"I Like Making Comics, And I Like Making Food, So I Made Comics About Food": A Conversation with Tony Breed

Last year, I had the great fortune of attending the Small Press Expo, or SPX, held every year in Bethesda, Maryland. It's a great show, packed, but also small and easy to maneuver around, and just filled with great comics. It's the kind of show I always want when I'm stuck in the grand hall of NYCC. Since I moved away from the East Coast last month, I won't be able to attend SPX this year. I've been browsing their tumblr, though, where they've been previewing all manner of cool looking things, including a minicomic called Foodwise, by cartoonist Tony Breed. Last week I spoke to Tony, who also does the weekly webcomic Finn and Charlie are Hitched, about the mini for a story I'm writing on food comics, and he very kindly agreed to let me share the interview, and a preview, with you. You can see another one of his recipes on his tumblr.

JK: Why did you chose a deconstructed comics format, rather than something more typically comics looking? 

TB: My weekly comic is very formalist: it's almost always three panels, and you have to do a lot of editing to fit it in. I enjoy that challenge, and I don't want to change the way the strip works. At the same time I do want to push my creative muscles by working in other styles. Lately, I have become interested in the looser, more ruminant style that people like Corinne Mucha use, and I thought that it was a good way to talk about food. The comics in Foodwise aren't so much telling stories as they are talking about food, and about how I approach food.

JK:  Why choose comics at all, rather than a more traditional prose recipe format? 

TB: Comics are just the means I'm using these days to tell stories and talk about things. And again, I've been working in one style for several years, and I trying to push myself and try different things. Put another way, I like making comics, and I like food, so I made comics about food.

JK: Do you think that there are some things that comics cook books might do better than prose ones? Conversely, do you think there might be something that prose books do better? 

TB: I should say that there's a big difference between my recipes and cookbook recipes. Cookbook recipes are typically extensively kitchen-tested to make sure that a person following the directions will get the same result. My recipes are mostly very loose: cook about so long, add some butter, maybe add parsley. What I hope is that people will learn how to think about food, rather than learning how to make one thing. I think that using a comic form changes peoples expectations a bit; it seems less formal, so they expect something less formal. At the same time, using the visuals of a comic can make cooking seem very easy (which it is, generally). One person has told me that he made the gratin recipe, and commented that my comic made it seem really easy. (And I confess, that visual trick I used to show the layers in the gratin is something I learned from reading Lucy Knisley.)

                          This chicken gratin recipe originally appeared on Tony Breed's tumblr. 
JK: Why did you decide to do Foodwise?

TB: I decided to do Foodwise because the chicken and gratin recipe was so popular on Tumblr, there seemed to be interest in more. And I felt I could do more. I think about food constantly, so there's a lot to say.

JK: I noticed that one of the comics you sent me mentions that a recipe is vegan and gluten free-- is your diet restricted in that (or any other) way? If it is, how did that influence the book? 

TB: I don't have any food restrictions in my diet. I've got a couple of minor sensitivities (peanuts, dairy) that affect what I eat—I'd rather have a small cone of perfect ice cream, than a large cone of mediocre ice cream, in part because the ice cream may make me feel bad, so it better be worth it. However, we sometimes have friends over, and then you have to cook to their needs. One friend can't eat gluten, the other is vegan, what do you cook? (We do in fact have a friend who is vegan and gluten-intolerant, so I was thinking of her when I came up with that recipe.)

JK: Is there a recipe (or a recipe comic) that you're particularly proud of? If there is, which one and why?

TB: That's a hard question, because I sort of feel equally proud of it. A full 4 pages of the book are about how to make pie, which is my personal specialty. I've been refining that technique for years, and I'm pretty proud of it. And I'm pretty proud of my portobello bacon recipe; I came up with this idea that I could make something like bacon out of portobello mushrooms, and I was pretty gratified that it worked.

JK: I know that Foodwise is debuting at SPX-- will it be available for people who are not able to make the show?

TB: I'll make Foodwise available on my website. I need to fix my web store, though, so it make take some time. I'll also bring it to APE, where I'll be tabling with PRISM comics.

JK: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add?

TB: I've gotten good response so far about this comic, and it's from a different crew of people than my usual fans, so I'm very interested to see where this goes. I might end up making a lot food comics. Or I might move on to try something else. The beauty of minicomics is that you can be pretty experimental.

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