When I first heard about Starve I thought, “A comic about a celebrity chef? Really? How’s that going to work?” The answer is “wonderfully”. I should have known, as Brian Wood has a proven track record of taking odd ideas and turning them into gold. Plus, Image has been putting out some of the best comics in recent memory, who was I to doubt them? What Wood, Zezelj, and Stewart have created is one of the most unlikely comics to ever grace my bookshelf.
Starve is the story of former celebrity chef Gavin Cruikshank, a man who’s been in self-imposed exile for many years, but is forced to come out of retirement to fulfill his contract with the network, and take his cooking show back from a former friend Roman Algiers. His show is almost unrecognizable to him as it has become an arena sport pitting chefs against one another for the pleasure of the filthy rich. It’s an uphill battle though, as not only does he have to contend with the network heads and Roman, but his bitter ex-wife and daughter he hasn’t seen in years. They want a war, and Gavin’s on the warpath.
In typical Wood fashion, the series isn’t as straightforward as the solicits would have you believe. The pages are full of social commentary yet grounded in personal struggle, a Wood staple since his college days and first published work Channel Zero in 1996. He wears his politics on his sleeve, but it never feels heavy handed. The backdrop of social inequality, modern schlock journalism, and reality TV gone wrong never feel crammed in, and elevate the series from mere comics to something greater. The pacing is quick where it needs to be, but there are plenty of slower moments of character development. Gavin’s daughter Angie is the heart of the series, reigning him in when he gets too antagonistic, and acting as a counter-balance to his greedy, spiteful ex.
Danijel Zezelj is the perfect artist to bring this story to life alongside Dave Stewart’s always masterful use of color. Zezelj’s lines have much of the same sensibilities of Wood’s own art, giving the pages an almost wheat-pasted, graffitied look that fits the tone of the story. Chef Cruikshank has a bit of an anarchistic bent to his character, and this is personified in the style of the book. The book begins with a highly claustrophobic style befitting Gavin’s surroundings, but opens up as the story develops. His panels are dense and full of highly detailed backgrounds giving this world a lived-in appearance, especially in its architecture.
Stewart is one of the best colorists around, with an uncanny ability to adapt his style to cater to whichever artist he happens to be working with. With Starve he utilizes a muted palette and a painterly style that counteracts and elevates Zezelj’s stark, jet-black linework. The production design work by Brennan Thome brings it all together beautifully, with a Wood-esque sensibility that pops. The logo is bold yet simple and definitely stands out on the shelf begging you to dig in.
Overall, Starve is a compelling, confrontational, and unique read full of three-dimensional characters, social commentary, and heartfelt human emotion elevating an interesting concept to the fascinating.
Starve volume one is in comic shops and bookstores now. I received a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.