Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #20 by Drew Barth
This Must Be the Comic (Naive Recipe)
The visceral look and dynamic panel-to-panel sequencing in comics make them ideal for a fairly wide range of stories. When looking at lists of graphic novels and comics out in the world now, there’s a high chance if you imagine something, its comic equivalent exists. With my own obsessions with certain cooking shows like Street Food and Ugly Delicious as well as some personal follies throughout the kitchen, I started thinking more and more about food in comics. Because that’s what I do while I’m waiting for water to boil. And when the fantastic creator Lucie Bryon posted a short comic on how to make peanut pasta I kind of had to talk about the ways in which food and graphic storytelling intertwine. Partially because there is a wealth of really interesting work out in the world, but mostly because that recipe was so good I had to write about it.
I’ve noticed in all the food-based comics I read that they can be split into two categories: 1) Food based nonfiction works that can encompass recipe guides as well as graphic memoirs that looks to weave a love for food throughout the narrative while maintaining the visual splendor that the comic form brings. And 2) Food adventures that are all typically expansive science fiction pieces that deal with food as commodity, survival, or power—the latter of which you can read more about in my review of Joseph Keatinge and Wook Jin Clark’s Flavor. Both of these sub-genres of food comics have a wealth of wonderful work associated with them, but I just wanted to focus on a couple in this article.
It would be nigh impossible to write about food related graphic memoirs without mentioning Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Published by First Second a few years back, Relish is the story of Lucy and the myriad ways in which food has influenced and permeated every aspect of her life. From her dad’s butcher block in the kitchen to her mom blowtorching birthday cakes every year. But what continually makes her graphic memoir so enticing is the way in which it presents food and recipes.
I’ve read a lot of cookbooks and watched a lot of cooking shows. Nothing compares to having a recipe drawn out in comic form to replicate it perfectly every time. Both Bryon and Knisley render their recipes fantastically throughout Food Babyand Relish respectively to the point where I’ve made a large portion of their recipes multiple times simply because comics as a medium are perfect for the task of cooking. While cookbooks leave much to the imagination and cooking shows involve a lot of pausing, going back, and quick cuts to the finished product fresh out of the over, comic recipes really take the reader into consideration. Presenting recipes as side-to-side images with the floating text as a means of directing the reader’s eyes from panel to panel and step by step helps to put the mind at ease. The level of mastery of comic mechanics make putting comic recipes down one of the more difficult tasks for a creator, but Food Baby and Relish do it marvelously. And deliciously.
And where the above mentioned comics are in some ways similar to Good Eats or Barefoot Contessa, these latter series have more in common with No Reservations than anything. Where on one hand we can have food as a facet of life, we can also have food as a grand adventure.
In that intersection of science fiction, culinary adventures, and some of the best comics to come out of this century sit the series Wonton Soup by James Stokoe and Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss. The former deals with two friends traveling the universe to create the best food possible and the latter is an abducted baker being made to compete in an intergalactic cooking reality show. While the plots of these stories are incredibly fun, they treat their food not as a backdrop, but with Studio Ghibli-esque care and reverence. As the cooking competition becomes murderously fierce and our lead character, Peony, finds new alien friends in Space Battle Lunchtime, we are continually introduced to new ingredients, new ways of cooking, and new ways of seeing food through a lens we as readers are not accustomed to. Likewise in Wonton Soup where Stokoe gives us alien landscape after alien cityscape all in pursuit of the greatest ingredients for our main characters’ palettes. Even if the alien metaphor in each series is a bit obvious, they still encourage us as readers to strike out into something culinaryily unexpected.
A commonality between comics and food that isn’t brought up that often is the fact that each of them is something that brings people together. How often do we see documentaries about comics or food that don’t include stock footage of kids gathered around issues of Action Comics with bicycles huddled around them or nonnas serving up massive bowls of spaghetti to families laughing around a table? Even now, and something brought up often in Relish, is the idea of people coming together to share in what they have—to build a community together. Food and comics do this constantly. And every single comic I’ve brought up in this article savors that idea as essential. From new friendships in Space Battle Lunchtimeto the strengthening of bonds in Wonton Soupto the recipes that inspired us in Food Baby and Relish to then cook something for our friends, we as readers want that communal feeling. Comics are a community and food only helps to strengthen the community further. Even if you’re not someone invested in the comic community, there’s still recipes plenty here to make your own community just a little bit closer.
Get excited. Dinner’s ready.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.