Panel Transcript – Food & Drink Culture in Zines
The Food & Drink Culture in Zines panel was held at BZF 2015 on Saturday, April 25th at 1pm.
Panel description: Like zines, food and drink are tangible delights made by hand and best enjoyed among friends. Panelists who write and illustrate food & drink zines discussed the many ways in which zines explore edible culture, how food is often a jumping off point to a deeper assessment of memories and personal history, and why you should never read a food zine on an empty stomach.
Many thanks to Stanley H. Sakai, CCP, CSR for generously providing CART accessibility services during the panel talks.
MAUD: Welcome to the food and drink zine panel. I’m Maud Pryor. I make a food zine called Marmalade Umlaut about vegan food and it has sort of drawings, personal stories, comics and things like that. It’s a lot of rambling. And I sort of just throw recipes in there. It’s anything. So this is Mitchell Kuga, Shannon Mustipher, and Bill Roundy. And Shannon does Modern Travelers’ Green Zine and Mitchell is working on SALT, which is all food zines or drink zines. So do you guys just want to talk a little bit?
BILL: Just sort of introduce ourselves?
MAUD: Just introduce yourselves and your zines.
BILL: I’m Bill as mentioned and I do a zine called Bar Scrawl where I go to bars and review them in comic strip form, because I go to bars and I love drawing comics and I figured out that I could monetize that. And also I am working on a new series of comics about the histories of different cocktails. I have the first one here about the history of the Florodora cocktail and I’m planning to do different ones. I think the Brooklyn cocktail will be next.
SHANNON: Hi, my name is Shannon Mustipher. I manage a bar and that’s my day job and my night job. And every so often I’m conscripted to contribute some drawings to the Green Zine which we do once a year. I work with Nicole Taylor from NAT Media and we will pick one topic per year to cover. This year we’re doing fried chicken. A guide to the best fried chicken in NYC, right here in my hands and upstairs as well. I draw to kind of come up with inspiration and to help visualize what I’m going to do behind the bar.
MITCHELL: My name is Mitchell. I edit SALT with two other people who are upstairs, sitting at a table. And there’s some copies up front, so feel free to take them and pass them back. I don’t think there’s enough for everyone but you’re welcome to take a copy.
>> We have a few more upstairs, too.
MITCHELL: So SALT is a newspaper. We have one issue so far that is published through Momo Sushi Shack which is a little sushi spot in Bushwick where I wait tables. And the first issue was inspired by one of the chefs. One of the chefs remarked that it would be interesting if there was a publication that told stories about chefs’ injuries because he had a scar from a pork chop, and the owner of the restaurant is a very interesting man and he’s very open to ideas and he was like, let’s do this thing. So anyway, we interviewed three people for the first issue. And sort of, took the concept of pain and, like, interpreted that very loosely. And some emotional pain. Just the pain of being in the restaurant industry, as an attempt to kind of push back what is often seen as a very glamorous profession of working in a restaurant, front of the house, or back of the house, but that’s not really the case. Anyways the back folds out into a map, and that was our restaurant map, a heartbreak map where people could tell about where they had their hearts broken, restaurants, bars, anything with sadness attached to it.
MAUD: So I guess I’m sort of just wondering why each of you thought it would be a good idea to put those things into print. I’m sorry you said that you worked, are you front of house or back of house?
MITCHELL: I’m front of the house.
MAUD: How did you do your interviews with the chefs? Is it like people you knew that you worked with in certain restaurants?
MITCHELL: The first story is Mark and he actually is my coworker at Momo. And so we interviewed him with his kimchi recipe and sort of the emotional associations with his mother. And then, we also interviewed Monique who I knew through a coworker and I said, do you know anyone who’s been through pain? And she’s like, this girl almost burned her hands off. Part of her hip is on her hand and I was, like, perfect. Let’s interview her. And Kevin who used to work at Northeast Kingdom in Bushwick as well, he opened up a new restaurant, as well. He’s been through the grueling process of Michelin star restaurants and I thought it would be good telling how difficult that aspect could be.
MAUD: And you occasionally do interviews at certain bars, or do you just ask them?
BILL: Sort of, because I actually do reviews I don’t — I’m there incognito.
SHANNON: I saw Bill at a bar last year and I was, like, hey, what’s up? And he’s got a sketchbook and then I’m like hey, what do you want? And a couple of weeks later, I see the strip and I’m like, duh.
BILL: And I’m totally giving myself away because I was, like, so, what are the ingredients in that drink? And I feel like there are enough artists in New York that everyone has a sketch book. I’m just sitting in the corner, drawing the bar.
SHANNON: Are you going to have a costume now?
BILL: Yeah, I’m going to have a little toupee. But yeah, I’m trying to do more long-pieces. Actually I’m working on a piece about the Dead Rabbit. It’s one of the best bars in the world and it’s down in the Financial District and it won the Best Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards and I actually got to sit down with the owner and I interviewed him. I’m going to be shadowing one of their bartenders and sort of following them around during a shift and try to draw things because there’s so much that goes on that is behind the scenes that you don’t see, so I’m trying to discover what those things are, and try to convey them to people.
MAUD: Are you doing the majority of your drawing at the bar?
BILL: Yeah, I do 90% of my drawing while I’m at the bar. I just go and I spend — it’s very funny, people are always like, can I come with you on a trip?” And I’m like, “You don’t want to do that.” Because I’m going to ditch you because I want to find the spot in the room that has the right angle and I’m just going to stand there and draw for a while. I’ve tried working from photos and it’s just dead on the page. So I actually have to be there to capture the atmosphere. Although I will take photos of, like — I’ll take a picture of the drink. I can draw that from a photo.
MAUD: And Shannon, I’m sorry which bar do you work in?
SHANNON: I work in Glady’s Caribbean. It’s a tiki bar, and we light things on fire.
MAUD: Do you have favorite drinks?
SHANNON: For me, personally, beer. Sometimes Jamaican rum, that hits the spot for me sometimes at night.
MAUD: Bill, do you have a favorite drink?
BILL: Yes, actually my favorite drink is probably the Brooklyn Cocktail, which is going to be the subject of the next one. It’s a variation on the Manhattan. But it uses dry vermouth instead of a sweet vermouth, and it uses amer Picon which is a bitter orange liqueur which you can no longer find in the United States. And so there have been a lot of people invested in making their own. There are recipes that take orange peels and infuse them in vodka for six months and then add liqueur. But fortunately there’s a company in the Midwest that makes their own version. So I’m going to be talking about that, because I live in Brooklyn, and there’s this sort of weird, historical curiosity that nobody makes anymore. Whenever I find a place that makes it, it makes me feel like an insider. So I’m not sure if I like it because of the flavor, or sheer snobbery. So how many fried chicken places have you been to, to put together that new issue?
SHANNON: Me, personally I’ve been to about half of these guys. In fact this is my first time actually looking at this in print. I want to say there are 50 in this edition but we will do an expanded version in a couple weeks. So myself, my collaborators all kind of spread out and go to a bunch of places. Donny Tsang that did the layout actually went to all of them. He’s been in this project for about a year and change, photographing all these places and the plates of the fried chicken stuff. So he’s kind of, like, the spearhead for the project. And then Nicole and I came along and met him and decided to kind of flesh it out, and decided to make it more of an interactive, participatory thing. To take out his kind of personal obsession of…
BILL: Sorry, how do you — how did you divide up, like, who wrote about which place, or do you all go together?
SHANNON: Yeah, I mean the writing piece is mostly Nicole. But she was using information gleaned from myself, Donny, and other collaborators’ notes. Me personally I did the drawings inside. I tried to make it kind of fun. There’s a couple different sections based on styles of chicken. We created a framework for that. But as far as the writing goes, I don’t know. You don’t want me to do that.
MAUD: I also like the idea that your two’s zines — “your two’s?” — are sort of more like travel guide kinds of things and sort of review-based and my zine has more personal stories. Are you — what is it that you enjoy about doing the reviews as opposed to telling your own stories through the drinks or maybe there are your own stories that are coming out through places that you’ve reviewed or something like that?
SHANNON: I mean, for me, I’ve always been a collector. Stamps, coins, paper currency from around the world, bugs, BB’s, stinging insects. That was always my thing so to be able to kind of make a compilation and have all these points of comparison was always really fun for me. Yeah, I mean, we’re just trying to answer that question that you get from our friends visiting, “Where’s the best fried chicken?” And I’m like, all right, I’ve been talking about it.
BILL: You’re finding a new answer.
SHANNON: I think it’s a start, at least.
BILL: For me, I like doing the research, especially, “Oh, which is the best cocktail?” So I like the process of getting out and trying a lot of different bars and trying the drinks. Mostly because I just like going out. But also because, like, I just enjoy doing the research and sort of figuring out what the best options are. I used to be a journalist. I was a reporter for the Washington Blade and so I still take any journalism really seriously. If I say the drink is $10, the drink is $10 because I took a photo of the menu. Even though people are, like, oh, well it’s just a comic strip. It’s journalism. I’m doing a review and I’m trying to be accurate and so I like chasing down all of the facts, which is why doing the historical cocktails has been really fun, you know? Going through old newspapers from 1901, trying to track down this recipe. I mean, I put personal stories into it too. I’m trying to put the focus on the drinks because there are really cool stories, and for the strip I’m trying to share, you know, what are cool places to drink.
MAUD: Mitchell, yours are also sort of interviews with people. But I think in the back — the fold-out map, you had one story which was yours?
MITCHELL: This is the foldout. It was designed by Assa Ariyoshi, who I think is based in London right now. I mean, she’s incredible. And what was the question again?
MAUD: Do you prefer telling your story, or others? Yours is just a short blurb in there as opposed to a…
MITCHELL: I think they complement each other because we needed something that was within the realm of pain and seriousness, but also a way to sort of be funny, or humorous in a way. I enjoyed this process and there was a lot that we needed to cut. But I feel like if you’ve lived in New York long enough, you had something to say about a place.
BILL: So how did you get those stories?
MITCHELL: A lot of them were customers. I don’t know how customers felt about this, but she would approach them and ask them, so is there any place in New York you want to talk about? And then other than that, it was a lot of word of mouth, just like friends of friends. Do you have a place?
BILL: Um… yeah. We don’t talk about it. It no longer exists. I have to keep updating my books to update my collections for different neighborhoods. Bars keep closing and so I have to keep updating the books. I just published a new edition of the Carroll Gardens guide because of bars which recently closed. I was walking down the street two weeks ago, and I was like, I need a new edition.
MAUD: Is there one bar that you miss the most?
BILL: Lulu’s, free pizza with every drink. I was drawing it from the upper balcony and I was really happy with how that thing came out, and I was, like, aw, now I gotta take it out of the book.
MAUD: How long does it take you to put out a new guide? What neighborhood do you live in, actually?
BILL: I’m in Kensington, two stops from Park Slope. There’s three bars in my neighborhood, that is all. And two of them opened within the last year.
SHANNON: Are they any good?
BILL: Yeah, Hamilton’s is really good. I’m kitty corner from this place called Shenanigans. My roommate’s actually forbidden me from reviewing that place because he said, no, that is our place, no one can know about it. There’s some cheap drinks. But yeah.
MAUD: So Mitchell, do you want to talk about the next SALT that’s coming out?
MITCHELL: The next issue, we’re focusing on service. So, somewhere between, like, eight or ten interviews this time, talking to servers, dishwashers, bartenders, baristas, and sort of getting a sense of how identity comes into play in the service industry because everyone’s sort of on stage. Ideas of performance, race, sexuality, gender, et cetera.
MAUD: What do you guys most enjoy about putting your thoughts onto paper, as opposed to spreading them any other way? Like, in zine form, I guess, since this is a zine event.
BILL: Because the comic strip is inherently local, it’s nice that you can actually hold it in your hand and carry it with you to the bar and establish, like, okay, this is where that guy was sitting when he drew it. The comic strip is online but it doesn’t matter to anyone who isn’t in Brooklyn because it’s not directly relevant to them. And so having it, you know, as an actual publication, it makes it sort of more personal and more local.
SHANNON: Putting things on paper is just — it kind of goes back to how I got my start in life, if you will. I started doodling and drawing when I was five or six. And I went to art school. So that being said, it’s cool to do this really basic activity that I’ve enjoyed for a while, in terms of putting something in print. I mean, most of my work is consumed like, right in front of me. When I give it to somebody. So it’s nice to have something that can stick around for a little bit longer than, you know, the 20 minutes or hour someone’s enjoying it. I’m a big collector of paper, too. So just another thing to put in the stacks.
MITCHELL: What do you like?
MAUD: I think the tangibility, I like the sort of collectible nature of zines but it’s also, it gives you a sense of achievement that you can have out in front of you that you can keep for a long time.
MITCHELL: I think the size of SALT is sort of comical. It’s sort of intentioned to do something big and brash but it was modeled after Cooper Magazine from the ’70s and they used to do foldouts like this. Sarah and I were going through them for inspiration and said, “Why don’t we do something like that?” But it’s actually kind of silly because you can’t fit it anywhere.
MAUD: Do you collect other zines from food and drink people?
MITCHELL: Not as much as I should.
BILL: There are a couple of other cartoonists who are making comics about food. Sarah Beckett, she’s in Chicago and she draws these just amazing comics about what she’s eating, and recipes. But I think one of the things that comics does well is that it conveys information because you can combine the words and the pictures, and so it’s reading for recipes. You can actually show people, right, we’re adding this. So I’ve been trying to track down some of those.
SHANNON: I have some of yours now. Also, the name of the series is escaping me right now, but it’s a little tiny, pocket-sized guide to cocktails. And it comes out only five or six times a year. It has illustrations. I can’t remember the name.
MAUD: I know the one. I can’t think of it now. They’re based in D.C. It’ll come to me. They are a lot of fun. I sort of think that zines are political by nature — if you’re still here at 3:00, there’s the Black Lives Matter panel and I’m excited for that one. I want to ask you guys what you think would be the drink or food of the coming revolution?
SHANNON: Okay… well, I guess I can go first. So it’s not Soylent Green but similar. It is wheat free, gluten free, all that free, sugar free. It’s free of everything. It’s probably free of flavor. And it may be kind of off white and it come in tablets.
MAUD: Yeah, I can see that.
SHANNON: Maybe based on seaweed.
MAUD: Seaweed is pretty revolutionary.
BILL: I think it’s going to be gin-based just because gin is actually really easy to make and it’s sort of a — if you’re thinking of once we throw off the capitalist oppression in the revolution that’s coming, everyone’s going to be making their liquor in their backyard and gin is one of the things that you can actually make and it’s versatile, so everyone’s going to have their own personal brand. Their own flavors.
MITCHELL: Um, I would say spam musubi.
MITCHELL: It’s basically spam sushi. It’s spam with rice. Probably because I want to eat that right now. But I guess you can take very mundane ingredients like rice and seaweed, spam, and alone they’re pretty boring and not very exciting but you add them together and it’s pretty magical.
MAUD: I was thinking of something like Shannon’s, I was thinking of chia seed pudding because it’s kind of goopy, and kind of space food. Not to rag on chia seeds, it’s delicious. But anyway, that’s all I have. If you have any questions for each other, or if anybody in the audience has anything that they would like to ask.
BILL: I’m actually… so you have very strong themes to your zines and how do you decide, like, what the next theme is going to be?
SHANNON: I mean, it all stems from personal interests on the part of everyone involved in the project. I’m fanatical about fried chicken and I only do it three or four times a year for the holidays with the help of my sister. She’s in charge of brining and I’m in charge of oil and crust. But we try to find an intersection between what we personally really like and feel like we want to spend time investing deeply in and then, also what we can consider to be relevant or interesting, like, as a general public. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like fried chicken.
MITCHELL: The themes for the first two issues are all just things that I’m observing at a restaurant and the day-to-day experiences and all these stories that people have that are not necessarily being told. I think again, at least with this issue, it was really important for us to give the chef at Momo a voice, and to see what other stories were related to that because that was the lived experience, that he was being burned and it hurt and that’s not what you really see, typically. And then this one is just basically a way to ask questions like, “How does it feel to be in the service industry?” “What challenges do you have being a woman behind the bar?” “How does it feel to be trans at a restaurant?” Et cetera, et cetera.
SHANNON: So, Bill, I have a question for you. You talk about digging deep, like, going back, looking at history for your recipes and research. How do you feel inspired by the language in those older books in terms of how they influence, you know, the look of your comics or how they influence their outcome for a project like Florodora? I feel like the writing there was really…
BILL: It’s very fluid, it’s very descriptive and so I’m stealing as much of it as I can. So hang on a sec. Let me find… yeah, so the Florodora cocktail is named after the Florodora girls and they were from the first Broadway show that featured chorus girls and so I went back and I found old photographs and I found photographs of the theater — where they performed, which was the home of “polite gaiety.” I tried to incorporate that into the strip and say, those are the sexy dancing girls with their outfits from 1901. And so I tried to echo those things. Like, I — in the original recipe, where they described the Florodora, they called it “an express trip to Elysium” and so I just put that in quotes. The story is that one of the showgirls was out on the town and she demanded a drink that no one had ever had before because she was only drinking lemonade and her companions were like, drink a real drink. And she was like, as long as you give me something entirely new. And they called the bartender over and he invented the Florodora. But yeah, I’m trying to capture, sort of, the look and the feel of the time.
SHANNON: So how many of those do you have planned or is it just kind of coming together?
BILL: I’m just going to do it as they come.
BILL: I’m tracking down the Brooklyn cocktail now. But the thing that’s going to be the determining factor is, “Is there a good story?” It’s not just, “Do I like this drink?” Because Penicillin was a great drink but it was invented because a guy was like, hey, wouldn’t it be good if we added some Scotch and honey, and it is good, but there’s no story there. So the Brooklyn cocktail is going to be next because of the whole history about using these ingredients that aren’t even around anymore. Although I feel like I’m going to find other stories like — I just found out that there were actually two other Brooklyn cocktails.
SHANNON: There are eight.
BILL: Are there?
SHANNON: There are eight Brooklyn cocktails. I’m working on one.
BILL: So it’s actually called “The Brooklyn Cocktail?”
BILL: All right. So there’s one that I’m going to be talking about, the one with the dry vermouth. And it sort of got forgotten in the ’30s. They said, why isn’t there a Brooklyn cocktail? There’s a Manhattan. And there was a contest. I don’t know why it disappeared and then ten years later, it was like, why isn’t there a Brooklyn cocktail? And this guy put together cider, and absinth.
SHANNON: Edible Brooklyn released something about it a couple years ago, based on Jamaican rum. Maybe you can visit and try it out.
BILL: I need to do more research because I did not know about those.
MAUD: So did any of you guys in the audience have any questions?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: What do you do as far as distribution and who do you see reading your stuff? Does it stay in zines and comic book stores? I would love for them to be able to take your zine to the bar and experience it at the same time but who’s going to be holding and reading it, and where do you see them picking it up?
BILL: Well, my comics are available — they’re in the newspaper for one thing. It appears in the Brooklyn Paper every other week. But like, because it’s reviews, and it’s sort of like a travel guide, they actually have them here at the Brooklyn Historical Society at the gift shop and they’re selling them at By Brooklyn. So it’s not just any comic book. I feel like it has an audience that’s outside of just the typical comic audience, you know, anybody who enjoys drinking is going to pick it up. So I’m trying to get it to places that will appeal to travelers, the City Reliquary, places where tourists are going to go and they will see it.
SHANNON: Same thing here. The inspiration for the Green Zine is Victor Green’s Green Book and this was published from the 1930s to the 1960s, and it was aimed at African-American travelers, listing places where you could stop and get served, or safely stay in a hotel overnight. So that’s where we’re coming from with this. So we’re not looking at so much people who like comics but people that are interested in culture and travel. Nicole Taylor who’s worked on the project is a travel writer and a food journalist and so we’re at Greenlight Bookstore and we’re on Etsy. And we’re trying to find a way to get these to people. But I think it’s mostly for people who A, like food, and B, just like travel journalism.
MITCHELL: Because this was published through Momo, we had a huge stack in front of the restaurant. It was great for people coming in to take one for themselves, something to read while they wait. The audience was obviously chefs and those in the service industry. I did get an e-mail from someone saying that they were really inspired by it and I asked where she worked, which restaurant and she said, oh, I’m not in the service industry. I’m a designer. So there’s no requirement for you to be in food which is nice to hear. But yeah, chefs are definitely the ones who are the most happy at the outset, like yo, bro, this is awesome! Thanks, man!
MAUD: Yeah, I do a terrible job of distributing my zine. I kind of printed out like 25 copies and 20 of them are at my house. It’s a vegan zine, but I would really like people who aren’t vegans to read it. Because I think food is the great equalizer. We all have to eat to survive but I want people to see that vegans, we’re just normal people. It’s sort of more of a personal zine. Like, we have lives outside of finding chia seeds. It’s just sort of talking about food because I like food. Um, I think that’s all.
[ Applause ]
MAUD: Thank you to the Brooklyn Historical society, thanks to you guys, and everybody else who participated.
This text is provided as the byproduct of CART services. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.