A Review of Digestate: A Food & Eating Themed Anthology.
First off a general apology for not really keeping up with reviews or mentions of books sent to me in the last half of 2012. Life is busy and comics had to give more than a little this year. Reviewing stuff was the easiest to let go of, at least for awhile.
I got a review copy in November of an anthology put together by J.T. Yost (I’ve reviewed his work before on ComixTALK here and here) about food and eating. J.T. is a vegetarian and he’s not afraid to inject his world views into his comics. His contribution to the anthology, Slaughterhouse Stories is powerful stuff, filled with the misdeeds of packing plants and industrial meat. It is one of several stories in the book that point out the many problems with our global relationship with the animals we raise for food and Yost’s is probably the most effective one. The anthology is a big book weighing in at 288 pages — it covers a lot of ground from anti-meat stories to personal reflections on vegetarian diets to childhood memories of food to some completely weird and hard-to-categorize food-related comics. Basically it’s got something for everyone on a topic we all care about.
To lead off the book, Yost selected a comic by the artist Cha titled Gwenaelle the Babysitter where the babysitter tells a sleepless child the “true story” of the three little pigs. I really don’t like stories that are essentially a dressed up lecture by the author, which is ultimately what this is, but it is nicely and somewhat cleverly done to put an anti-factory farm spin on the classic fairy tale (the second Gwenaelle comic on cows later in the book is less successful in this regard). More straightforward is a bit of comic journalism by Hazel Newlevant titled Soul Food which compares and contrasts vegan with the dietary restrictions of major world religions and C.M. Butzer’s 20 Billion Chickens which provides an overview of the conditions in which the world farms chickens.
Other ones that I liked a lot include Sam Henderson’s short comic One Day In A Parking Lot and its quick “Zeegans” joke. Sophia Wiedeman’s How To Eat A Chicken is sparsely beautiful. Marek Bennett’s Successful Slaughter is one of the major pieces in the anthology and uses the occasion of carving up a bull to present a slice of life of an American in Slovakia. Pranas Naujokantis’ story of sneaking hamburgers from the fast food restaurant Wendys is funny and nicely done.
Alex Robinson contributed a comic titled Peanut Butter Kid which is a wonderful piece. Robinson is one of the better cartoonists of this generation and this is a solid, personal story about his own strong aversion to most foods. If anything, Robinson’s light, self-deprecating tone minimizes the impact of a condition that must be a pretty tough burden and the honesty of revealing it to the rest of the world. But it makes this a very satisfying read with a nice bookending sequence of ordering lunch that grounds and ties it together. In terms of other comics heavy hitters, Jeff Brown contributes a one page comic Bacon Vs. Asparagus with Oscar. It’s cute? And James Kochalka’s two page meditation on our relationship with meat, In Defense of Meat, is great – meaningful and still filled with bit of his great sense of humor.
Scrambled Eggs by Aron Nels Steinke is weird but still charming; Foodies by Anuk Shrestha is weird and completely disturbing. There are several comics that tilt the weird meter pretty hard mixing scattered art styles, panel and narrative construction (or lack thereof).
A lot of the book demonstrates tremendous comic craft — not all, but most of the entries. Yost also did well to mix in some well known creators amongst lesser known folks. It’s not a neutral book — reading this straight through is going to make you think hard about the next non-vegetable meal that comes in front of you. That’s a good thing though and with a subject like this comics can punch through your senses and comprehension in a way that mere text cannot.