Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t have anything on this!
Celebrity chef shows and cooking competitions are as popular as ever as programs like Top Chef and America’s Next Top Food Network Star turns ordinary cooks into household names and then they usually progress into figureheads of brand-name food-related items. In the new Image series Starve, that's take that idea and amp it 11.
Debuted this past Wednesday, Starve takes place is a future where the world is starving, but the celebrity chefs are put on a pedestal as they prepare the most unique and rarest of dishes in a game show of the same name. Chef Gavin Cruikshank is one of the world’s premiere chefs, but is looking to take the network on and destroy it and its toxicity.
Newsarama talked to writer Brian Wood, artist Danijel Zezelj, and colorist Dave Stewart about the world of Starve, what makes chefs so special in Starve's fictional world, what exotic foods they’ve eaten themselves.
Newsarama: So Brian, Danijel, and Dave, we know some about the world at large about Starve as it's a dystopian future where celebrity chefs are hired to serve the most unique and sometimes illegal meals, so tell us how this all came about. You mentioned that Dave is part of this triple ownership as well.
Brian Wood: I've had this idea for some time, and early versions had the whole environmental thing as the focus - food scarcity, stuff like that. But I never really did anything with the pitch until Danijel asked me about maybe doing something together, something original. Starve was the pitch he liked best out of what I showed him, and we took it from there. Bringing Dave in was a no-brainer - we've all worked together before in different combinations on many projects. I was interested in group ownership not just out of basic fairness but also because I think more situations like this should exist in comics, more communally owned projects.
Danijel Zezelj: Brian and I went through few ideas about projects together, and the chef story was my favorite. I liked the possibility of showing all the good and bad of the modern high-end cooking, and I really liked the reckless, worn out, half mad cook Gavin coming back from the dead and kicking it. And it was an honor to have a chance to work with Dave again, I’m in love with his work ever since we collaborated on the Luna Park graphic novel.
Dave Stewart: Working with Brian and Danijel was easy to say yes to. Being offered the opportunity of ownership was something new. I’ve never participated in a project on this level and it’s really interesting. I’m seeing different parts of the business I’ve never been exposed to.
Nrama: How in this world is a chef promoted to such a cultural status?
Wood: Well, the basic idea is that, in this world where the oceans are overfished and other food stocks are overtaxed and dwindling, this sub-section of the population, entitled and super rich, don't feel like they should have to give anything up. They feel that the huddled masses, they can be the ones who go without, not them. And instead of just stopping there with that mindset, they take it several steps further where they go out of their way to celebrate this excessive behavior, to the point of having famous chefs prepare opulent dishes with the endangered food stocks. They make events out of it, competitions out of it. In our series, this is Starve: this cooking competition for this super rich group of assholes. This is what the main character intends to dismantle.
Zezelj: This so-called "haute cuisine" is a paradox in itself. It involves an immense amount of the highest skill and talent, a huge investment of the training time and energy, as well as all kinds of ingredients, in order to prepare a unique and amazing meal. And the result is impressive, in terms of taste as well as aesthetics. It could be called art. And then it all gets flushed down the toilet.
Nrama: What kind of research did you do for all the imagery with the food? Are you guys big fans of Iron Chef or Top Chef? I'm a huge Chopped fanatic myself.
Wood: I was big into the Japanese Iron Chef program, and am still a very loyal fan of all things Top Chef. I read a lot of books, the Anthony Bourdain books, the Marco Pierre White books.
Zezelj: I like watching cooking videos, from Jamie Oliver to Marco Pierre White, etc. I’ve always been impressed by manual skill of any craftsman and I have great respect for anything made by hand. It’s inspiring to witness cook's mastery and competence.
Stewart: I love all that stuff. I’m a big fan of Bourdain’s books and shows. Vice has some great food programs like Munchies.
Nrama: When coming up with the visual look for the book, what was the process for that?
Zezelj: My drawing style is primarily black and white, based on contrast between light and shadow. It also has a certain expressive and realistic note, as with black and white reportage photography. Our story takes place in an undefined city and time but the place is clearly specific (near future New York) and the time is now. We are trying to show both ends of the survival chain, from show-business glamor to dirt and slime of backdoor kitchen sink. Hopefully this contrast, aesthetically and ethically, will create tension and drama that we would like to bring in. Contrast between light and shadow is contrast between parallel worlds of our story.
Stewart: I’m approaching Danijel’s art differently. I used the same process on Luna Park where I’m treating it more like a painting. I had just purchased a Cintiq when I was asked to do Luna Park and I wanted to push that extra control working directly on to the monitor gave me. I’m not using any selections or flatting while painting Starve. I paint in a base color and all the everything after that is just brush strokes on the background. I use the dodge tool a little bit to lighten some areas, but that is it. It’s a real satisfying approach and strips away some of the advantages of the computer but adds a feel of traditional media.
Nrama: You have the main protagonist Gavin Cruikshank who is one of the best chefs in this world, what's the closest we have in our world that might serve as an analog?
Wood: He's probably a cross between Anthony Bourdain and Marco Pierre White, but as played by Iggy Pop, if that makes any sense. You can toss in The Running Man, and Spider Jerusalem as well, for a full-bodied pop culture mashup. I think Gavin's a great character, a man in his fifties, snarling and profane and complex and funny and fiercely loyal all at the same time. He's one of my favorite creations.
Nrama: Can you explain what "the Network" is and its purpose?
Wood: The Network is really just the television network that hosts Starve. Its not super crucial to the plot but it is the entity that is calling Gavin back into service, so to speak, and who employs Gavin's nemesis Roman and well as the lackey Sheldon.
Nrama: What makes Gavin an interesting character to you all and what do you think will resonate with readers?
Wood: I think he's fun to read and to hate a little bit at times but he is such a loving guy at his core. He sticks to his ideals no matter what, and he's not afraid to admit when he's wrong.
I often write "gray area" characters in my stories, but not always with so much depth and complexity as Gavin. He's got a lot of layers you can unpeel. I think it makes him incredibly relatable.
Zezelj: Gavin is someone you might envy, but you wouldn’t want to take his place. He has a bad side, weak side, but he keeps trying, he is character in development and constant motion. What I really like about him is a trace of genuine madness. Like someone who was supposed to be dead long time ago, but somehow survived and is still around.
Nrama: Lastly, since Starve centers around rare delicacies and exotic plates, what's the most exotic meal you've ever eaten? I think mine is probably kangaroo.
Wood: As a kid, we used to eat deer heart pretty often, coming from a hunting family. It didn't seem so exotic at the time. Looking back, I'm sort of bummed it didn't somehow give me the powers of a deer!
Zezelj: I ate some roasted grasshoppers and they were okay. Tasteless and crunchy. Supposedly it’s the food of the future.
Stewart: I’ve had alligator and frog. Is that exotic or just swampy?