Kim-Joy is a born creator. The baker and cookbook writer became a household name as a star on The Great British Bake Off and has turned her sights to the world of comic books. In Turtle Bread: A Graphic Novel About Baking, Fitting In, and the Power of Friendship, Kim-Joy tells the tale of Yan, a baker discouraged with the job market, but finds kindred spirits and belonging in Baking Club, stumbling upon the group when she needed it most. Adding their artistic talents to Kim-Joy’s words is the talented Alti Firmansyah, with Joanmette Gil providing phenomenal lettering that pulls the reader in.
Turtle Bread was released in May during Mental Health Awareness Month and deals with mental health issues that so many potential readers might be able to relate. The graphic novel pulls you in with a compelling narrative, to be sure, but it will also maybe connect with those reader grappling with their mental health and will make them feel seen and heard. Kim-Joy spoke with me recently about the conceit of Turtle Bread, how baking has informed the crafting of the graphic novel, discussing mental health throughout the comic, and how baking and writing are both types of artistic expression.
FreakSugar: Before we get into Turtle Bread, how did you find cooking as something that made your heart sing?
Kim-Joy: Baking is something I’ve always been drawn to when I’m stressed or overwhelmed. It’s comforting and structured, but I love that you can be really inventive and creative with it. But I think the feeling that I love the most is giving a bake to someone and seeing the joy it brings them.
FS: What can you tell us about the idea behind Turtle Bread?
K-J: I wanted to tell a story about self-acceptance and the struggles that come with feeling like you don’t fit in or with low self-esteem, because this is something I experience personally and I know how isolating it can be. I also happen to love baking and when I was on the bake off, people seemed to really resonate with my space turtle bake, and so I branched from there to make turtle bread. And it just so happened that the metaphor of the turtle fits so perfectly with the themes of the book of being vulnerable, coming out of your shell, and moving slowly forwards.
FS: This is your debut graphic novel. What inspired you to turn your attention to comic medium?
K-J: As a very visual person, it seemed like a natural fit for me! I love how a comic can convey so much in just a few panels or a single image – it’s the perfect medium for conveying complex emotions in a story like Turtle Bread.
FS: You note the various emotions and feelings touch on in the book—from self-criticism to loneliness to uncertainty. What prompted you to tackle these topics?
K-J: I knew I wanted to create a story that was themed around the issues that I’ve personally struggled with in my life (low self-esteem, social anxiety, and feeling like you don’t fit in), as I know how lonely it can be. So if this story could help just one person, then I would be happy.
FS: The cast that we meet in Turtle Bread is so robust, but so well-defined from the get-go. Can you talk about who we’ll meet in the novel?
K-J: Yan is the main character and I based a lot of her personality traits on how I used to feel (and still do, though less so now). She forms a friendship with Bea, who is seemingly eccentric, wise and knows her own mind. But there is more to Bea than how she presents herself… in fact all the cast have their own reasons for feeling alone in some way. Geraint appears self-assured, yet feels pressure to be masculine and fit in. Amit appears to take nothing seriously and be completely relaxed at all times, but his humour is a defence mechanism for deeper issues. Zara lives with her large family but she feels they don’t understand her or anything she is interested in. She’s a perfectionist, very self-critical and very empathetic. She’s also autistic.
I’m keeping the explanations of all the characters here very, very brief because really, there’s so much to be said about each of the characters and I could go on forever! I wrote a detailed character sheet for each of them and they all have their own stories and reasons for how they are. I wish I could’ve fit in more about all of them in Turtle Bread!
FS: Both cooking and writing are artistic endeavors of self-expression. What creative muscles did this give you that cooking might not? Did you find any similarities between the two?
K-J: I’ve found that they share a lot of similarities. My baking style is different to the norm – I’m not just looking for something to taste amazing, I also want to create something with character (that’s why I love animal themed bakes!) and something with a story. So this crosses over into writing, because that’s also about creating characters and story. But the tools used to create this are completely different in both, of course! Writing fiction has definitely expanded my imagination and getting completely immersed in a character and how they might talk and behave. In a way, writing also taps into a lot of my experiences working in mental health, studying psychology for my masters, and my fascination in understanding why people act the way they do.
FS: Following up on that, I think we can all relate to those feelings in one way or another. What do you hope readers take away from the book?
K-J: That you often don’t know what’s going on inside someone’s head. That even the smallest steps towards self-acceptance can have a big impact. That slow progress is okay. That steps backward are also okay. That strength is routed in vulnerability and self-reflection. So if you try something new and feel vulnerable doing so and it doesn’t go to plan, that’s not cringe or a bad thing – that’s being strong and please keep on going with it. Get the right people around you who love and support you, because you deserve that.
FS: The creative team is just wonderful. How did you decide on the look of the book and what has the collaboration process been like with the team?
K-J: The team is AMAZING and I’m so happy I got to work with such talented people. Alti and I chatted at the beginning about making it a 50/50 collaborative team effort, and her art is so amazing so I wanted her to work and draw in a way that made her happiest and at her best! Sometimes Alti would ask me for references for certain streets, bakes, buildings etc, and often times she looked at my Instagram and incorporated personal bits from there into the Turtle Bread – which were so fun when I spotted them. I worked with two editors, Felix and Allison, and they are both organised and had great tips and advice. As this was my first graphic novel, Felix answered all my questions and helped a lot in the beginning when planning the overall structure and characters. Cindy was so quick and brilliant with design. Joamette’s lettering is so good. Yenny did a brilliant job colouring the cover. Everyone at comiXology and Dark Horse has been very supportive too.
I’m also proud that we’re a very diverse and majority women-led gang of creatives, and overall I couldn’t have asked for a better Turtle Bread team.
FS: Has completing this graphic novel given you the itch to tackle another one?
FS: If you had one last pitch for the book, what would it be?
K-J: Turtle Bread will comfort you just like a freshly baked cake; but it will also make you laugh, cry, and build your strength in being vulnerable.
Turtle Bread: A Graphic Novel About Baking, Fitting In, and the Power of Friendship is now on sale from ComiXology Originals, with Dark Horse Comics releasing a print version in October.
From the official graphic novel description:
The debut graphic novel from The Great British Bake-Off star and author Kim-Joy, Turtle Bread explores mental health and the power of friendship, community and, of course, baking!
On her way home from another unsuccessful job interview, Yan stumbles upon Baking Club.
Her social anxiety tries to keep her away, but the bakers encourage her to come out of her shell, especially the caring and supportive Bea. As the club bakes together, Yan discovers that her new friends may need her too, more than she realises…
Features illustrated recipes throughout, for some of Kim-Joy’s favorite bakes!