Image’s brand new series, FLAVOR, comes packing all the delicious punches. From creative team Joseph Keatinge, Wook Jin Clark, Tamra Bonvillain, and Rich Tommaso, the story takes readers to a place where food knows no bounds. They guide us through a Miyazaki-esque world where chefs are the ultimate celebrities. But something dark and sinister is happening in the world of FLAVOR. With the help of food scientist Ali Bouzari, the creative team takes us on a journey to figure out what is going on in the world of FLAVOR and cook up some tasty stories! 

Joseph Keatinge, Wook Jin Clark, Tamra Bonvillain, and Ali Bouzari had a moment to sit down and tell us all about their awesome comic, FLAVOR.

ComicsVerse (CV): For readers who may not know, what is FLAVOR about?

Joseph Keatinge (JK): FLAVOR’s a culinary fantasy set in an isolated city-state wherein chefs are the ultimate celebrity and food’s the ultimate commodity. Xoo, an unlicensed crepe chef, sees the structure of all things from the outside in and discovers the city’s spoiled from the inside out. Think of it as HUNGER GAMES without the Hunger or a Miyazaki-inspired BATTLE ROYALE.

Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Joseph, one of the things that grabbed me about this comic was how Chefs are perceived as the ultimate celebrity. I was wondering, why are chefs seen as a valued commodity in the world of FLAVOR?

JK: The secret lies somewhere in the second arc, so I’m afraid it’s too early to tell. That said, we hint at it from the very beginning, so eagle-eyed readers may put two-and-two together before too long.

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CV: FLAVOR’s solicitation talks about how the world-building within the comic is Miyazaki-esue. How much did Miyazaki’s work influence FLAVOR?

JK: Miyazaki’s an influence on everything I do to some degree or another. His sense of wonder, scale, and bringing the magical to the mundane are a perpetual inspiration. From a craft perspective his storytelling is impeccable, but when it comes to FLAVOR in particular, it’s showing how something as every day and possibly mundane as cooking can be a magical endeavor.

Wook Jin Clark (WJC): I think for me the influence comes more from how Ghibli stories let us breathe in the world. I know Joe and I talked about not wanting to jam exposition in the readers’ face, and wanting to focus on having a gradual unfolding into the world. We show bits and pieces that will turn to bites and then eventually more.

CV: Tamra, a lot of dystopian stories that are set in the future or within the confines of a walled city are usually noirish or bleak in look. FLAVOR offers something quite different. You use a lot of warm colors which make the city feel alive. How did you decide to go with a brighter, more optimistic colors rather than the usual dark, bleak colors of most normal mystery?

Tamra Bonvillain (TB): Bright and colorful tends to be my mode most of the time, but I think here that was dictated by the story and the art more than anything. FLAVOR is a light, fun story, so trying to make everything feel warm and inviting feels like the way to go. Even when the stakes get high, I try to make things moodier, but never grim.

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CV: For the series, you hired renowned food scientist, Ali Bouzari for the bonus content. Ali, could you tell us what a food scientist is, and what was it like to work on a comic?

Ali Bouzari (AB): Food science is traditionally the science of making canned tomatoes non-lethal and cheese puffs puffy, and a traditional food scientist is usually a brilliant chemist or engineer who happens to study food rather than petroleum. Very little creativity or deliciousness survives in that world. My colleagues and I come from running research and development programs at Michelin-starred restaurants, so we take a different approach, coupling the acid trip creativity of top chefs with a solid background of food biochemistry. We call our hybrid field “culinary science.”

Working on FLAVOR with this team and Image was insane. Corey Hart at Image is one of my best friends, and she introduced me to the world of comics with issue #1 of Joe’s SHUTTER several years ago. It shifted something fundamental in my brain that changed the way I write about food — I ended up framing the original ink of the panel that hooked me. I’ve spent a lot of time lobbing ideas to the crews of the best restaurants in the world, and this gives me the same sparkly tingles.

Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Has working with a food scientist changed some of your perspectives on food and what you eat?

JK: Ali’s perspective on food and its potential was one of the seeds which blossomed into the book. We met some time ago and the way he talked about food reminded me of how Jack Kirby talked about comic books. He thought about its potential, where it was going, and how we could look at it differently. His book, INGREDIENT, is one of biggest inspirations not just for the book, but where I’m going with comics.

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CV: One of my favorite characters by far is Buster, Xoo’s dog sidekick. Where did the inspiration for Buster come from?

JK: Buster is 100% based off of my dog. I traded his likeness rights in exchange for treats and belly rubs. It’s no joke, his mannerisms are directly from my dog, beyond the bicycling. My dog can’t ride a bike.

WJC: Yeah Buster is the best! He’s Xoo’s sous chef and best friend! He’s the best sounding board for Xoo, and we’ll get to see that he’s always got Xoo’s back.

CV: This sounds like an odd question, but being someone with a difficult to pronounce name, I have to ask. How much work goes into ‘naming’ a character? And how would you pronounce some of the character’s names, like Xoo’s?

JK: Sometimes it’s more methodical and sometimes it comes out of nowhere and reveals itself later. Xoo was somewhere in the middle. There’s a misnomer with writing advice that you should write what you know and to a certain extent, there’s a truth there, but you should be open to exploring what you don’t and finding the common ground in between. Food speaks a lot about cultures, so it would be wrong to have a homogenized view.

Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: What has been your collective experience been like on FLAVOR so far, and what can we expect from future issues?

JK: One of the great aspects of Image Comics is you bring your project and your team together. Everyone I’m working with — Wook Jin, Tamra, Ariana, and Ali — are a dream-team for me and I’ve learned a lot from all of them.

WJC: Echoing what Joe said, I love our team and am always thankful I get to work with such a great team! I got a chance to meet Tamra and Ariana for the first time a couple months ago at ECCC, and they are the best! Meeting them made me even more pumped about our book together!

AB: Feels like that thing where every kid dreams of a wizard showing up at their door looking for help because they’re really good at street hockey.

TB: Everything’s been great and running smoothly. I feel like we all click very well as a team and I’m really pumped for when we finally get to share our work with the world!

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CV: Before you wrap up, are there any upcoming projects you guys would like readers to keep watch for?

JK: Lots of news coming! I’m on the internet all over at @joekeatinge. My website’s the best way to keep up,

WJC: Things are coming, but I can’t talk about them quite yet!

AB: I’m starting a monthly food/science/fantastical metaphor column for the San Francisco Chronicle called HOUSEMADE. As a perfect example of how these folks corrupted my brain, it’s gonna have tons of beautiful illustrations. First piece comes out early April online and mid-April in print.

TB: I’m always coloring a bunch of stuff. Right now I’m working on MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR, DOOM PATROL, WAYWARD, and some unannounced projects. I have a very googleable name, so it’s easy to find me on Twitter and elsewhere.

Want to know more about FLAVOR?

FLAVOR #1 releases on May 16th. Be sure to set your kitchen timers!

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