Anyone who’s read Lucy Knisley’s journal comic French Milk knows that this is a creator who appreciates gourmet food – and now she’s combined her skills at cartooning, autobiography and cuisine into Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, a new full-color graphic novel from First Second, a “love letter to food” drawn from stories in her own life that came out this week
We spoke with Knisley about Relish, and have images from the book to share – along with a recipe from Knisley herself.
Newsarama: Lucy, tell us a bit about Relish.
Lucy Knisley: Relish is a collection of stories focused on my childhood, growing up among chefs and bakers and restaurateurs. My mom ran her own catering company for years, and growing up, every summer and after-school job I had was working with food. It's sort-of my love letter to food, from my food origins.
Nrama: How did this book come together?
Knisley: I love memoirs that are hinged to sensory memory -- I think comics are a great way to add a layer of imagery to a story, and this is yet another layer of sense memory -- to invoke the taste of something delicious that connects me and the reader. I wanted to write about growing up, and I can't tell those stories without food. My family albums have more photos of meals than of people!
Nrama: What's it been like working with First Second?
Knisley: Great! Those guys really care about what a book will look like and feel like and how it will read. They know good comics, and it's so great to be involved with people who care about comics being good.
Nrama: What anecdotes were most meaningful/fun to recap for this, and were there any that proved particularly challenging for you to relive or recreate on the page?
Knisley: I liked drawing a bit where I'm a city kid, newly living in the country and unused to farm life. I have a run-in with a flock of geese. It was a great action sequence to draw! Most of the book was a delight, to relive good food experiences and to call up memories of great meals.
Nrama: Okay, aside from your background, how bad a foodie are you? Are there times you express what your friends interpret as food snobbery, or are there bits of junk food you're embarrassed to enjoy? Spill it!
Knisley: I'm a pretty honest omnivore. I don't eat fast food anymore (though I talk about how it is delicious in the book), because I genuinely think I grew out of that phase of my culinary life. I wasn't allowed to eat it as a kid, due to my foodie parents, so my teen years were spent reveling in my discovery of Wendy's French fries.
Now, I'd rather go hungry than eat total junk, but I'm not a health nut. I'll eat something utterly terrible for me, just to try it. And I will probably always think that some of the best food can be found at diners.
Nrama: Share a simple recipe with us. That's right, you're being challenged.
Knisley: I sauté carrots a lot at home as a treat. I know, I sound ridiculous, but seriously. A pat of butter in a pan, a few long-cut carrots, some chunky salt, and then a sprinkling of sugar at the very end to caramelize them. Eaten plain from a bowl, or if you're keen with a bit of warm goat cheese and balsamic reduction. It's better than ice cream for me.
Nrama: What's the most difficult thing to convey about the taste, smell and experience of food in an illustrated medium?
Knisley: Food photos capture this sensory instinct in people, where they see it and go "augh, I want to eat that." Drawings of food are much harder to convey that. You can't always capture the deliciousness, but rather it becomes like a stand-in symbol for the food you're drawing. There's no immediacy of the photograph.
I think words are the best way to convey those culinary experiences, really. But a good drawing of food can be satisfying in a different way. Claes Oldenburg draws these really gorgeous little sketches of food for his partner, Coosje, who has various food allergies, in order for her to consume the food through "gastronomy of the eye," which was something I thought about quite a bit when I was making Relish.
Nrama: Given that your work also deals with the combination of food and personal experiences, how do you think that those can define each other? By that, I mean the way that a meal can become a very vivid part of your memory of an experience, or how things you go through in life can make you want to try some specific and/or unusual type of food.
Knisley: As a comic artist, I'm a very visual person. But as much as my memories are shaped through images, they're also connected to taste and flavor. My parents always treated food and the act of dining with reverence when I was growing up, and so I have a strong appreciation for eating and cooking that helps me to remember those times when we ate well together.
It's important to me to keep trying new things and to keep making memories that connect me to people and places and times in my life when I shared something delicious with a friend.
Nrama: Obviously, there's not a lot of comics about food in America, but I know there have been some examples in other countries, such as the Drops of God manga about wine, that are very popular. Have you read any of these books, and if so, do you have any favorites?
Knisley: I haven't read many, actually! Though I do like travelogues quite a lot, which usually end up being sorta food comics. Like Kate T. Williamson's A Year in Japan, which has plenty of beautiful watercolors of amazing food she ate there.
Nrama: And in general, what are some other comics/creators that you're currently reading/enjoying?
Knisley: I read Zack Galliango's Broxo not too long ago, and loved it. I'm really excited for Maris Wicks' Primates, and Hope Larson's Who is AC which are coming out soon. The new Adventure Time comic series are pretty incredible, and not just because I have some backup stories in a few issues. And just the other day I got a little nostalgic and re-read some of Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, which I read when it was being serialized. It's still amazing.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Knisley: I've got a number of projects in the works. I'm finding homes for a series of travelogues I wrote last year, and tinkering with a new project that I'm excited about. We'll see.
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