Writer Brian Wood isn’t a stranger to making comic books with socially relevant messages. With projects like The Couriers, Channel Zero, DEMO, and DMZ, Wood has spent years creating thought-provoking stories to capture the minds of his audience. His latest project, Starve, from Image Comics, isn’t any different. Gavin Cruikshank was at the top of his game in a world of reality television as the world’s most prolific competitive chef; after years in seclusion, Cruikshank returns to the U.S. to do battle once more on the television show that once made him very famous.
FreakSugar’s Steve Ekstrom spoke with Brian Wood about the develops of the first arc of Starve how the book’s premise closely mirrors the popular culture of competitive cooking reality television and the global rise in food scarcity.
FreakSugar: What inspired you to write Starve? Are you a big fan of the Food Network competitions like Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen? Gavin Cruikshank has this worldly edge sort of like Anthony Bourdain…
Brian Wood: I was a fan of the Japanese Iron Chef, and also that Stephen Chow film spoof God Of Cookery, which remains one of the funniest movies I’ve ever watched. I’m devoted to Top Chef, and the British version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, where is he far less abusive than the asshole role he plays for American crowds. I like Jamie Oliver’s shows. And absolutely, Bourdain’s books as well as the autobiography of Marco Pierre White. Gavin Cruikshank is, I like to say, a mixture of White, Bourdain, and Iggy Pop.
I prefer Iron Chef and Top Chef to most of the others I’ve seen because I like to see truly excellent chefs making excellent food. Not hapless people tripping around a kitchen being yelled at and making bad food. I like the artistry.
FS: Starve definitely has a very unique premise; but, the real heart of the story seems to revolve around Cruikshank’s disconnect from the material excess and cultural bankruptcy of the the actual competition/ television show, Starve as well as the decaying Western world the story depicts in dark detail. How do you relate to Cruikshank’s conflicts in this story?
Wood: The aspects of Gavin’s story that I relate to are the creative ones, the act of balancing your craft with the business side of this…the soulful versus the soulless. Managing expectations, dealing with an audience, getting wrapped up in ego and adoration.
That’s not to say the environmental and social decay parts of the story aren’t important to me. That’s literally been the issues I’ve built my entire career on. But my heart is in Gavin the artist, and Gavin the father more than anything else.
FS: In terms of the current state of Western culture and economic disparity, do you feel like the U.S. is quickly heading towards the reality that you’ve created in Starve?
Wood: Well, as far as food scarcity goes, I think we’re essentially there. And I know, anecdotally, there are “black” kitchens all over the city where you can get things like shark fin soup and other delicacies that you can’t legally buy or serve. And with the ugliness of social media spilling out into the real world, I think the reality of Starve is certainly plausible. Starve is deliberately amped up with lots of stuff played for humor, so I don’t want to position it as some sort of prophetic tome, but it should FEEL real.
FS: How difficult is crafting a story like Starve? Can a writer get lost in the message of his own story? How much do you self-edit as you are writing?
Wood: Starve is, more so than most everything else I’ve done, pretty effortless to write. I think that’s true because I love it. I love writing Gavin’s voice, I love writing for Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart. I love the tone of the dialogue, its all just a huge pleasure for me and that makes it easy. I think if I risk getting caught up in anything, is just too much talking. I could write monologues for Gavin all day long.
I probably should give the social messaging more attention than I do. And the second arc of the book will hit the topical themes a little harder.
FS: The landscape of contemporary comics has been changing for the past several years since the departure of Karen Berger from Vertigo; has the Independent marketplace become more of a feast or famine environment since Image has seemingly ascended into a larger role as a provider of adult-contemporary genre comics? Is it easier or more difficult to propose projects like Starve?
Wood: Well, it’s not just Image. That drives me nuts, the message that “Image is the place to do creator owned, where you can own your work!” because, you know, you can do that all over the fucking place. I own all my Vertigo work, my Dark Horse work, and you can do creator owned at Boom, at Black Mask, at Oni, at IDW, at Dynamite. I get that Image has a great deal and are enjoying the spotlight, but I think it does a real disservice to all these other companies, especially Dark Horse who’s been in the creator-owned game since the 80’s.
But yes, we are in a boom cycle for original work, and we have to thank the audience for that (and the speculators) for making that possible. It certainly seems easier to launch original work these days, but one sort of unexpected byproduct of all of this is the benefits that colorists and letterers enjoy; they have so many more options now, so much work to pick and choose from…and command higher rates and cuts of the ownership. Which is a good thing.
FS: What are some of the biggest personal challenges you’ve faced making creator-owned projects during your career?
Wood: Maintaining sales, I guess, and maintaining relationships. I like to joke around that doing a book with an artist is a lot like entering into a marriage, especially on long projects. DMZ, for example, Riccardo Burchielli and I worked together daily for about 7 years. That’s crazy! Becky Cloonan, we first started working together around 2001. In some cases, you drift apart, or have a falling out, or you grow to despise the other person.
I’m also a guy that sees most of my sales from trades. I’ve never been and never will be a guy that blows up the monthly charts. I just don’t make that kind of comic and don’t have that sort of persona required to hustle it like that. So it can get stressful at times trying to keep the monthlies at the level I need them to be at to ensure that there WILL be a trade.
FS: You’ve partnered with Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart on Starve; in your mind, what strengths do these two gentlemen bring to the project?
Wood: I always find this question both funny and hard to answer because you know what the answer is: they are incredibly talented. Period. That’s what they bring, incredible talent! But that’s not a very satisfying answer, I know. So look at Dave. Is there any more talented colorist in comics? Arguably, no. He’s a legend. Danijel tends to be one of those artists that people either immediately “get” or are turned off by. But there’s just nothing that guy can’t draw, and his career is amazingly diverse. His gallery shows are epic. Drawing comics is only a tiny portion of what he’s done.
FS: Starve #4 hits shelves September 9th; Cruikshank and his daughter seem to be outsmarting their opposition with ease. What can readers expect to happen in the fourth installment?
Wood: #4 and #5 are a two-part story that takes us to the end of the first “season” of the series. It’s called “Blood and Sausages” and sort of spoofs “Restaurant Wars” from Top Chef if an unusual and rather visceral way. Lots of literal kitchen battles. Like, with weapons. Gavin gets a couple millennial sous chefs. Laughs ensue.
We also get the start of some resolution with Greer, and some major character advancements for Angie. A crisis for Gavin. And a fictional restaurant that I sincerely hope becomes a reality one day: a huge outdoor joint in Brooklyn called Master Paleo BBQ. Danijel drew a Woolly Mammoth for its logo.
FS: What comics are you currently reading? Do you have any particular creators whose work you follow closely?
Wood: I don’t read much comics, to be honest. Well, that’s not true. I read a lot of comics but its for work…its keeping myself informed with what’s going on and what’s out there. I prefer my recreational reading to be anything BUT comics, just for the mental break. I already spend 12-14 hours a day thinking about comics, so its nice to be able to ‘check out’ and read some non-fiction, or trashy airport thrillers, or re-read some Dickens or YA or anything else. I love comics, but I love other things too.
FS: Are there any artists out there that are still on your “collaborator bucket-list”?
Wood: There’s a million of them. Look, I’ve been doing comics for 18 years and am aware I am slipping into what you might call “the establishment”, so I see a lot of artists who maybe I would have worked with linking up with the newer, more popular writers, which I guess is the way things go. I’m blessed to have 18 years and counting in this industry. So who knows if I’ll ever get to work with everyone on my list. But I’d love to do a military comic with Mitch Gerads, something YA with Emi Lenox, historical comics with Marian Churchland, and more comics with everyone I’ve worked with in the past. Honestly, that has more appeal: making new comics with old friends.
FS: Closing up shop, in your mind, do you think the comic book industry needs more projects that tackle socioeconomic issues the way that Starve does?
Wood: I think there’s a lot of that going on already, to be honest. It’s always been my brand, going all the way back to Channel Zero in 1996. There’s not a huge market for it, but that’s never been the point for me. In a world filled with superheroes and genre mashup comics, I like to think its the socially relevant comics that have the most impact.
Interested in learning more about Starve? Here’s FreakSugar’s review of the first three issues. Starve #4 from Image Comics hit shelves September 9th.