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Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj Discuss Starve

Starve06-coverStarve by writer Brian Wood and artists Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart takes us to the future where the rich are richer, celebrity television chef’s rule, and while people starve food excess is flaunted on television.

Now Starve is back for a second season! Chef Gavin Cruikshank shifts his focus from the soundstage to the streets, addressing real world themes of food scarcity and class warfare. Smart, subversive, and darkly comic, it’s a cult classic.

I got a chance to chat with Brian and Danijel about the series and what we can expect for this second volume.

Graphic Policy: Brian, how did Starve and the character of Chef Gavin Cruikshank come about?

Brian Wood: I had written a pitch and a first issue outline for Starve a long time ago, for another publisher, and for a whole lot of boring reasons it never got made until now, the right stars just never aligned until this opportunity with Danijel and Dave came up (for which I am forever grateful). But as far as I can recall I was looking to start a new book with the usual following criteria: something I can do research on and enjoy, something that seems like no one else is doing in comics, and with a main character that I, and my readers, can find some primal way to relate to. Primal meaning a universal human emotion.

Once it was time to take that ancient pitch and update it for production, a lot of the environmental themes present were ones I already used in The Massive. Which, I think, made Starve stronger because it allowed me to focus more on Gavin’s family drama and his relationship with his daughter and his craft, and less so on the dystopian elements.

GP: Danijel, how did you get involved with the series?

DZ: Brian and I wanted to create an original series for a long time, Brian sent me few ideas and I really liked the story about a rebel chef and an excessive reality show. It was a good platform for bringing in some issues both Brian and I are interested in; social inequality, the impact of reality television or internet, food as a fetish, celebrities and corporate entertainment industry.

GP: The first volume of the series seemed to be making a lot of statements, especially about celebrity when it comes to the food industry, our fetishizing of food, and how we have all of these programs showing excess when it comes to food while so many are starving and lack basic needs. What was the first volume to you?

BW: It was all of that, sure. The idea of irresponsible consumption, which is something we all are guilty of to some degree, and I live each day of my life aware that the food choices I make are not so great for the planet. The world of Starve is this hugely exaggerated world to be sure, but the core idea is present: there are people, usually the well-off, who have the luxury of doing what they want, eating what they want, and only being as responsible as they want… and basking in all of that. Flaunting it.

The celebrity aspect is important to me as well, because while I am not a chef, I am in a creative industry that has some modicum of celebrity around it, and I can relate to certain aspects of Gavin’s life… the expectations, the pressures, the feelings of fleeing, and so on. I watch a lot of food TV, from the more highbrow shows to the trashy ones, and on whole I think they’ve raised awareness of food in a way that on balance is positive.

GP: In the second volume, you’ve said you’re focusing more on a socio-political angle on food. What are some of the things you’re touching upon?

BW: In the first volume, Gavin was mostly on a soundstage cooking food for this privileged audience and trying to please them. Sure, his ultimate goal is subversion, but he’s trying to win, and even winning on his own terms still means pleasing the judges. At some point early in the second volume he gets this bad feeling that the system may be coopting him all over again. That he’s starting to enjoy winning a little too much, and that he’s not actually moving in the direction of real change.

So, to use our marketing tagline, he moves from the soundstage to the streets, and looks for actual ways to improve the lives of the people who need it, people who live below the poverty line, who exists in urban “food deserts”, who’s best option to feed their families is shitty fast food. He realizes its probably pointless to try and force a change in the 1%, and that its far better to try and help empower the 99%.

And of course, hijinks ensue.

GP: Do either of you have experience in the food industry?

BW: I have zero experience. I do like to eat, though! I have a peculiar relationship with food, as it relates to my fitness. I live every day so keenly aware of what I’m eating from a nutritional viewpoint – this much grass fed protein, this much fat but the right kind of fat, carbs-to-fiber ratio, and so on. It can get to be a little much, but I can’t stop.

DZ: Years ago I worked in a couple of restaurants in London, at the bottom of kitchen hierarchy. I was young and I didn’t mind the pressure and intensity of the environment. Restaurant kitchen is a tense and competitive place, crowded, loud and overheated, in every sense.

GP: What type of research do you do when it comes to the food itself? When it comes to the recipes or the look of the ingredients, how accurate do you try to make it?

BW: I honestly mostly wing it. Earlier I said Starve was a chance to do research, and I enjoy doing research, but this? I could spend years and not be any sort of authority. So what I write I try to make sure its correct, but I’m not staking my reputation on it (like I did with my Northlanders book) and I don’t want it to get in the way of the narrative. But the actual recipes? They are real, and they work and probably taste pretty good.

GP: Danijel, when it comes to some of the techniques they might use in the preparation of the food, are you trying to be accurate in the images on the page?

DZ: I’m trying to be as accurate as possible, most of my research is based on videos I found on the internet, and also on my limited cooking experience. There is a ton of references on the web for any imaginable cooking technique, cooking tools, recipes, etc.

GP: In my experience in the food industry, especially with chefs, I find a lot of their personal lives are pure chaos (and many self-destructive in some way like Gavin), yet there’s so much control in their kitchens and their creations. That seems to be part of the core of the series and Gavin. Where do you think that dichotomy comes from, and how’d you come about focusing on that?

BW: I think its some sort of delayed adolescence, to be honest. So much time and energy and attention is poured into the craft, it not only takes time away from having a well-rounded, mature life, it seems to justify childlike behavior. Blowing off steam, hanging out, drinking, not sleeping, being a clown. Putting off the next stage of life. Gavin is a classic example: a 50yo man who, despite being incredibly accomplished at his craft, lives like a college student. Not even a student, like a frat boy. You can see how little responsibility he’s taken in his family life.

And you know, lots of creative industries are like that. Comics is like that. Remaining man-children is, by and large, an expectation. It reveals itself in negative ways like binge-drinking at conventions, and in harmless ways like filling your house with collectible toys. I’m not judging, necessarily, since I’ve been there myself. But having been there and now not being there, I have a perspective that allows me to write someone like Gavin.

GP: Over the past few years you’ve seen a shift in Celebrity Chef’s going from just promoting themselves and their food, and more seem to have some cause or “movement” they’re a part of. Is that part of the fuel for your second volume?

BW: It’s not, no. Not by design, anyway. I can recognize some movements in food, like ‘farm to table’ to name one everyone’s heard of, but what Gavin does in this second volume is really an attempt to move away from the celebrity chef culture and into something purely practical. So it works out.

GP: How long is this arc going for and how far down the road do you have plans for the series?

BW: This second arc takes us to #10, and as is usual in comics, sales will dictate.

GP: What else do you two have on tap for this year that you can tell us about?

BW: Right now I’m working in The Massive: Ninth Wave, and Aliens: Defiance, as well as Rome West for the digital publisher Stela. I’m also really excited to see Northlanders return to print this year in the form of three big fat omnibus editions.

DZ: My focus is still on a last episode of Starve. I’m also working on a short animation movie Chaperon Rouge (Red Riding Hood) which I hope to complete in next 4 months. And there is a couple of additional projects: a graphic novel about Franz Kafka in New York, and another original 4 issue series.