If you love comics and desserts, Victoria Grace Elliot has the perfect mash-up for you! Elliot’s Yummy: A History of Desserts is an informative, funny, and creative look at desserts from around the globe and across the centuries.
We got a chance to speak to Ellliot about the creation of this hunger-inducing graphic history of the best part of the meal in this exclusive interview.
Where did the idea for a graphic novel history of desserts originate?
Victoria Grace Elliott: This story is one of my favorites. So, I’d been working on a webcomic about a witch working at a bakery for several years–this had me looking up bread and cakes, their earlier forms, and how they were made. Around the time I was ready to move on, Gina A, who started up the Random House Graphic imprint, invited me to pitch a book.
I had so many ideas and didn’t know which to tackle. My agent, Steven Salpeter, happened to be friendly with Gina, and the two went out for ice cream, of all things, to talk about her hopes for RHG! While there, she mentioned the idea of really, really wanting a food history book, maybe with the history of pizza or ice cream.
Well, of course, Steven came back to me with the idea, and I took off running with it. I immediately zeroed in on the desserts. I have the biggest sweet tooth, and I loved drawing baked cookies and sweets up to this point. From there, it was a matter of developing the structure of the book, how to tell the history, and how I wanted to balance the narrative with science, legends, and more.
How much research went into Yummy? Which was the hardest piece of info to track down?
Elliott: Having written a fair share of research papers back in college, I feel as though the research for Yummy was actually relatively light. I’m using mostly secondary or tertiary resources, so stuff more from encyclopedias or writers who have done far more rigorous research than me. Occasionally, especially for the Story Time segments, I’ve found primary resources of interviews with particular people or the recipes from historical books.
The hardest things to track down were actually things that were less written and more visual. Unlike a lot of the books I was using, Yummy is all visual. I didn’t feel comfortable positing the dessert illustrations as 100% historically accurate, but I wanted to evoke each culture and time period with contemporary patterns, dishware, and representations of any historical figures. This had me searching various museums’ online collections for cake dishes or cups or spoons. Just anything that helped make the dessert feel centered in a real time and place. Many times, I couldn’t find anything I felt comfortable using. This was definitely the hardest part!
How did you go about creating the Food Sprites as the hosts for the book?
Elliott: To be honest, I’ve always loved magical girls and their mascots–characters like the sailor scouts from Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon’s cat, Luna, or Cardcaptor Sakura and her mentor plushie, Kero-chan. The sprites embodied both sides of that. They’re each color-coded like any sensible magical girl team and have regular outfit changes to match with each chapter. And like the mascot characters, they’re small and cheeky and informative.
I’d toyed with a lot of ideas on how to present the book, but this came out as the most intuitive solution for me. I wanted to add a lot of silliness and jokes between the characters as they teased each other or got really excited about certain foods. And as I developed them, I realized they each could have a different specialty to present information to the reader in slightly different ways.
Is it different in terms of layout for a history book vs a standard graphic novel story?
Elliott: Oh, absolutely! I’d say it was a lot easier in terms of stuff like the outline. I set it up a lot like I would set up a research paper, following different sections. From there, a historically linear focus on each dessert and its forms through the years.
Where it got more complex, though, was the drawing. Rather than focusing on character moments for big panels, I decided to focus on desserts. Those are the big panels where a banner announces the type, the time period, or a historical figure involved. These were easily the most complex part of this kind of book, and they required a totally different set of problems than maybe the equivalent in a narrative book.
I can’t tell you how many tabs I’d have open for desserts, their key ingredients, patterns used at that time in that place, historically accurate representations of whichever person I was mentioning, dishware that MAYBE could have been used at that time. I’d have to search and re-search to verify, and inevitably between the sketching process and the inks/colors, I’d misplace a bookmark and have to do the searches all over again!
I’m sure in a narrative book the equivalent would be a really detailed establishing shot. It took that kind of time!
Which is your favorite story and dessert in the book?
Elliott: Oh, this is hard! For the story, it might be a tie between “the Legend of Mochi Ice Cream” and “the Legend of the Macaron Sisters”. I really loved having a play within the book, and it has some of my favorite little goofs in it. But “the Legend of Mochi Ice Cream”, and exploring the history of Frances Hashimoto and her family in Little Tokyo, is really near and dear to my heart.
In terms of dessert…oh, I’ll say the blueberry pie from the recipe at the end of the Pie chapter! I love a fresh-made berry pie, especially with some ice cream!
Elliott: I’ve been lucky enough to work on a follow-up book called Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments, where I explore more sweets like soda and gelatin, but also some of my favorite savory foods, like pickles, cheese, and pizza!
The whole idea of this next book is exploring foods on opposite ends of the “how did that happen?” spectrum. You’ve got really old foods like pickles and cheese, but in the Easy Food chapter, I also discuss super young packaged foods invented by the food industry. It’s been really fun to research, write, and draw. Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments will be out in 2023!
Yummy: A History of Desserts is currently available in finer book stores and comic shops everywhere.