Writer & Artist: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Lucy Knisley is obsessed with food in a way few or possibly no other comics creator is, a point of differentiation clear since her first book, French Milk. For most artists, food tends to be a necessity of daily life no more important than screwing around on Facebook, going to see friends’ bands, or otherwise procrastinating drawing comics. The everyday food they draw is more fuel than adventure with an emphasis on burritos, pizza, and vegetarian this and that, rather than the Cantal cheese, spaghetti carbonara, and rabbit sausage that star in Relish. Knisley is a different critter, and this collection of loosely-related autobiographical stories about food, complete with illustrated recipes at the end of each, proves it.
Knisley takes deep, sensual pleasure in what she eats, which doesn’t mean it’s always molecular gastronomy fare at Alinea (although sometimes it is). The chapter on “Junk” discusses McDonald’s french fries in the same loving terms as the five apricot-jam-filled croissants she ate on a single morning in Venice. This approach of appreciating the many hedonistic options life presents is endearing and a nice counterpart to the pleasure-denying mope-fest common in autobiographical comics. Relish also avoids venturing into oozy, over-the-top food porn; a hard balance to strike.
The book suffers some in comparison to the work Knisley posts on her Web site, similarly drawn and colored but addressing more complicated issues. Relish can feel a little easy, a little facile in the way it tells a story through gustatory experiences, especially when Knisley’s capable of conveying more complex (and neurotic!) emotions. Likewise, the color’s presented in a super-soft, almost-mottled look, which can be a bit distracting. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a soft-focus lens? These aren’t major issues. Knisley has talent to burn. Her drawings, though simplified to dot eyes, button noses, and minimal shading, communicate humor and feeling with ease. Her writing is perhaps too steeped in the senses, unnecessarily so considering the strength of her visuals, but it’s thoughtful and, what’s more, generous to her subjects. Her illustrations of the recipes throughout are particularly excellent. Someday she’ll put it all together in just the right way. Relish is a step in that direction, but it’s not Michelin-worthy yet.