Today I’d like to feature a (chunk of) story by James Stokoe, a contemporary Canadian artist. As is the case in many instances, I discovered his work when I spotted Wonton Soup in an excellent comic book shop in Montréal (now, alas, permanently closed — we miss it and its kind owner). Wonton Soup is in black-and-white, which hides Stokoe’s strength (or weakness, depending on how you feel about this aesthetic) – his liberal use of bright colour gradients.
Unlike his close friend comics artist Brandon Graham, whose style is sort of graffiti-ish (not that all graffiti have the same art style, obviously), Stokoe favours tons of detail on everything. Given that he’s often drawing some sort of monster and colouring all of that in (what could be argued) rather garish fashion, the overall result often looks like somebody’s grotesque fever dream.
However, going back to his earlier work, one finds a more stripped-down style without the tons of cross-hatching. Case in point – the aforementioned Wonton Soup, published between 2007 and 2009, and collected into one book (Wonton Soup: Big Bowl Edition) in 2014.
I love made-up food, which is something both Stokoe and Graham’s worlds are rich in, so of course this series was right up my alley of street snacks. Not all of it is great, and the sexual exploits of Deacon, the co-pilot of our ‘space trucker-cum-chef’ protagonist, can get weird, to say the least (I could live without the whole storyline about the sex bear, frankly), but it still makes for really fun reading. Here is my favourite chapter (quite abridged and subsequently summarized). Is this over-the-top? Absolutely. Having recently watched a few episodes of recent Iron Chef, though, I can say that the latter is more bombastic than a competition between a space trucker and hive mind Twingos from Nebula 5, with a giant omniscient tongue for a judge (a vast improvement over judges in Iron Chef, frankly — where do they find these people?)
It starts with Johnny Boyo visiting his old school for chefs, which he quit a year ago to travel and get a taste of what’s out there on other planets….
When he comes upon a student forcibly evicted from one of the kitchens for having prepared a particularly lacklustre mango chutney chili. Jonny catches the bowl that’s flung after the body and tastes the chili —
“I remember you!” exclaim the Twins.
First refusing to participate in the challenge, Johnny reconsiders (after some encouragement from his old teacher).
The Twins are faster and fancier, but Johnny has some tricks up his sleeve (or in his holster, at any rate).
One of the twins decides to sacrifice his delicious sister (years of food absorption through pores marinated her deliciously!), but does this help him overpower his adversary?
And there you have it. If you’re of the cross-section of people who love food, comics, and are not averse to vulgarity, I recommend giving this collection a go.