We kill for it, we play in dirt for it, we build reality shows and fairy tales around it: food is a great plot device. And the unique visual storytelling of the comics industry may be just what food needs to jump-start its fiction career.
Late last December, American comics artist Brian Wood predicted a flurry of food-related comics for 2012. Wood’s own food-related comic, “STARVE,” had been rejected by two publishers, both of which had claimed that the work was too similar to other comics already in the pipeline.
One of these comics was Vertigo’s “Get Jiro!,” a gory parody of food culture that follows rebel sushi chef Jiro as he carves out a name for himself among the master chef-mobsters of a futuristic L.A.. Co-written by Anthony Bourdain, author of “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” and host of the Travel Channel’s “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and “The Layover,” the comic boasts the biggest name in foodie-ism to have yet ventured into the comics industry.
The unexpected Vertigo-Bourdain pair-up may have sent the comic to the top of the Bestseller List, but the comics industry knows that there are limits on what can be sold in the age of free web content.
Though food-related webcomics are few and far between, they are out there. Wood’s lamentations on the failure of “STARVE” were spurred by illustrator Ryan Kelly’s attempt at a foodie webcomic of his own. The project, called “Cocotte” (a French term for “casserole dish” and an old-fashioned word for “prostitute”), is a gritty slice of life story about a line cook at a stylish Minneapolis restaurant. Though the project intended to prop open the double doors and expose the culinary hierarchies of a restaurant kitchen, the comic hasn’t been updated past its first chapter. Cancellation of this quirky little comic seems inevitable; in August, Kelly posted the most recent “Cocotte” update on his blog, writing “I’m not even going to waste time begging you to read it. It’s a good comic…I’ve done everything I can.”
Even before the explosive success of Bourdain’s “Get Jiro!” was Image Comics’ “Chew,” the Eisner Award-winning series first published in 2009. Written by John Layman with art by Rob Guillory, “Chew” follows FDA agent Tony Chu as he utilizes his psychic abilities to solve food-related crimes. But Chu’s psychic powers don’t come to him as clairvoyant whispers in the midst of meditation; rather, Chu must learn about food and people by…eating them. The comics provide a psychic spin on many aspects of food culture: in addition to “Cibopaths” like Chu, Effervenductors are baristas who control minds through the foam on their specialty drinks.
Food may not do well in a cape and tights, but its visual appeal and storytelling potential make it great new territory for the comics industry. Let’s hope the success of undertakings like “Chew” and “Get Jiro!” will lead to a cornucopia of foodie webcomics that (aside from being free) will provide a fresh new take on food storytelling.