Our first introductions to food are more than what we are given to eat as kids.
The easiest way to teach a child the alphabet is to associate it with the kid’s favourite food. A for Apple, O for Orange, S for Strawberry comes easy to a hungry child.
But these visual key cards hold on to our attention well into adulthood, that explains the billboards with almost pornographic detail of tomato ketchup being licked, or a juicy burger being devoured.
Advertising apart, there is another huge visual trigger for food — comic books. Food is always a character in comics, we may not see it right away, but is always present.
Do you remember reading
Tinkle comics and wondering why Suppandi was made to go to find pakoras so often? How Tantri, the mantri was perpetually slipping on banana peels carelessly thrown by the hungry Raja Hooja. Shikhari Shambhu unwittingly managed to snare a leopard or a tiger by luring them with a plate of samosas or idlis!
And if you loved Asterix, you must have noticed how Asterix and Obelix always have a cauldron on the boil. They were constantly feasting on a new cuisine or celebrating the end to a glorious adventure with roasted wild boar.
The fare from
Indrajal comics was fairly light, Phantom didn’t seem to eat much, Mandrake the magician didn’t conjure up huge meals either. Superman, Batman and Spiderman kept their diets pretty light.
Superman just needed a good dose of sunshine to keep him alive; Batman had a butler, who coaxed his “master” to eat. The Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles brought pizza into our lives in the early 1990s, and
Archie Comics got us Pop Tate’s staples. We saw Jughead chomp burgers, Archie snack on chips and Mr Weatherbee make faces at the sloppy cafeteria fare. This food described in comics worked on a sensory level making us imagine what it the food would taste, smell and even feel like.
As kids Enid Blyton’s books described scones and puddings making us drool, the comic books, however, gave us imagery, a small emoticon for what is delicious; the ice-cream cone with a cherry on top or the plump leg of chicken propped on an already full dinner plate.
While these food visuals sustained our interest in the stories, like a side dish, the main course — to the sensory input that comics provide — is food comics.
In Japan, manga as a graphic genre has seen a cult following for food-related manga for decades.
Oishinbo, a cooking manga written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki, has been in circulation since 1983. The series depicts the adventures of culinary journalist Shiro Yamaoka and his partner, Yuko Kurita. This food comic was translated to English only a decade ago, and is still a huge hit.
In America, new food comics have been translated from Japanese and graphic food novels such as the dystopian Get Jiro, written by celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain or Chew, a comic by John Layman have a vast following.
In India, we are yet to have a culinary superhero. About time someone did a comic book on desi food. It is bound to bring alive the sizzle, pop and crackle of our vibrant kitchens on to our bookshelves.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.