Interview: 'Flavor' Creators Bring a New Taste to American Comics

Food Comics - Image Comics Future
(Photo: Image Comics)

Flavor #1, the newest creator-owned series from Image Comics, will be unveiled this week. It takes place in a magical world where chefs are the most powerful people within a walled city and food the most valuable commodity. It fuses the magical sensibilities of Miyazaki with the intense drama of food-related manga into one of the most compelling new comics of 2018 so far.

ComicBook.com caught up with the creative team of Flavor to discuss the new series and what makes it unique.

ComicBook: First of all, how did the creative team for this series come together, from concept to first issue?

Joe Keatinge (writer): The concept came from meeting Ali Bouzari and the way he talked about food. His comparisons to comics, art, magic, science, and so on kicked off a series of dominos in my head. When I hooked up with Wook-Jin [Clark] to do a new project, I thought he could combine all this with the right mood and storytelling it required, which is also why we brought in colorist Tamra Bonvillain and letterer Ariana Maher.

Ali Bouzari (Consultant/Culinary Scientist): Joe and I were first introduced through Corey Hart at Image. I was new to the comic world, and Shutter was the book that made me fall in love with it. I geeked out over meeting Joe at an expo and offered to cook him and Corey brunch the next day so I could impress him with potatoes. A few months later, he told me that this project was coming together, so we hopped on the phone with Wook-Jin [Clark] to talk through how the physical laws of flavor and cooking in our world might translate to a world where food is combat and a dog can make a mean crepe.

Wook-Jin Clark (artist): Joe and I have known each other since we met seven years ago at [Emerald City Comic Con], and became friends pretty soon after that. We wanted to work together and our schedules finally were open to it! That, and this project is something that he approached me with, and I was immediately on board to do! It's been a lot of fun to go back and forth and come up with it together. We both live in Portland and live only 10 minutes away so it's nice to be able to pop over to his neck of the woods and work on Flavor weekly!

What inspired an interest in food-oriented comics? They're a popular sub-genre in manga, but relatively new to the direct market in America?

Keatinge: Food's at the core of the book, to be sure, but it's less so about "hey, let's make a food comic," and more what grew organically as a story. I'm thrilled there are more comics with the focus because we could certainly use more and more variety on the shelves.

Clark: I've always loved food and cooking comics, and manga does it right! I really like [Drops] of God and of course Food Wars. Lately I've been really into Delicious in Dungeon as well! I know there are some other American cooking comics, and I'm happy to that all of us doing them each bring something different.

Bouzari: Like Wook-Jin, I also started Drops of God, although I live in the Sonoma wine country, so I'm already surrounded by too many people slinging way too many adjectives about wine, so it didn't stick. I once read about 30 issues of Oishinbo while on a flight to Japan, and that was amazing. While not technically a comic, I really loved all of the illustrations in Lucky Peach magazine (RIP). It was awesome how the tone of each article could shift radically from super cheffy to conservation-related to bizarre and surreal. Food can be all of those things, so I love when food writers break out of the mold of "this is good because the crispy goes with the creamy."

Is there a particular reason you think food has flourished as a sub-genre in manga, while it is just starting to be explored in American comics? Are there specific elements you wanted to maintain or alter from the food-related manga you enjoy?

Keatinge: Genre repression in mainstream American comics post-1954 led to a general homogenization focused on superhero and humor, with the latter lacking prominence towards the end of the 1970s. Meanwhile, overseas this wasn't the case. Look at someone like Osamu Tezuka alone, whose work represents almost every conceivable genre.

These days, we're looking at a new generation of creators raised with access to comics after the manga boom in the late '90s and early 2000s. The comics they read were all over the map, including food. They grew with the notion you could base your work on whatever your interest was.

I will say my personal comics inspirations were not so much necessarily food-centric comics/manga. For instance, Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has a substantially more significant influence on me in general (much less Flavor) than, say, Yūto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki's Food Wars.

Was there anything about the creation of this series that affected your normal work processes or approach?

Keatinge: The hope is you learn something new with every process and Flavor's no different. The biggest thing thus far is using the most minute detail to express character and storytelling from a visual perspective. What little things you can include to tell so much from a glance.

Tamra Bonvillain (colorist): Joe [Keatinge] and Wook-Jin [Clark] approached me with kind of an animated, Miyazaki specifically, approach or inspiration to the coloring, so I tried to make the rendering styles on the characters and "animated" things distinct from the background or stationary objects.

Clark: It's been fun for me to research different foods and cultures! I'm not a great cook at all, so trying new things and looking up how things are actually made is pretty fascinating to me! It reminds me of when I was learning how to draw. I get to understand why certain ingredients make different tastes.

Bouzari: After indoctrination as a fan of comics, especially working with the Flavor crew, I've started to lobby my editors on every food writing project to let me work with an illustrator. Food and science revolve around super visual ideas, and it's really invigorating to move past the same old scientific diagrams and topshot-on-reclaimed-wood food photography as the only ways to communicate those ideas.

Are there any particular methods or experiments you have worked on outside of the comic to connect better with the art of cooking, specifically with Ali’s involvement?

Keatinge: Ali continues to be an excellent guide into the culinary world. Whenever I'm working on a script, he helps flesh out the food-centric aspects in ways which I would never have considered.

Bouzari: I am a black belt chef-stalker. For the past few years, it's been my job to work with incredible chefs to figure out how the fundamental gears that turn inside food can be understood well enough to unlock new and delicious ideas. Working with the Flavor crew feels like a very similar. Just serving up bits and pieces to brilliant people who transform it all into something intricate and wonderful.

Looking at the first issue, it’s obvious how it could have a cross-sectional appeal. Do you possess some hope or desire that this will orient comics readers to experiment more in the kitchen? Or introduce “foodies” to explore more comics?

Keatinge: My main hope for any reader is they connect with the work in whatever way is most personal to them. If they connect with the food elements, fantastic. If they connect with Xoo as a human being and see themselves in her, even better. My focus is telling our story, grateful for those who read it.

Finally, what about the first issue has you most excited to see how readers react?

Clark: I'm so excited to just have people read it in general! We've been working on it for awhile and I'm so excited that Tamra and Ariana are on board! Their work amazes me every time new pages come in! I'm so proud and honored to be on a team with them!

Bouzari: In the first couple of panels, Joe, Tamra, Wook-Jin, and Ariana created a feeling of walking into a world mid-sentence. I can't wait to see how quickly readers burrow in.

Keatinge: That's difficult to answer. I hope every reader connects with whatever connects with them most. I'm most excited for it to exist, period.

Bonvillain: I'm just anxious to see it out in the world and see the reactions in general!

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Flavor #1 is available for purchase on May 16, 2018.