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Sitting down to MISE EN PLACE with Matt Carr

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Comic Book Yeti: Thanks for joining us today, Matt. How is everything going back in California?

Matt Carr: Thank you for having me! California is great. Just drinking too much coffee, not enough water, and trying to avoid cooking myself under this hot summer sun.

CBY: Ah, yes, stay hydrated out there! So I’ve read your short comic, Out of Touch, a poignant inclusion in The BeBop #2 from Bird’s Eye Comics, which I covered last October. Your short, Coffee Shark, your recently concluded Kickstarter campaign for Foxes at Work, and MISE EN PLACE are grounded in the food & beverage industry, in which you have ample experience. What do you find most readily translates from the culinary to comics, and what led to the transition in attention towards comics from running a bakery & cafe?

MC: I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working in foodservice, so it’s a ripe space to pull from creatively. When you cram people shoulder to shoulder behind counters and in small kitchens for 8-10 hours at a time, shenanigans ensue. Plus, it’s relatable: everyone eats!

I worked in journalism in my early twenties and thought I might one day write a few stories about my restaurant industry experiences. I naively thought I’d write my own Kitchen Confidential. But when the pandemic hit, I became obsessed with the nuts and bolts of crafting comics – a medium I’ve consumed avidly since childhood – and realized comics are really the perfect storytelling medium for my very neurodivergent brain.

Though they aren’t as well known as Kitchen Confidential, I later learned Anthony Bourdain wrote several comic books, including Get Jiro and the anthology Hungry Ghosts, which features a story with my favorite horror artist, Francesco Francavilla.

CBY: Yes, Covid-19 very much led to the same impulse in me. I'll have to give Bourdain's comics a closer look sometime soon. But now, let’s turn to the title - MISE EN PLACE, which is a crucial concept in culinary presentation (in which you’re well-acquainted), meaning “everything in place.” You’ve elected to name your protagonist Mise, so it has an eponymous quality, as well. I often think of mise en place as a concept applied to the front-of-house in the food & beverage industry, but your story focuses more on what happens in the back-of-house. Can you share with our readers the inspiration for the title without giving too much away?

MC: Here’s a fun Julia Child quote I wanted to put in the book, but didn’t have space for: “Professional chefs whip up in minutes what would take you hours to prepare at home. Really, it's not magic—just mise en place.”

“Mise en place” is the prep work a cook performs before service. That could be chopping herbs, mincing garlic, sharpening your knife — whatever you need to perform when service starts. I love pulpy fiction, especially when you get over-the-top literal names like Doctor Doom or Sheriff Justice. That’s how I landed on naming the protagonist Mise, who is literally prepping for her revenge in the kitchen.

CBY: The core conceit of MISE EN PLACE is, in nature, a scenario in which humans have expanded beyond planetary boundaries in their consumption, avoiding a Malthusian trap at the expense of not only extraterrestrial life, but sentient alien life. As consumption-oriented as our society is, in your worldbuilding process, what leaps would it take for the worst of humanity to supersede the better impulses of our species to reach out and connect with other self-aware species upon their discovery? Have you diagrammed out what is entailed in the slippery slope towards rationalizing the consumption of aliens within the world of MISE EN PLACE?

MC: While space travel may not necessarily be realistic at this point, I think the leap is otherwise a logical one. Considering humanity’s greed and rampant consumerism, why would we assume it would be limited to our planet if we found alien life? Factory farming in the US is barbaric and horrific right now. There’s an anecdotal study in the beginning of the comic that discusses how fish feel pain. Obviously, cows, pigs, and chickens all feel pain too. And at the worst farms in this country – humongous, industrial complexes where animals never ever see the light of day, never get to run in a field or breathe fresh air — they are being tortured en masse.

There are ways to sustainably and ethically operate farms with animals. I’m not a strict vegan — I will eat my kid’s leftover chicken nuggets because I hate food waste! But humans as a whole have largely disconnected ourselves from where our food comes from. Animals are cleanly packaged into products at the grocery store, so we don’t have to think about where they come from or the violent act that puts them on our plate. Sadly, water and food shortages are an inevitable part of humanity’s future if we don’t curb population growth, create more sustainable farming practices, and make enormous changes to protect the environment.

At its most simplistic core, I just wanted the reader to imagine if the cheeseburger on your plate had a voice and feelings — and then imagine it running around looking for revenge!

CBY: Both factory farming and food waste are enormous ethical and resource governance issues, though that is a broader conversation for a separate interview, I'd say. Having discussed some of the background involved in setting the stage for MISE EN PLACE, I notice CEX Comics has it listed as a one-shot. Does this world have a broader future in which you’ve been writing other stories? Without spoiling anything, should we expect to see further exploration of these characters or resolution of the overarching conflicts mentioned?

MC: There are no plans to write more stories in this world, but I would certainly jump at the opportunity to do so! I’d love to explore the class disparity in this universe: what are the humans eating that can’t afford to eat the alien meat? Maybe the poor create an alliance with alien refugees and there’s a vegan uprising?! I started this book as a vegan propaganda exercise, so I’d love to push more into the violent and satirical side of things. Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers and Robocop were big touchstones for me growing up.

CBY: I hope the response to this title merits a return to the world you're building, and you've definitely brought a satirical edge to addressing human aggression that Verhoeven added heavily to the Starship Troopers film, in a very different direction from Heinlein's novel. Turning from narrative focus to the visual style, can you tell us a bit about how you formed your collaboration with Lane Lloyd? Lane has a distinct sepia-tinted, washed-out cel-shading take on coloring, and the line quality evokes animation work from the likes of Genndy Tartakovsky. How did you two meet up and decide on the right approach to bring this story to life?

MC: Okay, a silly metaphor, but I really love combining contrasting flavors when cooking: sweet and spicy or sweet and savory. While there are some jokes in my script, it’s a dark and disturbing concept, so I feel really fortunate to have crossed paths with Lane Lloyd. Writer Paul Allor (go read their queer horror story, Hollow Heart, via Vault Comics immediately) edited the book and introduced me to Lane. Lane has an incredibly distinctive, sassy, and vibrant voice as a cartoonist. They draw like no one else on the planet and bring SO much levity and personality to every single page that balances out the darkness of the story. They’re a really sensitive, thoughtful, and awesome person that elevates the comic to its mischievous, pulpy core. Lane is absolutely the star of the book.

CBY: I'm sure readers will enjoy the Hollow Heart recommendation! You also pulled in Nicole Goux for some brilliant cover art. Her experience with DC on Shadow of the Batgirl is certainly thematically relevant to the content of MISE EN PLACE, but I’m keen to hear - how did you bring her into the conversation and end up solidifying her role as primary cover artist for this book?

MC: Nicole is maybe my very favorite comic artist in the world. Like Lane, she has an instantaneously recognizable style. Fuck Off Squad, Everyone Is Tulip, and the Forest Hill Bootleg Society are, in my opinion, some of the very best examples of how contemporary comics are pushing the boundaries of the medium into the future. I had no idea if Nicole would take the gig — she was my first and only choice for the cover — so I’m very thankful for her time and stunning work. She’s a super kind person and consummate professional.

CBY: On the topic of creating the necessary relationships to bring this title to the public, can you tell us a bit about how you ended up publishing through CEX Comics? I’m sure readers would be keen to learn a bit about what goes into getting a one-shot like this into the world. How did that conversation arise, and as they push both print and digital comics to market, what discussion arose around format and print run for the book?

MC: Running a restaurant during the peak of the pandemic was insanely stressful. Like everyone else, I was having an existential crisis and wanted a creative outlet for all of my anxiety and depression. I started looking online for comic book classes and stumbled onto Comics Experience. Their Intro To Writing Comics class really opened up a whole new world to me. It was my “how the sausage is made” comics moment: a weekly online course I could do after work, after my kid went to bed, that left no stone unturned in the production of comic books.

Then Andy Schmidt, the founder of the school, started his own imprint in 2021, CEX Publishing, to in part give some of the school’s burgeoning talent a shot at publishing. I submitted a one-shot, because I knew that format was my best chance at being accepted (no one is giving an unknown quantity like myself a mini-series), and I’m incredibly thankful the team at CEX believed in my bat-shit crazy story.

CBY: I mentioned at the outset your project, Foxes at Work. Would you like to detail a bit more what readers can expect of this project, and any future comic projects you have in queue for production/release after it hits the market?

MC: I ran a cafe and bakery in DC for 10 years called Little Red Fox. We closed down in December of 2022 for personal reasons. In April, my partner and I ran a Kickstarter for a cookbook called Foxes At Work that will include recipes from the store interspersed with all ages comic strips. The comics will detail some of the day-to-day quirks of running a small foodservice business. Imagine a PG version of Clerks where everyone is an animal.

The Kickstarter was a huge success thanks to our store’s extremely dedicated customer base. We’re just about finished with the recipe portion of the book and are now working on the comics, which I’m drawing and writing with my partner. It’s an enormous creative challenge. I am not a professional artist, so I am incredibly slow!

CBY: I've been helping my wife with her food-based business for years, and worked at a variety of restaurants, so I am a huge proponent of the interplay between food and art, and it's exciting to see what you're cooking up. We’ve talked about the culinary linkages inspiring MISE EN PLACE and your other work. Would you like to detail some of your creative inspirations as a writer and comic creator? What did you grow up reading and enjoying that lends to your overall approach to the medium and your broader aesthetic proclivities?

MC: I love artists that really put the “cartoon” in “cartoonist.” Like Lane and Nicole, folks with extremely distinctive styles and views of the world: Andrew MacLean, Alexis Ziritt, Elsa Charretier, Benji Nate and Michael Sweater are my heroes. Head Lopper is maybe my favorite comic series of all time. Michael Sweater is probably my number one though. I have two of his drawings as tattoos: a goofy slacker Garfield sleeping in a rose and an over-caffeinated dog with a crown drinking coffee.

CBY: We always like to provide our readers with new recommendations, so beyond MISE EN PLACE, can you share some comics, films, television, books, music, etc. you’ve been getting into lately that you think people should make sure they don’t miss?

MC: Let’s keep this foodservice focused! Watch the scathing horror satire The Menu and the series The Bear, which is the most realistic portrayal of a working kitchen I’ve ever seen on screen (please hire me to write on Season 3!). Read John Allison’s murder mystery riff on The Great British Bake Off called The Great British Bump Off, which is enormous fun. For music, Bleached is my favorite band of all time: the comics angle is they played the trade paperback release of Patton Oswalt’s Minor Threats and the food angle is the absolute jam, “Sour Candy.”

CBY: Thanks for all the recommendations! The Bear was the only thing already on my watchlist (my wife has watched all of it without me already!) Matt, thank you for sharing insight into your process with Mise en Place. Please include any links you'd like our readers to check out!

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