IMAGE EXPO EXCLUSIVE: Brian Wood Serves a Dystopian Future in "Starve"

From the acclaimed team that brought readers "DMZ" and "The Massive" comes an all-new ongoing series beginning this May from Image Comics. Announced today at Image Expo, writer Brian Wood, artist Danijel Zezelj and colorist Dave Stewart re-team for "Starve," a new creator-owned series that explores a world where celebrity chefs are the ultimate stars and the world's elite clamor for a spot at their table.

Chef Gavin Cruikshank has stepped away from the fame of his television show "Starve" and is aghast to find out what it has become in his absence. Now, chefs compete to serve the rarest -- and often most illegal -- dishes to their patrons, no matter the cost. With his return to the spotlight, Gavin must balance repairing his professional life, his severed relationship with his daughter, as well as figure out how to undo the damage that "Starve" has done. But is the world too far gone for him to find a place for himself within it? And does he even want to?

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Wood and Stewart spoke with CBR News exclusively in advance of the event to share more about their new series including the famous chefs that inspired them and Wood's own experiences with parenthood that helped shape the struggles of their main character.

CBR News: Brian, tell me about "Starve" -- what's the premise?

Brian Wood: "Starve" is a comic about celebrity chefs in a sort of dystopian future, a future where access to food and water is limited and therefore in high demand. Rich patrons hire famous chefs to indulge them with food that is endangered and/or even outright illegal. Gonzo televised competitions pit these chefs against each other in cutthroat arenas. Its an over the top look at foodie culture and shows like "Iron Chef" and "Top Chef," but shot through with the sort of world-building and social awareness that I'm know for, and my collaborators are known for. And it has heart -- at its core there is a very personal family drama playing out.

Who are the main characters we will meet?

Wood: The main guy is Gavin Cruikshank, who is loosely based on an Anthony Bourdain type, but with a good deal of Spider Jerusalem added in. He's an older man who comes back from a self-imposed exile to this new world I described, and has to deal. He has to find his place, make amends, forge new alliances, and generally figure out how to navigate it all. He has an estranged wife, Greer, an adult daughter, Angie, and his longtime nemesis Roman Algiers. Rounding out the cast is the affable Sheldon, Gavin's network handler, and Dina Stern, an old friend and fellow chef.

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It sounds like one of the most compelling points of the story is the relationship between Chef Cruikshank and his daughter. Brian, what goes into developing that complex of a relationship? How do your experiences as a father inform the writing?

Wood: For a while now I've been looking for an outlet for some thoughts I have as a father, but as a father of a girl who is turning into a young woman. Who has an identity and a need for privacy and fundamental rights associated with that. It's a thing that can make a father proud but also terrified at the same time, that point when a child goes from a small creature completely focused and dependent on you 24/7 to someone who often wants to go off and do their own thing and be their own person away from you. And this is sort of the place Gavin's at -- we can tell he and Angie were tight when she was younger, but he was away a lot for work and then was off the grid for a period of time, and when he comes back in the first issue of the series, Angie's a grown-up. Adding to that the fact that Greer loathes Gavin -- and not without good cause -- it's a sticky family situation and I'm working on navigating it in a fun way, a bittersweet but positive way.

In a universe this unique, what do you use to keep the story grounded? What do you think readers will relate to?

Wood: I think Gavin's struggle is a universal one: creativity vs commerce, family drama, aging out of social groups and scenes, and basic identity issues. I will also add that this thing I describe as a dystopia follows a model I've used in the past where, instead of a far flung future, this world looks just like ours save for a few details. In this case the environmentally-affected food/animal and water supply. This is a simple world to buy into.

Did you guys have a relationship with culinary arts before coming onto this project ? We see celebrity chefs like David Chang, who I'm a huge fan of, and Tom Colicchio and others with a huge reality tv presence -- what do you think makes chefs compelling figures of stardom?

Wood: I am just a fan, an observer. But a pretty keen one, watching all the shows for the better half of the last decade, reading all the autobiographies (Bourdain, Marco Pierre White, Gabriel Hamilton, etc.). It's compelling to me because it's a creative field that is so different from mine, but I can identity some similar themes or even emotions related to it, and that's fun and compelling. The television competitions, the good ones, can be very exciting and dramatic, and a lot of the chefs themselves are just fascinating celebrities and fascinating people all the same.

In this world, what elevates a chef to that level?

Wood: In the world of "Starve," what elevates a chef is his or her willingness to please the patrons. This is why the world is so unappealing to the returning Gavin -- trained chefs are treated like performing monkeys, servicing this 1% who want to ignore the damaged world around them and feel powerful and relevant. It's offensive, and Gavin comes back and sees the television program he created turned into this disgusting display.

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How did you research the cooking process? For the art team, what kind of references are you using for food?

Dave Stewart: I'm googling everything! The coloring is very stylized, but I want to get in the ballpark for the food.

Wood: I read books. That's all I really do is read books as research for my stories. In the case of "Starve," I have run a few basic things past a chef friend of mine if I'm unsure.

For the art team -- how did you develop the look of the book? The art and coloring are so sharp and unique.

Stewart: Danijel and I had worked together on "Luna Park." We developed a look on that and carried that into this project. I'm not using any hard selections in my coloring on this. No flatting. I'm working on the Cintiq so I'm trying to use rendering on the screen like I would have hand-painted ten years ago. Paint can spill over a line and it adds a raw, organic element to a very graphic book.

How did you all come to work together? Brian, you mention that this triple-owner team was a dream for you. Tell me more about that.

Wood: "Starve" has existed as a pitch for quite some time now. It was actually meant to be what I followed "DMZ" with at Vertigo, back in 2009 or so. But nothing more came of it until last year when I showed it to Danijel, who really wanted to do it. I love his work, always have an always will, and the same goes for Dave Stewart. Dave and Danijel worked together on Luna Park and are a fantastic team. And I wanted to work with both of them as collaborators and co-owners -- I wanted it to be an all-for-one effort.

Stewart: Yeah, I really love this team. Didn't take long to say yes. I love the idea that Brian is bringing the world of celebrity chefs into comics. It's what this medium is all about: you can and should do anything. And Danijel is so great. I think this is some of his best work.

What aspects of the story are you most looking forward to telling?

Wood: Everything, really... the food stuff, the father-daughter relationship, the world building. But what I see as my biggest challenge is to take the concept -- which seems to come off to a lot of people as a big oddball -- and making it relevant and meaningful. I think a lot of that is going to be found in the family dynamics.
And since we're talking about food -- what's the best meal you've eaten recently?

Wood: My favorite local meal is at this German place near me. Wiener schnitzel, little roasted potatoes, pickled cucumbers. Its the people's plate of food!
Stewart: It was a Szechuan fried fish. They added Szechuan peppercorn to the batter and I was the first time I tried that. Numb mouth and it enhanced all the other spicy dishes we were having.

"Starve" debuts this May from Image Comics.

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