It Doesn't Get Much Sweeter Than This – An Interview with VICTORIA GRACE ELLIOTT
COMIC BOOK YETI: Thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to talk about YUMMY: A History of Desserts. I thought it was appropriate to make some of my grandmother’s famous rice pudding. I like mine with raisins in it and nutmeg sprinkled on top. I just adored YUMMY! I can’t wait for my daughter Charlotte, she’s 9, to read it so we can talk about it. Also, her middle name is Peri so I think she has an extra reason to love it.
First though, how have you been doing?
VICTORIA GRACE ELLIOTT: Oh, thank you so much!! I’ve been doing great. The rice pudding sounds delicious–my partner really, really loves rice pudding with cinnamon on top. I really hope Charlotte likes the book and Peri, especially since she shares a name!
CBY: What is your comics origin story? Have you read comics since you were a kid or did you come to comics later? And what influenced you to create your own comics?
VGE: Yeah, I’ve been reading comics since I was really little. Everything from Garfield to my dad’s '70s Conan the Barbarian collection to all the manga I could find at various bookstores.
Especially early on, I just read whatever I could find!
I first started making fan comics based off various video games. Friends and I would play pretend in games or on the playground or in the neighborhood, and my earliest stories and comics were basically the editorialized versions of the stories we came up with, haha. I don’t know what it was about comics that stuck out to me in particular, but I come from a family that really loves storytelling, writing, and art. Combining visuals and narrative always made the most sense to me, be it in comics, television, or movies. I guess since comics were the easiest for me to make on my own, that’s what I pursued.
"...I wanted narrators who were small and made the desserts seem BIG. The sprites became a way to embody that cuteness and humor I’d been looking for. "
CBY: YUMMY is your debut graphic novel. You are also the creator of the webcomic Balderdash! or, a tale of two witches. How long was the process of writing and drawing YUMMY from conception to final draft and what made you want to write about the history of desserts?
VGE: Oh, this is a great question!
YUMMY is very different from balderdash!, so it was an adjustment, but I also had to hit the ground running because graphic novel deadlines are incredibly tight. I scheduled in about a month for research and outlining, then somewhere around 3-4 months to actually write and rough out the book–so sketching layouts and writing at the same time, which is just how my brain works best.
And I can’t remember the exact amount of time the final inks and colors took, but that’s always the biggest part. I believe that part took around a year or so.
I’ve always loved the process of making food and trying to understand it, which is why balderdash! featured a character who loves baking, and I’d slowly been creating a lot of project ideas that were focused on desserts or other sweets. After several years of working on balderdash! in my free time, I reached a personal crossroads of sorts.
At that time, Gina Gagliano, who started the Random House Graphic imprint, invited me to pitch for the new imprint. I wasn’t sure which of my project ideas I should pitch. My agent, Steven Salpeter, had a meeting with Gina at an ice cream shop from what I remember! They talked over her ideas for the imprint, and she was interested in a food history book. As soon as Steven told me, it just felt right. I really, really wanted to pursue making a comic full-time, so I put a lot of effort into brainstorming a food history comic I’d love to make. That’s how YUMMY came to be!
"For more in-depth history, books like those by Michael Krondl and Elizabeth David as mentioned in the bibliography gave me a LOT to work from. Then, as I wanted to flesh it out with history further back or more recently across the rest of the world, I’d go back to more surface-level encyclopedic knowledge."
CBY: Peri is the food sprite that leads the reader through the history of ice cream, cake, and pie and, along the way, there is storytime, interviews with historical figures, and a science lab. I’m sure there are many different ways this story could have been told, but the way you did it was informative and fun. How did you settle on this format for YUMMY?
VGE: There were a lot of ideas I had for how to present the book. I’d thought, “could it be a grandmother sharing this knowledge with her granddaughter?” but on some level, that seemed a little dry. Another one I’d considered was having historical figures speak to the reader, but that felt disingenuous to present as though it were cold hard fact. I grew up with Bill Nye, for example, and there’s a warmth and humor to that kind of presentation that always made watching his show fun, rather than annoying.
I’ve always loved really cute, small characters like Sanrio’s Hello Kitty since I was young. And Sanrio illustrations had been a big inspiration for my cuter art up to that point. So when it came to presenting desserts, I wanted narrators who were small and made the desserts seem BIG. The sprites became a way to embody that cuteness and humor I’d been looking for. And I found good ways to incorporate my initial idea of interviewing historical figures, but I was able to distance it a bit from real history by having one of the sprites play-act as them for a fake talk show interview.
And just naturally from the research, and what I was interested in, is how you get the Story Time sections about legends and the Science Lab sections about the science behind certain desserts. The book is about history as much as it’s about thinking about history, so it was a balancing act making sure it was funny, informative, and genuine!
CBY: Can you tell me how long have you been drawing and how you developed your style? How do you create your art as a cartoonist and illustrator?
"I’m almost right there with you on ice cream, but I love anything with cookie dough in it the most. My favorite pie is the egg tart, my favorite cake is a whipped cream cake with fresh fruit, and my favorite cookie is probably an oatmeal scotchie, which is just oatmeal raisin but with butterscotch chips rather than raisins."
VGE: As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been drawing since I was really young. My style has gone through so many different phases, and especially when I was younger, I’d copy my favorite aspects of styles from others, then slowly start putting my own spin on them. I’ve drawn from anything from '80s manga to indie Drawn & Quarterly works to Ghibli house style at various points in my life.
I feel like now, I have a few different branches of styles–my cuter art like YUMMY, my more painterly style like you see in the Story Times or my webcomic balderdash!, and my more “realistic” manga-inspired style that came from wanting to draw heartthrobs, haha. I guess style is more-or-less a tool for me to evoke something in particular. So if I want something adorable, I use a cuter style. Stuff like that.
I work mostly digitally these days, and YUMMY was made entirely in Procreate and Photoshop. Sometimes, if I’m having a hard time sketching something out digitally, I’ll sketch it on plain printer paper, take a picture of it with my phone, then tweak it on my computer or iPad. As nice as digital can be, sometimes I need to see the physical space I’m drawing on.
CBY: What was your research process like for YUMMY? Was it difficult to track down the history of cookies going back a couple thousand years?
VGE: My research process was really based on what resources I had through my local library and the great books I found and bought online. One of the biggest tentpoles were the Oxford encyclopedias on food & desserts, which gave me some good basic information that I could dig into using other sources. For more in-depth history, books like those by Michael Krondl and Elizabeth David as mentioned in the bibliography gave me a LOT to work from. Then, as I wanted to flesh it out with history further back or more recently across the rest of the world, I’d go back to more surface-level encyclopedic knowledge.
I have a whole notebook full of my notes from all the things I read. Cookie history was one of the harder ones to pin down, since cookies are relatively easy to make and have so many different forms. But, when researching, I just kept trying to find the history of various ingredients and whatever cookies I could think of. Inevitably, I’d find references to other cookies, and so I’d look those up and just keep digging and digging, until I felt satisfied.
By the time I came to writing an outline, I could go through my own notes and organize them in roughly chronological order. If I had enough to work from, that part came together pretty easily!
CBY: Were there any historical facts that you learned in your research that you wanted to include but were cut for one reason or another, whether they were too dark or didn’t fit with the rest of the material?
VGE: Oh, yeah, there were tons! I don’t think anything was too dark, per se, since it was important to me to find a way to discuss those parts of history. Rather, a lot of desserts just didn’t end up meshing with the theme I was going for, or I simply ran out of space. I had wanted to discuss how strawberry shortcake is so different in America versus in Japan, for example, or wanted to highlight other regional sweets like gooey butter cake and ambrosia salad. And even though I’m drawing a lot of iced donuts with sprinkles, even those aren’t actually mentioned in the Donut chapter! For many, there was either too little or too much information, and I just had limited space.
Fortunately, some of these–gooey butter cake and ambrosia salad–make an appearance in the follow-up book, YUMMY: A History of Tasty Experiments, where they get a proper spread!
CBY: I’m someone that is very excited by food, going out to eat, trying new things. Beyond desserts, are you someone that gets excited by food? You’re in Austin, Texas, a city that I’ve never been to but it’s on my list because of places like Franklin Barbecue and other brisket joints. What are some of your non-dessert favorites?
VGE: I LOVE food. Through the pandemic, we were really adamant about supporting our favorite restaurants in Austin. It’s become the main highlight of the week. I mean, that was true before when we could go out to eat more easily, too, but it’s been especially true over the past two years!
I do love barbecue, but–I know this is controversial in Texas–I prefer pork ribs and lots of sauce! My latest savory favorites have to be tteokbokki with mozzarella or a Neapolitan-style pizza with really spicy pickled peppers, both with a big cold glass of beer. One of my favorite restaurants in town, which closed a few years ago sadly, made the most delicious pimento cheese sandwich. I miss that sandwich so much!
CBY: Throughout YUMMY there are a few recipes that readers both young and older can try. Are you a baker or do you enjoy baking? If so, do you have a go-to dessert that you enjoy baking?
VGE: I do love baking. I wouldn’t call myself a baker because I’m only good with simple recipes, but I love making drop cookies the most. They’re the easiest for me and they last so long! My favorites to bake are oatmeal scotchies and double chocolate chip cookies.
CBY: At the very end of YUMMY, Peri, Fee, and Fada list their favorites and I think it’s only fair to ask you your favorite ice cream, favorite cake, favorite pie, and favorite cookie? If it helps I can go first. I also think it’s really fun. My favorite ice cream is Cookies and Cream, my favorite pie is Dutch Apple Crumb from Linvilla Orchards in Media, PA, my favorite cake is a yellow box cake with chocolate icing, and my favorite cookie is oatmeal raisin.
VGE: Yess!! Thank you for telling me! This is exactly what I want to hear after people read the book, haha. I’m almost right there with you on ice cream, but I love anything with cookie dough in it the most. My favorite pie is the egg tart, my favorite cake is a whipped cream cake with fresh fruit, and my favorite cookie is probably an oatmeal scotchie, which is just oatmeal raisin but with butterscotch chips rather than raisins.
CBY: What is your all-time favorite dessert?
VGE: It’s so funny, because I never talk about it in the book, but it’s probably creme brûlée! The combo of bitter sugar and rich custard is perfect in taste and texture. Anything with custard is at the top of my list, really. I also love chocolate mousse. So good.
CBY: The question I ask everyone, if you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 comics would you want to make absolutely sure are included?
VGE: This is such a good question!! Probably Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa, Kakukaku Shikajika by Akiko Higashimura, and Otherworld Barbara by Moto Hagio. To me these are three comics masters, and these favorite works of theirs just tear my heart out.
CBY: What else are you working on that CBY readers can check out?
VGE: I’m currently finishing up the second YUMMY installment, as I mentioned earlier. YUMMY: A History of Tasty Experiments will be available sometime in 2023 from RHG!
CBY: Where can you be found online?
VGE: I’m @fridayafternoon on twitter and instagram, and my portfolio is vgeportfolio.com.
CBY: Victoria, thank you so much for joining me for this interview and I cannot wait to share YUMMY: A History of Desserts with my family and friends.
VGE: Thank you so much for having me!! I hope everyone enjoys!