Monday, August 19, 2013

Consumed: Digestate -- A Food And Eating Themed Anthology

JT Yost's anthology Digestate contains an interesting concept that gets lost in its bloated pagecount. The anthology is about different cartoonists' relationship with food and eating. Though on a superficial level there are stories from vegans and carnivores alike, the best parts of the anthology take on different aspects of food and how traumatic events can shape what we eat and our subsequent social identities. Unfortunately, at nearly 300 pages, that personal touch got lost in Yost's attempt at cramming in a number of previously published stories and story excerpts that had something, anything to do with food. There are any number of examples of this: pages from Renee French's new book, an entire minicomic reprinted from Daryl Ayo, an excerpt from a comic by Minty Lewis, assorted gag reprints from Keith Knight, Hawk Krall and Dan Piraro, etc. I found these comics distracting and not just because I had read them before. Aside from the back cover being somewhat misleading in getting the reader to think that people like Berke Breathed had contributed new material in this anthology (his strip is actually a photocopy from a collection; I get that it inspired Yost to rethink his own eating habits, but advertising it on the back was a dubious move), those strips stand out in the anthology because they lack the kind of personal touch that the best stories in the anthology possess.

Take Alex Robinson's "That Peanut Butter Kid", for example. Robinson rarely does autobiography, but not only does he explain that he is only capable of eating the blandest, kid-friendly food, he boldly reveals that he suspects it has something to do with being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. One can almost sense the relief on the page as he relates how embarrassing and awkward it's been over the years to explain his very limited palate and relates this to his introversion and preference for staying at home. The gratitude he expresses toward his therapist but especially his wife for slowly, patiently getting him to try new things is also remarkable. It's a powerful story that's still funny (because Robinson is naturally funny). Tod Parkhill's "Picky Picky" is along the same lines, only in his case his eating habits were simply solidified at a young age and he lacked the parental attention needed to correct his palate.

A common theme among many of the meat-eater's stories is guilt for eating meat. Pranas Naujokaitis' "The Tell-Tale Burger" plays this for laughs, as his guilt for eating fast food is mostly in his own head, as his girlfriend doesn't care even as she's cooked chickpea burgers for him. Paul Hoppe's "The Flesh Is Weak, The Meat Is Strong" takes a friend saying "Oh, you're eating meat?" and proselytizing for vegetarianism, which he goes along with until he's hungry and a KFC is up ahead. Cartoonists like Sophie Wiedeman touch on meat eating in terms of sacrifice, as a group of children eat a chicken as a way of keeping up their strength in lieu of their mother leaving to bury their grandmother. It's a touching, intense rite of passage story.

The stories from the vegan/vegetarian side of the fence vary in their fervor. Sam Henderson manages to poke fun at both sides in his inimitable manner; his interstitial strips were important in trying to break up the anthology's unwieldy page count. JT Dockery's ruminations on being a vegetarian are lushly illustrated and funny; he's less interested in preaching than describing what works for him. Liz Prince's autobio account of becoming what she describes a "junk food vegetarian" is also quite funny, thanks in part to her sketchy line and solid comedic timing. Hazel Newlevant rightly points out the connection between veganism and the food-related practices of religions, though she doesn't go all the way in connecting the dots between the fervor of some vegans as a kind of evangelical fervor. At the other end of things, the title of K. Thor Jensen's "Living With Murder" alone tells the reader what's in store for them, as an injury to his daughter puts him in a furious state, with no desire to candy-coat his beliefs. Yost's 25-page illustrated text relating to the slaughterhouse industry is even-handed in tone, though I found it a slog in terms of its repetitiveness. Nicole Georges' "Boycotts" tries to poke fun at her own self-righteousness but doesn't quite get there. Cha's extremely amusingly-drawn fairy-tale screeds may have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but they're still extremely well-done and effective. She absolutely sells every one of her points with illustrations that are both hilarious and horrifying. The same was true of Danny Hellman's typically superb two-page illustration depicting a history of meat consumption.

I could have done with more of that kind of expression than some of the blander attempts at comedy and/or weirdness in the book. I enjoy William Cardini's wacky monster comics as much as anyone, but a strip about the Mizzarrd eating a snack didn't really add much to the proceedings, nor did Aaron Mew's "Ghost Dog" strip. About the only other bit of weirdness that I enjoyed was Josh Bayer's frantically scrawled strips, but even they had relatively little to do with food. I could have used more strips like L.Nichols' "The Wonderful World of Vegetables", which really gets at one woman's experience with eating that's atypical of many Americans.  Jess Ruliffson's "City Chickens" is an excellent bit of reportage in comics form about the history and implications of raising one's own poultry in an urban setting. I got the sense that Yost was trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible by bringing in genre stories or stories with a tenuous connection to food. I'd love to see him take another crack at this concept with a tighter focus.


  1. where was this book published

  2. You can find it here: