Comics can convey a lot of things: action, adventure, humor, even horror. But are you ready for a graphic novel that might make you . . . hungry? Meet Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, Lucy Knisley’s supremely enjoyable memoir, which focuses on — you guessed it — her memories of and adventures in food.
The daughter of two very food-oriented, free-spirited individuals, Lucy grew up chowing down on poached salmon in cream instead of pork ‘n’ beans, but this isn’t the tale of a pretentious foodie: it’s a warm, funny, evocative celebration of the power of food to inspire and bring people together. If you need a snack after reading it, you can even try out some of Knisley’s favorite recipes, which are detailed within the book!
We had the good fortune of interviewing Knisley about Relish, out April 3rd from First Second Books. Check it out below, as well as our six-page preview!
TFAW.com: Relish is extraordinary — what spurred you to start this book?
Lucy Knisley: I love the idea that comics allow a reader to connect on multiple levels — through the writing and the art. It appealed to me to add yet another layer of sensory connection through food! To connect to a reader using our shared taste memory and love of delicious food. When I started thinking seriously about making a graphic novel about food and my history growing up with it, it was natural for me to call up my memories — almost all of which are associated with food. It’s one of our strongest links to the past! — and tell my story using those connections.
TFAW.com: What made it a good fit for First Second Books?
LK: First Second takes great care that their books look beautiful, and it was very important to me that I be able to use color and make the drawings look appealing. What I didn’t realize before my first book, French Milk, came out, is that while most people respond to a photograph of food with a visceral “want to eat!” reaction, it can be more difficult for drawings of food to convey that. I wanted this book in the hands of people who cared as much as I did about how readers would respond to it visually.
TFAW.com: In the beginning of Relish, you touch briefly on how your earliest memories are tied to food. Have you found that to be a universal experience?
LK: It’s easy to say that we all share food as a commonality, but it’s also one of those things that can divide people’s histories. Different responses or cultural viewpoints on food are actually part of what fascinates me the most about people’s reactions to the book. Most readers I’ve met so far are fellow food fanatics, and it’s easy to find common ground over it, but there are also parts of the book that focus on bad cooking, and briefly touch on the eat-to-live/live-to-eat dichotomy that can be a barrier to commonality when discussing food philosophies with others! Scent memory is the other big one that conjures strong early memories, but visual and food have always vied for supremacy in me, which is a nice combo of what Relish tries to evoke.
TFAW.com: Were you surprised by the level of detail that came back to you while you worked on the book?
LK: Yes! When putting together my book tour presentation, I thought it would be funny to dig through old family photo albums and compare certain events depicted in the book with photos of the same people/places/dinners. When I started finding all these photos (my family takes more pictures of food than people) I was amazed at how well I’d recalled certain things, down to what people wore and how a dish looked exactly. One of the first panels of the book, I drew myself as a baby sitting on the kitchen counter. I found a photo of me at around two in almost the exact position from my drawing, eating an apple on my mom’s kitchen counter!
TFAW.com: Your history with food is closely tied to your relationships with your parents. How did they feel about Relish?
LK: I’m lucky that my parents love my comics and are flattered by my depictions of them. I’m also lucky to be making a book that mostly is full of gratitude for the awesome foodie upbringing my parents gave me. They helped to contribute details to many of the stories in the book, and consulted on various misremembered errors I made.
TFAW.com: Do you have a favorite recipe or story in this book?
LK: I love Mexican food and I cook it a lot. It tends to be so cheap and delicious! So I make huevos rancheros quite often. That’s one of my favorites.
TFAW.com: Are there any important food memories you decided not to include in the book? If so, why not?
LK: There were a couple I only remembered after the book was finished! I have a funny story about ice cream trauma in Disneyland that I didn’t include for some reason. Maybe I didn’t remember in time, maybe the pain of having my Mickey pop wrenched from my baby hands before being subjected to the runaway train ride was still too fresh!
TFAW.com: You’re so knowledgeable about food, and have plenty of experience — did you ever think about going into the food industry full time, instead of becoming a cartoonist?
LK: I always have dreams of being a food writer! I actually get to do some food writing from time to time. The graphic journalism revolution has brought us amazing graphic food writing, and I really hope it continues and expands. I worked in the food industry from childhood through college, so I’m happy to take a break from cheese mongering and farmer’s markets for a bit, but I do miss the eats!
TFAW.com: When did you know you wanted to get into comics?
LK: I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a writer or an artist. I remember realizing at some point around college age that I wouldn’t have to choose, if I made comics. I was always interested in comics — reading and tracing them, but it never occurred to me as a viable career option until I was around 19.
TFAW.com: Did you grow up admiring any particular comic book writers or artists?
LK: I read a lot of Herge’s Tintin and Archie comics as a kid. I got into Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise when I was in high school. There are so many amazing role models in this industry, and fortunately it’s a very friendly community, so I get to meet many of my idols.
TFAW.com: What’s your process like?
LK: I work on ink and paper, and color either with watercolors or digitally. Most of the time I script first and then pencil and ink.
TFAW.com: What comics are you reading right now?
LK: Just finished Raina Telgemeier’s Drama. It was absolutely lovely. I went to speak at my old grad school, The Center for Cartoon Studies, recently, and got a hold of a bunch of student work that is blowing my mind. It’s so exciting to see these new artists entering the industry and bringing these amazing comics to the masses!
TFAW.com: What kind of project would you like to tackle next?
LK: I’m working slowly towards fictional comics. I’ll get to experiment with style and genre and pick my next project based on what I’m most interested in. I’ll probably never stop caring about or writing about food, but it might not be the total focus of my next book.
Our sincere thanks to Lucy Knisley for this delectable interview! Make sure to check out our six-page preview for Relish, out April 3!
Do you have any food memories you’d like to share? Post ’em below!