"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.

Wednesday's New Things: The Uncanny X-Boondoggle

1) I usually use this space to write about a book that I'm going to buy this week. Today, something slightly different, at least at the top-- I don't think I'll be buying Battle of the Atom, and I don't think I'll be buying any of the comics that I usually buy that tie-in to the crossover. This isn't the first time I've abandoned an onerous X-crossover, but Marvel did a really good job of making this one easy for me. For one, Infinity is running basically concurrently. Multi-author crossovers are very rarely good, and, although I very much like Jason Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men and have been surprised by the quality of Bendis's work on Uncanny, Jonathan's Hickman's single author event has been worthwhile. Given that, if I decide that I can purchase only one wallet consuming crossover that'll mean buying comics that I don't typically read and don't typically want to read, which one am I going to pick? How about if only one is running, but I decide that I can afford to purchase precisely no expensive event comics? I often actually find that the coming of a crossover decreases the amount of money I'm spending on Marvel books for the duration thereof. This must not be true for the whole market, since Marvel is running crossovers for the foreseeable future, Matt Fraction's Inhumanity following Infinity, and I presume that means that such event comics are profitable. I think that these comics make money despite their inevitable dearth of quality means something interesting about market preferences, but I would have to take some time to figure out exactly what that something is. 

2) Speaking of Hickman, does he have a time turner or something? I'm counting six books out by him this month, and that's just off the top of my head. The new one is the Avatar-published God Is Dead, illustrated by Di Anorim. I think that it's sort of in the spirit of Warren Ellis's Supergods from a couple of years ago. Unlike some of the other more recent pieces of superhero deconstruction, this one's at least a little interesting off the bat, since it removes the allegorical element, trading out the godlike superheroes in deconstruction's question-- what would happen if godlike superheroes were real-- for straight up gods. I can't find a preview, but expect the art to be competent if not compelling. Can you imagine how mind blowing some of this stuff would be (say, both God is Dead and Uber, also out this week) if Avatar branched out from the house style a little bit?

3) So Hit's premise-- LAPD goes outside the law to fight crime-- is not exactly groundbreaking; it is, for example, the exact same premise as the recent movie Gangster Squad. Still, sometimes seeing what a talented storyteller can do with an old saw is a worthwhile endeavor. I can't speak to writer Bryce Carlson, I think this is his debut, but Vanesa Del Rey's artwork has been bouncing around the internet for a while. The one lettered page I've seen suggests that Carlson is going to let Del Rey do most of the talking, which is fine by me; her art has this slinky quality, aided by her facility with light/dark contrast and her understanding of the power of negative space. Both of these seem to work because she exercise discretion about when to use her black pen, making her figures stand out and her shadows more powerful. A longer, unlettered, preview here.

4) I know this came out last week, but how cool does Itty Bitty Hellboy look? It reminded me that I need to check out Balthazar and Franco's Aw Yeah comics. 

Coming Soon to a Spinner Rack Near You: Bryan Lee O'Malley

A new 10-year-anniversary hardcover edition of my first book, LOST AT SEA, will be released this December. More details coming soon! 
A lot of people are going “omg is it in full color!” so I will say right now that it is not in full color.