America needs more cooking comics. It’s a popular genre in manga, and given how much food-based entertainment there is in the U.S., there’s a definite audience for comics that focus on the art of cooking. Image Comics’ Flavor taps into that vein by imagining a fantasy world dominated by food. People are arrested for improper use of dangerous spices, lower class chefs compete in underground competitions to win valuable ingredients, and the biggest event of the year is a cooking tournament with a life-changing cash prize. Writer Joe Keatinge, artist Wook Jin Clark, and colorist Tamra Bonvillain create an immersive, lively environment where cuisine reigns supreme, but this first volume sacrifices time in the kitchen to focus on world-building.
Following a young woman who takes over her family’s crêpe shop when her parents fall ill, Flavor explores class divides in culinary circles by contrasting Xoo’s experience with that of her privileged childhood friend, Anant, who has been enrolled in the city’s top cooking academy. The past relationship between Xoo and Anant is very briefly touched upon, and giving the reader more information about their friendship early on would strengthen the book’s emotional hook. The most intriguing scene in this opening arc is a side-by-side comparison of Xoo and Anant cooking Crêpes Suzette, which breaks down the process while using environmental details to emphasize the difference in each character’s socioeconomic circumstances. It draws a connection between the two friends through their shared passion, and hopefully future issues will delve deeper into the origins of their love for cooking.
Clark and Bonvillain make the act of cooking exciting on the page, and the loving attention to detail in the linework and coloring of the final dishes makes them especially appetizing on the page. (If you want to make Crêpes Suzette at home, this collection includes a recipe.) Clark’s expressive artwork and Bonvillain’s bright coloring give the book an animated aesthetic that will appeal to younger readers, with imaginative designs for the cast and settings that add a lot of personality to the narrative. Bars that serve ice cream instead of booze and illegal cooking arenas run by people in fish costumes make clever use of the food-driven concept, and given the sprawl of the culinary world, there are infinite possibilities to use different types of cuisine to shape this environment and society.
2018 has been an interesting year for Image Comics, with ongoing titles like Moonstruck and Motor Crush cancelling their single issues to continue their stories as original graphic novels. It’s a smart transition for books that aren’t selling very well on a monthly basis, and a title like Flavor could have significant mainstream appeal if its promoted to food lovers and leans into the cooking aspect of the narrative. Food scientist Ali Bouzari is Flavor’s culinary consultant, and the single issues feature backmatter essays by Bouzari that enrich the story and help readers understand both the scientific and cultural elements of food and cooking. It’s a pity that only two of those pieces are published in this collection, and if the series switches to OGNs, it could set itself apart by fleshing out the backmatter to make each volume a valuable educational resource as well as a delightful all-ages fantasy story.