Doubling and singling

This is the second cook-book that I’ve read simply because it happens to be a comic published by Shortbox. Like the other one, Lucie Byron’s Food Baby, it’s aimed mainly at young people without a huge amount of culinary confidence or experience, cooking on a budget. In every parameter, I am not this target audience! However, this is actually the kind of food writing I like, in preference to the vast majority of the big glossy cookbooks that are published in multitudes every year—which is to say, I like to read about someone’s relationship with food, and my likelihood of cooking any of the recipes in a book is directly proportional to their capacity to express the joy they find in it. Rachel Roddy is an absolute master at this, in a rather different way, sharing processes of discovery and circumstances of eating as much as techniques—sharing, in other words, the meaning of food rather than its simple material substance. In Bun’s Comfort Food Corner Chu Nap achieves this by the use of some unexpectedly post-modern narrative strategies. Although Bun is very explicitly her alter ego, in a book which claims to be ‘loosely based on some of my own personal experiences’, she also includes a character with her own name, who identifies herself as the author. A character in a story is never ‘actually’ any real person, but Nap’s decision to run with what might be called the ‘autobiographical fallacy’ raises questions about Bun’s own status within the fictional domain, poor guy. But since he is introduced as an ‘intern at life’, it’s fairly safe to assume that this doubling relates to his (and Nap’s?) insecurity—perhaps he/she feels overshadowed by the public face of the comics author in his/her life. Perhaps not; I’m not here to psychoanalyse the real Chu Nap or either of her fictional proxies, just to read her comic.

One of the cookbooks that has most affected me in recent years is Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, a technique book that is all heart, and one of the best things about it is that Nosrat chose to work with an illustrator rather than a photographer—‘to liberate you from feeling that there’s only one perfect version of every dish’. There’s considerable overlap between the disciplines of cartooning and illustration, although they are far from interchangeable, and Chu Nap is clearly an excellent illustrator—just look at the wonderful veg and utensils on the cover of her book—so it’s very interesting that she chose to illustrate her recipes with photographs. Photographs are singular, non-negotiable images, offering a perspective that David Hockney memorably described as being that of a ‘paralysed psyclops’. I’m not going to second-guess her thinking here: her reasons are her reasons, and if I really wanted to know them I could reach out to her at the social media profiles included with her charmingly brief biography. However, it’s worth noting that these are not the ostentatiously slick and elaborately staged photographs of mass-market cookbook publishing, and to me they seem to strike a contrast with the cartooned abstraction of her alter-ego Bun, offering instead a particular and concrete instance of the food she made. Or maybe she just didn’t feel like drawing the food. However, it certainly pleases my over-intellectualising nerd-soul to observe that the doubling of her protagonist is matched by a kind of ‘singling’ of her non-fictional topic. Anyway, Bun’s Comfort Food Corner is a good comic, with sweet anthropomorphic animals as characters (other than The Author), and the narrative pages have a pleasing clarity—the panels have at most the ghost of a border, but the gutters are well defined, giving the story a steady rhythm. It’s an engaging personal account, which will resonate with many in our anxious era of obligate public performance, and it tells you very clearly why Chu Nap loves the food that she describes. I’m planning on trying some of it.

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