Books for Babes provides info on the sort of comics that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. This week we recommend the debut issue of ‘Flavor’ #1, out May 16 from Image Comics.
By Stefania Rudd. Flavor is described as a culinary fantasy epic that combines the worlds of Hayao Miyazaki with The Hunger Games. In its debut that YA-by-way-of-Studio-Ghibli vibe is pretty strong, and yet Flavor definitely has its own distinct taste. (Get it? I’d show myself out, but I gotta finish this review.)
This lovely first issue tosses us into a walled-off city bustling with people, vaguely familiar yet very distant in time and place. We’re immediately introduced to Flavor‘s main character, Xoo, and her pup, Buster, as they rush to the train station to beat out chefs to get a chance to purchase a rare truffle. She is thwarted by what a appears to be a rival and enemy, a dude named Niv, who turns out to be a former classmate. Turns out Xoo no longer attends “the academy”, though it’s not quite clear if that was her own choosing or if she was asked to leave. (There are clues woven in her willful demeanor that lead me to guess it’s the latter.)
Writer Joseph Keatinge sets up a world where being a chef is the ultimate social status, and food is more than just nourishment–it’s a commodity and political tool. Xoo is a teen who loves to cook and is extremely talented, but appears to have a hard time following the rules. She is considered an “unregistered chef” and that causes all sorts of problems for her and her family as the head cook at their restaurant. Due to her parents’ illnesses Xoo is working to make ends meet, though in time forces beyond her control will likely put an end to her unsanctioned culinary career.
The state, in the form of an older woman named Mrs. Tee, brings in Xoo’s estranged uncle Geof to help during this time of need. As you can guess, this doesn’t sit well with Xoo. Geof’s easygoing demeanor allows the character to ease into the story, though as the series unfolds we’ll likely see more of what Geof was like in his previous life… and what, exactly, is up with that gigantic sword he arrived to town with.
Wook Jin Clark and Tamra Bonvillan’s rich and detailed artwork helps this story come alive. With its manga-influenced style — particularly during its action sequences — Flavor is a fluid, natural, energizing read. And from wrinkles along furrowed brows to sweat droplets forming over a distressed brow, it’s the little details the artists give to the characters that provide us a sense of dimension not only in look, but personality.
I also appreciate that the dog, Buster, is somewhat anthropomorphized; even though he only speaks in barks (at this point anyway), Xoo fully understands him. Buster expresses himself in a way that a good sous chef ought — with understanding eyes, plenty of smirks, a helpful extra paw to stir the sauce. This world allows Clark and Bonvillian plenty of freedom. What’s more, their work conveys a surprising supernatural element that adds a bit of mystery to the story.
With Flavor #1, Keatinge, Clark, Bonvillain, and letterer Ariana Maher have set a beautiful table. It’s also exciting that they are using a culinary consultant in food scientist and author, Ali Bouzari. Again, it’s the details that make this such an engrossing debut — perhaps we’ll learn a thing or two to help us in our own kitchens? As it is, Flavor #1 is serving up tasty goodness for our reading palates. I look forward to the second course.
Written by Joseph Keatinge.
Art by Wook Jin Clark.
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain.
Letters by Ariana Maher.
Culinary consultation by Ali Bouzari.
This book contains competition, family dilemmas, and some frightening images.
Age range 8-11; 12-15; 16+
‘Flavor’ #1 hits stores on May 16.