Interview: Eating Bugs With Blue Delliquanti and Soleil Ho, Authors of the Upcoming Meal
Due out next year from Iron Circus Comics is a restaurant-set graphic novel with a fascinating premise. Meal promises “romance, restaurant politics, and the finest food on six legs” with this description:
Yarrow McMurray is a 23-year-old aspiring chef who’s moved to a new city to make her mark on the world of food. But her cuisine is crawling with ingredients like no other — because she cooks with insects. Ants, spiders, worms, flies — they all have a place on her plate.
Now Yarrow seeks employment at the only restaurant in town that shares her vision, even if that means butting heads with her former hero and pushing her cooking skills to the limit.
Author Blue Delliquanti (O Human Star, a terrific science fiction webcomic) recently announced that she was bringing on a co-writer, chef Soleil Ho, so I spoke with the two women about the upcoming book.
How in the world did you come up with this idea, about a chef cooking with insects?
Blue: This has been an interest of mine for several years! In college I got a chance to participate in a community dinner where we caught and cooked the crickets we were going to eat, and the entire experience is still one of my favorite memories. As time went on, I maintained what I thought was an extremely casual interest in insect cuisine but it turned out I got way more excited about the topic than… most people I know.
At the same time, I became a big fan of food-centric comics but specifically food manga. Titles like The Drops of God, What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Wakakozake, comics that apply the conventions and tropes of manga to very specific cuisines that the creators are obviously very passionate about. Those comics succeed in making esoteric specialties like wine or French pastry more accessible to an unfamiliar audience. I started to wonder whether I could share my interest for insect cuisine in that way.
Are you planning to include recipes?
Blue: That’s the plan! My goal is to assure readers that these are meals you can make yourself without a lot of special equipment or cooking know-how. Most bugs fit for human consumption aren’t too picky in how they’re raised or stored, and they’re easy to incorporate into a lot of dishes we already make every day!
Your pitch promises, along with food and restaurant stories, romance. Can you elaborate?
Blue: My goal while working on this book is: tell a story that readers don’t see very often. While the basic plot of Meal is familiar — protagonist moves to a new town to achieve their dream and forge relationships along the way — I still don’t see a lot of stories where a female protagonist pursues a same-sex relationship and they face problems other than “Wait, we can date?? Each other???” I’m excited to see LGBT relationships depicted in fiction with more nuance and messiness, past the point where that they have to come off as a fairy tale romance to justify existing in fiction at all.
Blue, you’re best known for your long-running (five years!) webcomic, O Human Star. Why the decision not to serialize this project, but go straight to graphic novel?
Blue: It’s been really refreshing to approach a big story in this way. By necessity you have to plan a graphic novel out in its entirety, and draw the beginning and ending simultaneously, and as a result the art and writing is much more cohesive. Even though I work on OHS using an extensive outline and plenty of notes, I’m still very much flying by the seat of my pants on a month-to-month basis, and my art in Chapter 6 is strikingly different from my art in Chapter 1. Deciding to make Meal a graphic novel forces me to run a tighter ship and pay more attention to Soleil’s notes and be very deliberate in the storytelling decisions I make. I think the story is better for it.
Why bring on a co-writer?
Blue: As I was working on the initial drafts, I was trying to figure out what kind of book Meal was supposed to be. I realized that for most readers, it’s gonna be their gateway to learning more about insect cuisine, and that’s a huge responsibility for any book that’s going to discuss food that’s becoming trendy in mainstream American culture despite being historically marginalized by it. I felt like I personally wasn’t equipped with the knowledge or personal experience to address those topics, but I knew that book would be making a huge misstep if I just ignored them. Luckily the same writer kept popping up as I researched these ongoing discussions in the food community, and that was Soleil.
Soleil, what’s your background in regard to comics?
Soleil: I’ve never worked on a pro-level comic before, though I’ve always wanted to! My relationship to comics has mainly been as a reader — from pulpy stuff like Sonic the Hedgehog and Magic Knight Rayearth to more contemporary web-based series like TJ & Amal and Octopus Pie. And of course, I’m an avid reader of food manga like Sweetness & Lightning and Wakakozake.
My background as a writer is mainly in food writing. In particular, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways in which broader strokes of race, class, and gender play into the way we experience eating and cooking food, which is what lead into the creation of my podcast, Racist Sandwich.
How did you two connect, and how does the co-writing process work for you both?
Soleil: So, weird story: I’ve been a fan of O Human Star for a while, and about a year ago, I found out that Blue and I had lived in the same exact apartment — just at different times. Obviously, capital-D Destiny brought us together! But actually, after she became a patron of my podcast on Patreon, I thanked her profusely and geeked out on Twitter about how much I loved her work. So beyond the destiny factor, that was what prompted her to reach out to me about Meal.
At that point, Blue had written the rough script, so I read it multiple times and talked it over with her over Skype. I had so much to say, from talking about restaurant terms to sussing out ways we could bring in discussions about cultural foodways and gentrification: our first conversation about the script was two hours long! I’ll also be contributing an essay about insect cuisine as well, so look forward to that!
Blue: What Soleil said! When she told me about the apartment thing, that was when the voice in my back of my head went, “This is the universe telling you this is a good idea.” At this point, the script has been approved, and the art production stage has begun. I’m looking forward to reading the essay that’ll go between the primary story and the recipes, because that’s the all-Soleil show.
How did this change affect the schedule, and when should we expect to see the book?
Minimally! Soleil came in before I’d proceed to finished art, so I didn’t have to tearfully redraw entire pages. The plan was to have the book’s contents to the publisher in the first half of 2018, and I think we’re on track to make that happen!
Your publisher, Iron Circus, is known for being a Kickstarter trailblazer. Will this book be offered first on that platform?
Blue: I believe so. Iron Circus has really gotten the “Kickstarter-as-preorder” system down to a science, and I think that understanding of the platform and its audience helps make original graphic novels like Meal more likely to successfully reach goal.
My thanks to Blue and Soleil for more information on what promises to be an intriguing read! For more information, follow mealcomic.com for updates.