Starve: Wood & Zezelj Blend Food With Heart [Essay]

STARVE is set in the near future, when wealth inequality is completely out of control. The rich chase increasingly extreme highs while the poor struggle to simply survive. This is true across the board, but perhaps the best example is the reality cooking show Starve, invented by Gavin Cruikshank. Under his hand, it was a global tour of cuisine and culture, a pure expression of his love for cooking. After Cruikshank disappeared, the goals of the show changed under its new management. Now, it's run by Roman Algiers, who uses it as an opportunity to entertain the wealthiest of the wealthy more directly, providing them with rare, dangerous, or simply outré cuisine, a literal approach to "bread and circuses."

Cruikshank, fresh from his early retirement and just barely sobered up, is possibly washed-up, definitely considered past his prime, and beset on several sides by the many bridges he burned before embarking on his new life of anonymity. His ex-wife, Greer, loathes him. Roman, the new host of Starve, wants him gone or worse. The television network demands his cooperation. Angie, Cruikshank's daughter, loves him, but he knows he missed out on a significant portion of her life. On the one hand, he's a celebrity returning from years in the wilderness, and greeted like a returning hero. On the other, he's returning to a wasp's nest of drama.

Interpersonal relationships are something Wood excels at, and even if you remove the food show from the equation, STARVE has a resonant core. A man leaves his family and spends years on his own before circumstances force him to return home a changed man. His family must deal with his new self and he must deal with the changes in his family. Stripped of everything but the family angle, STARVE still makes perfect sense.

But the presence of Starve, a show Cruikshank created, adds texture in a number of ways. First, it shows us what kind of person Cruikshank was. A person's creations tend to reflect their interests in some way, and Wood makes a point to note how Starve does not represent Cruikshank's original intentions much at all any more. Cruikshank finds it repellent, in fact, and impure compared to his original goals. But people love it, and he's under contract, so he endures.

Starve tells us a lot about Cruikshank, but it also gives Zezelj a chance to strut his stuff. Zezelj has been an artist worth watching for years, and STARVE puts his considerable skills on display for us to enjoy. Zezelj's style is dark and moody, but he renders food with the best of them. In one issue, we see a certain animal butchered and prepared, and Zezelj makes every stage of the competition look impressive, whether via depicting chefs at work from a distance or recipe photo-style depictions of the ingredients involved. Everything from the gritty woodgrain of cutting boards to the striation on hunks of bone looks amazing.

Zezelj sells the emotional drama at the heart of the series, too. This is a low key tale, a different type of spectacle than adventure comics, and it requires a different kind of storytelling. Zezelj's dynamic layouts and varied panel counts make every page fascinating to examine, but the work he does in making the characters act is crucial. Whether it's Greer standing in front of a tv in slack-jawed shock, a daughter's smile while she spends time with her father, and the smug grin of an egotist sure that he's got one over on his hated enemy, Zezelj, working in perfect concert with legendary colorist Dave Stewart, absolutely kills it on any page he touches.

Taken together, Wood and Zezelj are a great duo. Zezelj makes Wood's dialogue pop, and Wood's plotting gives Zezelj plenty to run with. A comic about a cooking show is a fairly new idea for American comics, but a big part of the appeal of comics is that they can do anything, and the greater number of stories we have like STARVE, the more likely it is someone else will discover just how magical comics can be.

STARVE #1-3 are available now. STARVE #4 goes on sale 9/9/2015.