Starve is an intriguing blend of food culture and science fiction layered with comment on the life of the privileged and a redemption story. In the near future, the economy has collapsed, and everything has been privatized. The distinction between rich and poor is greater than ever.
Gavin Cruikshank has run away from being a celebrity chef after creating Starve, a cooking competition show. The series, now dedicated to ridiculous excess, is a huge success, and he’s been living off the profits. Although wealthy, he’s been slumming, but now, the network demands he come back to fulfill his contract. He wants to leave it all behind, but he can’t get the resources to do so without reentering the world that he despises.
Much of the comic is Gavin’s internal monologue, juicy description of what he’s thinking while he’s eating or cooking. He’s the kind of self-centered, perpetually drunk asshole people tolerate because he’s just so talented. Only everyone here hates him, particularly his not-quite-ex-wife who resents him not being honest about his homosexuality and his rival, Roman Algiers, who now runs the show.
He’s also got a daughter on the verge of adulthood whom he hasn’t seen in years and wants to reconnect with. This is all part of a classic structure, a story we’ve seen many times before, but the blood on the page — in more ways than one, as live animals are butchered, but also the portrayal of very raw emotions — is addictive in an unclean way. The setting allows for exaggerated actions that somehow seem plausible in this dog-eat-dog world. I feel nervous about enjoying this read, as though it should be forbidden. But then there’s a delicious dish described, and different wants take precedence.
The art is dirty and edgy, much like the events on the show within the story, where contestants are asked to steal a delicacy or serve dog or literally fight their way through competing chefs in another kitchen. The text and the images may only slightly be related to each other, creating meaning through layering or contrast. The art is often monochrome, everything colored in shades of one hue, creating more of an atmosphere than a detailed image to pour over. It’s about the moment, with the artists drawing the eye skillfully to punch the emotion to the reader.
Brian Wood, Danijel Zezelj, and Dave Stewart don’t credit who’s doing what, a contrast to the chef-as-star aesthetic they’re portraying. As Gavin struggles to win, although he doesn’t want to but feels he has to, everyone cheats. There’s a layer of contempt over everything — the people who want to eat delicacies, the mass that have made a mean show a success, the participants and their base motivations, the way the competition is slanted. There are no heroes in this book, although Gavin, with his posturing and eff-you attitude, will be seen as an admirable antihero by some.
Starve collects the first five issues of the series. It will be available January 13 in comic shops and January 28 in bookstores. The story continues with issue #6, due out February 17. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)