. I love the feedback that comes with a healthy collaboration, but I’m really enjoying the freedom of working solo right now.
JW: What is the most memorable thing you’ve heard someone say about Farmhand or your other work?
RG: I recently had a FARMHAND reader say the book had inspired him to return to AA, so that’s pretty special. Every artist wants to make a positive impact on the reader, so I’m humbled by that.
JW: Is there any interest for an on-screen adaptation of Farmhand?
RG: Yes, but it’s too early to talk about.
JW: If there WAS a television or Netfilx series adapted from Farmhand, who would you want to star in it?
RG: I’m not sure. Donald Glover was the initial inspiration for Ezekiel’s look, but I’m not sure he’s quite right for it.
JW: -Let’s change direction a little bit for a minute-
If you could work with anyone in comics or movies, who would it be and why?
RG: Brian K. Vaughan, because I’m just a huge fan of his work.
JW: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
RG: Stocking frozen food at a supermarket when I was 16. I’ve had a sinus drip ever since.
JW: What motivates you in your work?
RG: Family, friends and the feeling that I’m supposed to be doing this.
JW: Do you enjoy writing or drawing better?
RG: I may enjoy writing more, if only because it’s faster.
JW: Who is your favorite writer in comics right now?
RG: BKV or Jason Aaron.
JW: What’s your absolute favorite place to be, at any given time?
RG: In front of my fireplace with a cup of coffee.
JW: What’s the coolest thing you’ve been given by a fan?
RG: A ceramic cookie jar shaped like POYO.
JW: Name one book that’s made an impact in your life.
RG: The Bible.
JW: What kind of advice would you give and aspiring comic artist or writer?
RG: Know yourself and know what you love. When you discover those things, you’ll begin to make work you love out of that place, and it’ll be better, more genuine work.
I’d like to thank Rob Guillory for taking the time to chat with me about his life and work. I’m reading issue four of Farmhand currently and it’s one of my absolute favorite books right now. I just saw the cover of issue six on Rob’s Twitter post and I am even more stoked about the next story arc. If you like fishing, pop over to his Twitter feed and check it out.
If this discussion has you hungry for more, I highly recommend picking up some of Rob’s work, it’s a great deal of unusual fun. Farmhand has just completed its fifth issue, with a trade paperback of the collected first story arc due through Image Comics in January of 2019. CHEW has been published in multiple trade paperbacks as well as collected hardcovers available both online, in comic shops and some special editions on Rob’s website. You can find all these things and more fun apparel and toys at https://www.robguillory.com
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