Pregnant with an Idea Baby.
There's one question I get more than any other:
"Where do you get your ideas?"
I kinda hate that question.
It's not that it's a stupid question or anything. It's that I don't really have a good answer. At least not one I can finish before people's eyes start to glaze over.
I get my ideas from all over. From actual life stuff, mine and others'. From things I see, in the world and in my private inner one.
I can feel your eyes glazing over already.
What I can talk about is how I grow an idea once it's been planted. After experiencing my wife growing our three children, I can honestly say growing an idea baby is not too unlike growing a human baby. Which is to say it can be a long uncomfortable process that keeps you up nights with horrible indigestion and leaves you generally cranky all damn day. But it's all worth it when that baby shows up, all covered in human fluids and screaming at the world.
Anyway, let's look at FARMHAND from conception to the finished page.
It all started on the morning of January 24, 2016. I can recall it was a Sunday because my family was immersed in the chaos that comes with getting three small children dressed for church. I'd stepped into my bathroom to tidy up, and as I looked out the nearby window at the large oak tree outside, a particularly vivid image popped into my mind.
I saw that same oak tree, but there were human limbs growing from it. As I lingered on the image, I imagined hands growing from the dirt, mingling with the tree's root system. A creepy image. I would've been worried about my own mental health, but for the fact that I'm a comic creator, and sanity is not a job requirement.
And just like that, I immediately had it. An organic farmer who grows human organs.
I made a note in my phone and got ready for church, the idea already growing in the back of my mind.
Some background: When the initial FARMHAND idea landed, I was in the middle of plotting my life after CHEW. We'd always planned 2016 as the book's final year, so I was anxious to lock in my first post-CHEW project. So FARMHAND couldn't have come at a better time.
The next step in the idea's growth came about a week later when I wrote the initial logline, which you can view below. Note that the idea and the character name changed from here. Doesn't matter. The point of the rough logline isn't to nail down all the details. This is just the first sprout of the idea.
From here, the idea sprouted rapidly. I started taking long walks in my driveway, asking myself questions like:
What kind of person would grow human organs? And why?
What's this guy's family life like?
Could this vocation be some sort of overcompensation for a lack in other areas of his life?
Maybe he's a god at work, but an absent father at home?
How has the world reacted to this breakthrough research?
What's the impact of his research on his family and the world around him?
This is the point where I let my imagination roam. After I'd gotten the general shape of the story, I expanded the logline into an extended pitch, the first page of which you can view below. Subsequent pages went in-depth into character details and the overarching plot. I won't post those yet, since they may spoil later plot threads.
Note that the ideas in this pitch went on to evolve further. In time, Jedidiah Jenkins' name spelling changed. I also decided he'd be more interesting if he really was just a simple farmer sideswiped by this amazing discovery and not a genetic engineer. Even better, let's say Jed was the latest in a long line of farmers, and he wasn't even good at it. That'd probably give him a bit of a chip on his shoulder, right? Like he had something to prove. So naturally, when this brand-new Seed technology hit him, he wouldn't even question it. He'd think, "This is my ticket. I'll show every one of those people who doubted me that I am special."
Of course, things for Jed go sideways from there. Pride before the fall and whatnot. That's our story.
I also decided to make him African-American. This wasn't an arbitrary decision, but it also wasn't a political one. To be honest, when I first thought of "farmer", the mental image I got was Old MacDonald. Basically, an old white guy in overalls on a big green tractor. Because it seemed so cliche, I decided to flip it. What if he was a black farmer? I hadn't seen that depicted in media, which immediately drew me to it. The image of a black man working in a field had been synonymous with slavery for so long, and I liked the idea taking that image with all its connotations, then radically flipping it on its head. He'd be a black man working his own land, in charge of his own destiny. I liked that. Plus, I felt it was richer from a story perspective. And being a black man myself, I felt I could deal with the nuance more honestly.
Then came the script. I think this is the point where the idea becomes real for me. Characters develop their own voices. Unexpected interactions materialize. It's kind of magic.
I decided to do full script on FARMHAND, mostly because I wanted to flex my muscles as a writer. I knew I might want to write for another artist one day, so I didn't want to phone this in, even if I was handling art as well. Full script below and here. Please pardon the roughness of this script. My scripts got a good bit sleeker in later issues.