J.T. Yost is a very talented cartoonist who recently put together a unique comics anthology about food and eating, “Digestate.” He is a down-to-earth guy concerned with just making good work. Yost is a fine example of the patient artist exploring the process of making art. In his series, “Losers Weepers,” he takes found bits of notes and letters and combines them into a comics narrative. In our interview, J.T. confides that it’s just not as easy now to find written bits of things. However, his series continues at least for one more chapter. You can read a review here. “Digestate” grew out of a similar natural process. J.T. says that the idea for the anthology began with the fact that he’s vegan and he began to realize there are a lot of other vegan cartoonists, “a subculture within a subculture.”
Something Big by Victor Kerlow
Blammo #7 by Noah Van Sciver
J.T. runs his own micro-publishing house and distributor, Birdcage Bottom Books, which you can visit here. You can find, “Digestate,” other works by J.T. Yost, as well as other exciting comics talent like Victor Kerlow, a regular contributor to “The New Yorker,” and Noah Van Sciver, the author of the highly acclaimed debut graphic novel, “The Hypo.” And you can check out J.T. Yost’s professional site here.
In this interview, we talk about the comics anthology, “Digestate,” which you can read a review of here. And we talk a bit about Alex Robinson’s contribution dealing with his eating disorder. You can read the recent Comics Grinder interview with Alex here. J.T. talks about the Kickstarter campaign for “Digestate,” his feelings about living in NYC, and comics in general.
CI VEDIAMO by Hazel Newlevant
Towards the end of our interview, we talked about the future of comics which inevitably led to the great print verus digital debate. J.T. spoke to his love of hand-made mini-comics that make their unique case for print. He then mentioned a favorite cartoonist, Hazel Newlevant, who can be found at Birdcage Bottom Books. Her work incorporates overlays and die cuts which can only be achieved through print. Her mini-comic, "Ci Vediamo," is printed on vellum which allows for images to be created when one page is layed over another. Viva print!
You can listen to the Comics Grinder podcast interview with J.T. Yost here:
“DIGESTATE” is a 288-page food and eating anthology, a veritable cornucopia of cartooning talent. You have fan favorites like Alex Robinson, Kevin Cannon, Noah Van Sciver, Marc Bell, Sam Henderson, and James Kochalka, just to name a few. There are 54 contributors in all and it is edited by J.T. Yost. It is great to see a food theme for a comics anthology and to see it done so well.
Even when food seems to be just food, something to eat when you’re hungry, there is likely a story behind it, something to give it complexity. Cartoonists tend to be complicated too. So, it makes sense to mix the two together. Among a multitude of outlooks on food in this book, the one that stands out is from Alex Robinson who admits to having an eating disorder. Just like a true blue cartoonist, he lets the world at large know about his condition through a comics anthology. Mr. Robinson is one of those cartoonists who has succeeded in making an impression in the world with his best selling works, notably, “Box Office Poison.” Of course, it doesn’t matter what the world thinks when it comes to personal issues. And there’s certainly no shame or stigma to having an eating disorder. Mr. Robinson chose to share that part of his life with readers and that’s what matters. It is a very generous piece that provides insights into eating disorders that you may not know about.
Let’s consider this some more. Buried within this anthology is a significant admission from an important cartoonist, an important member of the pop culture. It is really a big deal as the issue of eating disorders continues to get short shrift in the media. It is like it is something from another planet for your average reader. We are another generation or two away from any real collective understanding on this issue. In Mr. Robinson’s case, the struggle for him is to get beyond eating comfort foods from childhood, such as peanut butter. In his piece, “That Peanut Butter Kid!” Mr. Robinson states that he believes his condition is a result of having suffered sexual abuse as a child. However, he continues to make progress in finding new foods to eat. With the support of his wife, he is eating more healthy foods. If this isn’t a theme for a book, I don’t know what is.
It seems like problems begin to stir when we think too much about food, turn it into something else than food, turn it into something symbolic instead of a means to an end. Ideally, humans want to look out for themselves and provide all the things they need to keep body and soul together. But what do us humans do? We can complicate things. We can be educated about nutrition but, for any number of reasons, we can take another road. Our saving grace is that humans tend to want to improve themselves more that they tend to want to hurt themselves. And we all have our own ideas on how to improve ourselves which range from the sensible to the self-righteous. Such is life. Let’s take a closer look at some samples from this intriguing book.
In the down to basics category, there is “Caveman Eat,” by Jeff Zwirek, which is an exquisitely rendered silent comic about a caveman hunter. This 8-pager, two panels per page, plays out like a nice piece of animation. Zwirke’s composition and line is very clean and his humor is spot on.
For something light and fun that might whet your appetite, there’s, “So Brisk,” written by Jonathan Baylis, known for his comic, “So…Buttons,” and drawn by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg. It’s nicely paced and holds the secret ingredient for making a tasty brisk.
Cartoonists often find themselves taking on the role of the canary in the coal mine. J.T. Yost does an impressive job of providing the facts about the meat industry with illustrations that strike the right balance between restraint and urgency.
Keith Knight‘s one-pager, “My (Hammy) Vice,” is a very funny ode to bacon.
Cartoonists are also prone to be subversive. Even your most passive cartoonist can be a powder keg ready to blow. So, there’s some stuff here that pushes the envelope. Your best bet on that front is Noah Van Sciver‘s 3-pager, “3 Bowls of Rasin Bran,” which, as the title implies, is about when things go decidedly south.
And in the simply cute category, Victor Kerlow‘s “Rat Boy” follows a little rat as it forages for dinner.
“Digestate” is a handsome trade paperback, 8.25″ x 10.75″, published by Birdcage Bottom Books. Cover art, with more of her comics inside, is by Cha. This is truly like a cartoonist phone book, a Who’s Who of comics talent. “Digestate” ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and will stand as a shining example of what Kickstarter can help bring about. You can own your very own copy for only $19.95 at Birdcage Bottom Books.