“Farmhand” #2 is definitely character focused, fleshing out the book’s core ensemble while introducing some new characters, too. It’s still not entirely clear where the story is headed, but there are some tantalizing clues in this well drawn, well colored issue. (Warning: contains minor spoilers.)
Written and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Colored by Taylor Wells
Lettered by Kody Chamberlain
Ezekiel Jenkins just wants to forget his past. Unfortunately, now that he’s returned to his family’s farm, that’s going to be damn near impossible. And if dealing with his own demons isn’t enough, today he’ll be dealing with a few of his father’s as well.
There’s something of an internet meme going round, nicely summarized by bi-weekly podcaster The Cryptonaturalist like this: “If you write out the basic facts of trees, but framed as technology, it sounds like impossible sci-fi nonsense. Self-replicating, solar-powered machines that synthesize carbon dioxide and rainwater into oxygen and sturdy building materials on a planetary scale.” Contextualized in this way, the idea of growing human organs, limbs, digits and noses botanically might not seem so weird. Thankfully, as written and drawn by Rob Guillory, creator of “Chew,” the concept is still plenty bizarre, inventive and darkly comedic.
In the book’s debut issue, Guillory wasted no time establishing his high concept premise: through genetic engineering or some other wizardry, one farmer has figured out how to grow human body parts from the earth, like fruits and vegetables. Importantly, Guillory also firmly cemented the book’s satiristic tone, a judicious creative choice that helps to keep it from sliding into pure gimmickry. Yes, the comic’s creator seemed to say, there will be plenty of visual humor and even moments of grotesque slapstick, but trust me, I’ll wrestle with weightier issues, too. I’m not playing it purely for laughs.
In fact, the first installment was quite well balanced, mixing black comedy beats with notes of dramatic tension and a mysterious undercurrent to create a vivid, unsettling story that goes well beyond the book’s clever yet punny title. If anything, it was almost too ambitious, packing a ton of content into an issue that could have been simpler and still set the stage quite nicely. Here, in the second issue, Guillory is no less ambitious, exploring every one of the book’s core characters while also adding a couple of new ones, including a mysterious, grandmotherly antiques dealer/amateur herbalist and a muscular, tough-as-nails preacher whose Good Book packs quite a punch. Unfortunately, with so many characters to explore, the secondary characters tend to end up a little flat, reduced to simple types like the “unathletic new kid” (Zeke’s son), “the tween girl who freaks out at the least provocation” (Zeke’s daughter), and “the hipster hat maker with an Etsy shop” (Zeke’s wife, which probably isn’t really a type, but isn’t particularly well rounded either in her essentially subservient, move-back-to-the-country-with-my-husband spousal role).
Thankfully, whatever the characters lack in nuance, Guillory overcomes with snappily written dialogue. When Zeke’s sister Andrea gets mad at him, for example, she threatens, “If you weren’t my brother, I would punch a hole in your face and wear you like a hoodie.” Or when Zeke’s daughter gets sent to detention and exclaims, “He was breathing on me! Who does that?!!” Certainly not the most artful dialogue ever written, but definitely good for a chuckle.
Dialogue and plot aside, Guillory’s unique art style is definitely the most unique aspect of the comic, perfectly complemented by Taylor Wells’s exceedingly vibrant, borderline gaudy colors that definitely lend a weird, dreamlike quality to it all. Guillory’s style, to be blunt, is what many would probably call “cartoony.” It has a definite comedic flair and certainly isn’t lifelike, but it doesn’t try to be. In fact, most of his characters’ faces and hairstyles have an angular, almost geometric quality to them that keeps things squarely planted in a world that’s decidedly exaggerated and surrealistic. Nonetheless, Guillory’s character designs, settings, compositions and paneling never feel simplistic or hastily rendered. There’s a definite artfulness and sophistication to the work that suggests great attention to detail and care. There are also plenty of Easter eggs and subtle jokes that will have you poring over the pages to make sure you didn’t miss anything.Continued below
Given Wells’s fantastic colors, however, that hardly seems possible. Obviously, there’s a lot of green, as one would expect from a book with “farm” in the title. Nonetheless, Wells uses that to his advantage, often building his palette around green to great effect. His precise, well timed use of purple, in particular, gives several of his panels and pages an energy that pops off the page. Elsewhere in the book, in the dodge ball sequence for example, Wells pulls out all the stops, unfurling a rainbow sherbet of colors in a single sequence, given the scene an epic quality that resonates for pages. There are even some brightly colored “half tone” backgrounds that work really well.
Final Verdict: 8.0 In the end, “Farmhand” #2 essentially accomplishes what it set out to do. Writer-illustrator Rob Guillory definitely slows down the pace to explore the core characters, but that’s not a bad thing. The series is well positioned to dial things back up and get weird(er).