As a heads up, tomorrow is March 1st which means it's the start of webcomic review month, ie all my regular reviews will be on hiatus until April 4th, which ironically will be yet another comic review, hope you guys are here for the pretty pictures!
As with many books I talk about here, I was both interested and hesitant about reading this one. On the one hand, it had plenty of fantastic reviews but on the other most of these reviewers also liked Knisley's other book, French Milk, which I hadn't enjoyed at all. When I got the book from the library I opened it up, glanced through, and realized I recognized her style from another place, a quick google search later was reassured of my sanity when I found Stop Paying Attention (which I had read before). It's an autobiographical webcomic that gets updated every now and then and, as is the case with auto-bio comics that aren't just about the events in the artist's life but the feelings and meanings that went along with them, I liked some of them and some of them were complete misses for me. With that I just hoped that the focus on food would be something I could relate to the entire time and jumped in.
Relish by Lucy Knisley
Lucy Knisley reminisces on how food has always been a huge part of her life, both as an adventure and a way to connect, and unabashedly talks about her favorite foods, the good and junky alike, and how the events around them shaped her life.
I really like food myself, for my final senior portfolio (which is the photography version of a thesis) I made it all about food photography and one of the few things I consistently enjoy about being an adult living (mostly) on my own is being able to dictate my own menu. I'm not a foodie or a gourmet, I hardly have the budget to be that picky or adventurous with my meals, but I do love both eating and making food and because of that I really connected with Relish and loved it. You don't need to be an ardent food lover to enjoy this book, although if you're completely apathetic about your food (and I have known a few people like that) I suppose you'll probably have a hard time understanding why Knisley made this book at all but for everyone else I think there's something for everyone.
Knisley's choice, to have each chapter revolve around a different type of food and to connect it to multiple experience in her life at different points, instead of a straight, chronological progression of her life, was an excellent choice and gives the book a really strong thematic narrative. She still does structure it a bit chronologically as well, if I recall correctly the chapter that talks about her trip in Mexico occurs before her adventures in Japan and I got the impression that was the order in happened in real life as well. And don't think she arranges her chapters the way you would a food pyramid, like having a bread chapter first and a dessert chapter last, sometimes the chapters are structured around as wide a theme as junk food and other times it's as specific and just cheese. It's this unconventional structure which gives the book it's strength and makes it go from just a collection of stories to a true memoir and engrossing read.
Art-wise it's rather interesting to see how much her style has changed from French Milk to here, although they were published 5 years apart I believe she spent at least two years working on Relish and she started posting Stop Paying Attention in 2009 which looks much more like Relish than French Milk. I sometimes find it hard to talk about cartoonists' art styles, especially as they change, because of the way Western society views "realism" as the pinnacle of art (and therefore what everyone aspires to) but I really do feel like her style has matured from where it was before. Glancing at a few pages I found on google to compare the two books, the people in French Milk now look overly exaggerated, overall the art is more detailed and "complete" than the mix of comics and doodles it was before, and as I've already mentioned the structure and actual writing is much stronger as well.