Within a strange walled city, chefs are the ultimate celebrity and food is the most valued commodity. But underage, unlicensed chef Xoo is about to uncover a mystery that just might bring everything crumbling down…
Flavor is a new ongoing series from Image Comics, smashing together the lush Miyazaki-esque worldbuilding with the high-stakes competition of the Hunger Games.
I was fortunate enough to speak to the creative team; writer Joseph Keatinge (Glory, Shutter) and artist Wook Jin Clark (Adventure Time: The Flip Side), as well as culinary consultant Ali Bouzari (renowned food scientist and author of the IACP Award-winning cookbook, Ingredient: Unveiling the Essential Elements of Food), to discuss this incredible culinary epic.
FOG!: Congratulations! I loved the first issue. It’s smart, unique and visually stunning. Joe, how would you describe Flavor?
Joe Keatinge: Flavor is a culinary fantasy set in a world where food is the ultimate commodity and chefs the ultimate celebrity. Xoo is a young, unlicensed chef who discovers her people’s whole existence is rotten from the inside out. There’s a cute cartoon dog based on a real cartoon dog.
FOG!: What was the genesis of the series?
Joe Keatinge: I have a long, long list of stories I want to tell and they all come about similarly. I’ll get the idea for an image or a scene or a character or even a title and that little germ percolates until the times right; when a mix of my interest and the right collaborators comes together. With Flavor, it was a whole lot of little germs at once – meeting Ali Bouzari, thinking about the state of adventure fiction in a violent society, wanting to explore what happens when your hobby becomes your commodity. All sorts of little things. Wook Jin and I have been friends for years, and when he was available for work, I knew Flavor was the story I wanted us to tackle.
FOG!: How did you get involved with the book?
Wook Jin Clark: Joe and I have been friends for awhile, and he had the initial idea, then we started throwing ideas around. It came to fruition pretty fast!
FOG!: The series takes place in a very non-specific time period; it could be in the far past or future or even in the present in a foreign country. Do you think society’s culture changes with food?
Joe Keatinge: It’s simpatico. Food can tell you so much about culture; it can even tell you everything about the person making or eating it. In issue #1’s backmatter, Ali talks about how you can “Sherlock Holmes” a person based on how they eat what they’re eating. It’s fascinating stuff.
FOG!: The series also utilizes a food consultant. Ali, what is your background and how did you get involved in Flavor?
Ali Bouzari: My background is a weird one. I’m a chef with a Ph.D. in Food Biochemistry, and I started my career as a consultant to top chefs, helping them figure out new ways to combine science and culinary creativity to make stuff tasty. I got involved with Flavor when my friend Corey Hart from Image introduced me to the world of comics through Shutter. I loved it so much that she introduced me to Joe and gave me an original panel from Shutter #1 signed by Leila del Duca as a gift. I cooked Joe brunch one day, we got real deep into some flavor science/food philosophy, and a few months later he told me about this awesome world that had sprouted in his head!
FOG!: What does Ali bring to the project?
Joe Keatinge: Ali talks about food the way Jack Kirby talked about comics. Always looking forward, thinking about how our relationship can evolve, what it can tell about someone. We discuss his perspective on every script I write, fine-tuning and adding things based on his feedback. He’s a member of the creative team, through and through.
FOG!: Food, especially when depicted in a cartoony style can often look unappetizing. What tricks or design choices are utilized to make sure that the food in Flavor looks both “like food” and appealing?
Wook Jin Clark: I dunno if there’s any tricks haha? I’m just kinda drawing inspiration off of the notes Joe and Ali give me. Ali has been great to help explain what kind of foods would work for the story and helps me with visual guidance to go off of. I hope it looks appetizing to the reader!
FOG!: What influences are you bringing to the project?
Joe Keatinge: You were asking about culture affecting food and vice versa, and it’s a similar thing when you’re creating your work. Everything that is you, your experiences and your reactions to the world around you affect your work. Flavor‘s no different.
Wook Jin Clark: I’m always looking at Satoshi Kon’s work as something to strive for. His stories always have a certain depth and completeness to them that I want to try and get closer towards. Aside from him, I’ve always been a fan of Yves Chaland and his Freddy Lombard work. Similar to Satoshi Kon, his sense of wholeness is very apparent in the work, and I’m hoping to get that across as well with Flavor. I don’t want there to be doubt as to getting into the story and the world.
FOG!: Finally, what would you have for your perfect meal?
Joe Keatinge: End of the day? Nothing beats a good Dim Sum.
Wook Jin Clark: Haha, Open Face Hot Turkey Sandwich with French Onion soup!
Ali Bouzari: I grew up in a half Iranian/half Texan household alternating between Rice Crispies Treats cereal and flatbread with feta, herbs, and stupid quantities of toasted sesame seeds for breakfast. Luckily for my enamel, the flatbread and feta was the meal that stuck in my soul long-term.
Flavor #1 is now available in comic book stores and via digital.