If you’re keeping up with our weekly pull list posts you’ll know that I am absolutely in love with Sam Sykes’ Brave Chef Brianna. For those of you who aren’t reading our pull lists, Brave Chef Brianna follows a young chef named Brianna who goes off to a city full of monsters to open her own restaurant as part of a challenge issued to her and her numerous brothers by their father. There’s just one catch: Monster City doesn’t allow any food with either flour, sugar, or cooked meat. It’s a super fun and super cute series — it’s easily one of my favorites that BOOM! Studios is putting out right now.
I had a chance to sit down with writer Sam Sykes to discuss the new series at WonderCon a couple of weekends ago. Read on to discover the original inspiration for Brave Chef Brianna, find out more about the recipes in the book, learn Sam Sykes’ favorite Monster City approved meal, and more!
Thank you so much for finding the time to sit down and talk with us for a bit.
So tell us: Where did the idea for Brave Chef Brianna come from?
Sam Sykes: A lot of things went into her creation but the original inspiration came from my friend Brian McClellan. [He] is a short little guy and one day he went on a sort of ‘tweet storm’ about making an apple pie. It started off like very casually like “Oh, I’m going to make a pie today!” and “Here’s my ingredients!” And it slowly got worse and worse like, “Oh no, the oven isn’t heating!” “Now it’s heating too much!”, “Oh no, my pie is ruined!”
I was following this with morbid fascination and I’ve decided I just wanted to do a comic that featured Brian trying to run a kitchen. But the more I thought about it I thought “No, I don’t want it to be Brian – I want it to be a girl,” and also “I want it to be fantastic so what if it was a girl trying to run a restaurant for monsters?”
And that’s where it came from.
You’re working with Selina Espiritu on this book – did you know her beforehand?
SS: I did not. My editor Jasmine Amiri found her while browsing Dragon Age fanfic. Selina had created a few Dragon Age comics and Jasmine was like, “I really like this person’s style – let’s see what else she can do.” We gave her a sample of the script page and she completely knocked it out of the park. She has this amazing talent for filling in the blanks.
It’s an amazing looking book – especially the detailed backgrounds.
SS: And that’s all Selina – I’ll just say something like, “There’s monsters in the background,” and Selina will go out and pick out each [one]. It’d be so easy to draw a generic monster but she makes monsters – and makes them unique and original. One of her favorite things is to fit in monsters from Philippines lore. It’s sort of become my secret project to go through her work and see which monsters I recognize.
Yeah, there are some really cool ones. You’re just sort of drawn to them. Like in the second issue there’s the random tentacle monster with the giant eye outside the shop.
SS: Yeah, I love him and I love the three ghoul triplets that are there as well!
As far as some of the designs on the main characters go what’s the general collaboration like there?
SS: Basically, I like to give out a bare bones [description]. So, like, for the design of Brianna there were three things – well, four things that were immutable. I said she has to be short, she has to be plump, she has to be cute (so she loves pink and she loves everything feminine), and all her emotions are ramped up to 11. She does nothing in half measures. She’s just incredibly emotional all the time. And then I gave that to Selina and let her run with it.
Sometimes there is less detail.
Like for the design of Kevin Park I said: he’s Korean, he’s tall, he’s a nerd, and he’s buff. He’s like a fitness nerd. And she came up with like all these weird little workout gadgets he wears. So he wears a Fitbit and has those freaky little fitness shoes with all the individual toes. It’s just hysterical what she comes up with.
Madame Cron is a really cool character. Are we going to get to see more of what she’s talking about in regards to the whole monsters vs. humans dynamic?
SS: Oh yeah! We got a hint [of it] in issue #1. We know she doesn’t like humans. By issue #2 we know a little more about why she doesn’t like humans. But Madame Cron is not evil or villainous. She is just extremely angry and scared and hurt. She doesn’t even necessarily think that humans want to hurt her but that they will hurt her. And she wants to protect monsters from that happening.
So, you know, when you think about the stuff she’s gone through – and we do eventually get to learn what she’s gone through – her anger and her stance of ‘no humans ever’ seems pretty understandable. She doesn’t want to take that risk. But it’s hard because now Brianna is in her city.
And she’s not too thrilled about that!
Side note: her character design is amazing. Selina did an awesome job. I love the way she interacts with the environment and moves between panels considering how much space she takes up.
SS: Oh, she’s fantastic!
That’s an instance of Selina doing her thing. [She] knocked it out of the park there.
One of the things that I really enjoy about the book and Brianna’s character is that her anxiety is almost a character in and of itself – was that a conscious decision?
SS: That was definitely a conscious decision that sort of evolved. A friend of mine described anxiety as a running narrator for your life who is rooting against you and I thought that was really accurate. Anxiety – and, you know, for all of us who feel anxiety – I think it’s pretty accurate to say that anxiety just shows up unexpectedly.
In the comic it’s a black cloud that appears whenever it wants and just whispers hateful things to Brianna.
And the more stressed she gets, the bigger it is. In issue #2 it starts becoming more of a thing. It has claws and it has tentacles and so forth. That was from my editor who suggested we make it like more of a monster as it goes on. Brianna has a hard time dealing with it. (But she figures it out.)
Something that’s very important to Brianna and this series is cooking. Do you enjoy cooking?
SS: I do. Uhm, I’m not good at it. But I’m always fascinated by things I’m not good at. I’m not a great artist so art fascinates me. And I’m terrible at math so math fascinates me.
And I’m not particularly great with cooking because I like have the fortitude of an ox. So I just eat everything spicy. I can’t – I just don’t like bland stuff. I don’t like sweet stuff. I just like spicy stuff. So everything I make tastes fine to me but other people can’t eat it because it’s too hot for them.
But I love cooking. Cooking has been in my family for a really long time. My grandpa ran many Mexican restaurants and cooked in them and its always been something really cool to me. It’s a creative act. But it’s like… measurably creative. It’s something – it’s something that has room to play in. But, also, if you follow the recipe you’ll get something right every time.
The rule in Monster City is that you can’t use any flour, sugar or cooked meat when you’re cooking.
So what is your favorite Monster City Hall approved meal?
SS: [Monster City is] a city that’s very close to the the sea and if you pay attention you’ll see a lot of Japanese influence in the architecture. One of the little tidbits to the Monster City lore is that Monster City was originally founded by Japanese tengu who fled during WWII and built it up. I imagine that Monster City probably loves sushi because it’s raw, it has no flour or sugar. And I love sushi as well so they probably really dig it.
Do you do any sort of research on the cooking to fit it into the Monster City guidelines or do you just kind of run with it?
SS: Sometimes it’s rough. Issue #4 has us doing a lot within the Monster City rules so I have to think about it but I’m very fortunate to have a team of people to help. One of the members on that team is Chef Stephanie Goldfarb who is a good friend of mine and a renowned chef. She provides us a lot of input on the recipes and in fact the recipes at the end of the books – there’s a recipe at the end of every issue – are provided by Chef Stephanie.
SS: Basically, I rely on her to do research. And a lot of times it’s just me saying, “Hey: buffalo chicken tater tots – is that, can that be done?” And she says, “Yeah!”
Is this followed up with, “And can you make them for me?”
SS: Like “Could it be made and could you fly over here and make it?” She lives in Chicago so.
In Brave Chef Brianna, Brianna is competing against her 14 brothers for her family’s inheritance. If your family had to open a business and compete with each other for some great inheritance what would it be?
SS: It’d be writing. My sisters both write. They chose other careers ultimately but they’re both very talented writers. And my mom is a successful writer so if we – I mean, we did compete over that for a while. And then later [we] found out that there’s no real need to compete over it! But yeah, if that were the case, it would definitely be writing.
What are some of the differences in writing comics versus writing books?
SS: You know, it’s a broad question. And I’m just trying to think of the answer that doesn’t make me sound lazy… Because I love writing comics specifically because I don’t have to work as hard. With prose novels if someone feels sad I have to describe what they are feeling and what they look like – and if someone else is watching it I have to describe that. I have to evoke feelings with words.
In comics, I can just say he looked sad.
And then tell Selina.
And then if he looks really sad, I have to say he looks really sad and Selina can just do that. The artist does all the heavy lifting. [She] is definitely the power in this relationship.
I’ve got another kind of broad question.
SS: Okay, sure.
What’s a question that nobody has ever asked you in an interview before but that you’ve always hoped somebody would ask you? Or – phrasing it differently – is there anything you’ve wanted to say that’s never come up?
SS: It’s hard to answer [this] in a satisfying answer. But I like it when people ask me about relationships and dynamics between relationships. You know, all about the world and the comic, that’s fine. That’s what people want to know about when they’re just finding something new. But for me my favorite thing in the world to write about is just two people figuring out how to live with each other. Or failing to live with each other. Everything beyond that is just window dressing.
Issue #2 is Brianna and Suzan figuring how to work together and for me there are massive dynamics there. Because Brianna has a hard time trusting Suzan to do the right thing and it’s not Suzan’s fault at all. Brianna just does not want to fail and she is worried that if she’s not in completely control everything will go wrong.
Kevin is great in that issue too because he’s there trying to mediate all that.
SS: Yeah, he’s trying to mediate and we wonder why he tries to mediate. Then at the end [of the issue] we see Kevin had his own dreams that he didn’t get to do. So he doesn’t want to see other people throw away their dreams. And to me that’s like fascinating.
Is it limiting to only have four issues in which to tell your story?
SS: [Brave Chef Brianna] is a story I’m passionate about so we could have done like a million issues if we wanted. But four issues were enough to tell the story we wanted to tell. I’m happy with it.
I don’t want to keep you for too much longer. Do you have anything else that you want to add?
SS: Just that I’m really glad that people are enjoying it. And that specifically people tell me they like the anxiety part of it and find that it’s helping them quite a bit.
I love when people like it.
So thank you everyone who’s bought it!