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Food For Thought: Sweet Books and some Batter Chatter with Food Illustrator Jesse Breytenbach

What is food, exactly? Nourishment and fuel, to be certain--but as a human race, our relationship with it goes so, so much deeper than that. Sugar in particular can elicit the strangest conflict within us, alternately a BFF, coloring our world in curlicues, hearts and rainbows--or an enemy, eager to pummel us into submission with its intense temptation ("I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"). It can be a strange relationship indeed, and recently we've been impressed by two books in particular which touch on this subject.

The first, which we received as an advance review copy from Crown Press, is The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated Love Affair with our Favorite Treats by Joanne Chen. While we have received advance copies of books in the past which have left us unimpressed, this one caught our attention from the get-go. In the book, Chen goes on the ultimate sweet quest, doing her homework by examining the science of sweet in food labs across the nation--melding this information beautifully with commentary on our more intuitive emotional and cultural reactions to dessert. She also examines dessert trends and what shapes them (um, Oprah?). It's a fascinating read, and is available in all those major book stores now!

The second book which caught our fancy was one passed on by Cake Gumshoe Heather Moore (you may know her from her popular design site Skinny LaMinx): I Don't Like Chocolate by Jesse Breytenbach. The book, which was printed in South Africa but is available online, is a beautifully drawn graphic novel, assembling 90+pages of vignettes which sometimes cheekily but always cleverly address our complex relationship with food. We had the luck of talking sweet with the illustrator herself; here's what she had to say about life, love and sweetness:


Cakespy: First off--we're curious. What did you have for breakfast today?
Jesse Breytenbach: Coffee! I tend to skip breakfast and have something at tea-time, around 10:30, instead, because there’s nothing to eat in the house until I’ve gone to the shops.

CS: You recently released a book entitled I Don't Like Chocolate. Can you tell us a little bit about the book's concept and how it came about?
JB: Michelle Matthews, who was the publishing manager at Oshun Books contacted me out of the blue to ask whether I wanted to do a graphic novel. We knew from the start how long the book would be, so I had to come up with content to fill it. I thought it would be fun to try to do ‘chick-lit’ in comic form, and to produce a book to interest people who don’t normally read comics, particularly as Oshun isn’t a comics publisher. I picked a topic that could provide me with enough material to fill 90+ pages: food. I’ve always been fascinated and amused by people’s strong and emotional reactions to food – I’ve lived in plenty of communes, so I’ve seen a lot….

It’s a book of short stories, based around a central character, and all on the topic of food – her experiences, thoughts and feelings about food. I found eventually that I was writing a book about a person, this central character, finding out more and more about her as I put her in different situations. Sometimes her personality suggested stories as well.


The title came to me quite early on, and I never thought of changing it, because it seemed too good. People react to it with surprise and sometimes horror. It’s quite interesting how anti-social something as trivial as personal taste can be perceived to be. But even with her ‘different’ stance, most readers seem to find some common ground with her.

CS: Are you formally trained in art and/or writing? Or self taught?
JB: I’m trained as a print maker. I started drawing comics during my Fine Art d
egree. Since then I’v
e had a few jobs drawing comic strips, but also carried on doing my own stories in my spare time, never expecting to be published. I contributed to various anthologies, and when I had a number of my own comics drawn, and some spare cash, I printed up 100 copies and gave them away to friends. Michelle saw one of these, I think, and remembered my name when she wanted to publish a graphic novel.


The training came from actually printing the comics, and thus being able to see them at a remove, and immediately seeing all the ways I could improve.

CS: How does it feel to see your own book in bookstore shelves and for sale online?
JB: Very strange. It doesn’t feel like mine, but I do feel proud and excited. It’s like seeing a friend’s book for sale.

CS: What food stories within the book were the most intriguing to work on?
JB: I liked doing the three “I Don’t Like Chocolate” stories in the book, as they’re among the longest. (A lot of the stories are one or two pages long, really just jokes with a punchline.) It was a challenge, but fun as well, to work out the timing of dialogue and have a lot of characters interacting with each other.

CS: Are there any artists or writers in particular who inspire you?
JB: Dan Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Marjane Satrapi in comics. I’m more often inspired by music…. I’ll hear a song and know that I want to draw a comic that does what the song does…. it’s very direct and indirect inspiration at the same time. And it’s not something I’ve ever managed to do, but it’s a starting point.

CS: Are you a full-time writer / illustrator, or do you work a 'day job'?
JB: I’m pretty much a full-time illustrator.

CS: Do you like chocolate?
JB: Ummm…. yes, sort of. I don’t dislike it, but I can leave a slab half-eaten for weeks. There’s some chocolate in my kitchen cupboard that’s probably too old to eat by now.

CS: What is your favorite dessert to eat?
JB: Fruit! Watermelon, peaches, berries… sorbet is good too. And Crème Brulee. And anything with honey. Ok, fruit sorbet with honey.

CS: What is your favorite dessert to draw?
JB: The frillier and fussier, the better. Almost completely the opposite of the kind I like to eat.

CS: How would you describe your personal relationship with dessert?
JB: I like small portions, just a taste, really. Most servings in restaurants are too much for me. But I do like leftover dessert for breakfast. Particularly trifle.

CS: How would you describe your heroine's relationship with dessert?
JB: Embarrassingly similar to mine.

CS: How was the experience of releasing a book different than you might have expected?
JB: It took a lot longer than I thought it would to get the book done, and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be! I didn’t expect to be able to look back and see how much I’d learnt, which is a very pleasant surprise. I got a lot more out of the whole experience than just a book.

CS: Any advice for artists / illustrators who are interested in breaking into the publishing world?
JB: Hard to say, because South Africa doesn’t have a comics publishing industry, so my advice wouldn’t necessarily apply to countries that do. But I think what does work is to do a lot of work, particularly your own work, and contribute to any anthologies, websites etc that you can find. Print your own and give them away if you have to, just to get your work out. The more you do the better you’ll get, and you’ll improve even more if you know that other people are going to see your comics. Just keeping them in a folder under your bed isn’t going to get you work.

CS: What is your next project (or goal, if more applicable)?
JB: Although I said ‘Never Again!’ when I finished the book, I do have some new ideas that might not stop bothering me. But right now I want to spend a bit of time making “I Don’t Like Chocolate” merchandise, using some of the images from the book that were incidental to the stories but could be fun to explore a bit further. I really just want to make some tangible objects for a change. And I realized the limitations of my drawing skills, doing this comic, so I want to spend some time just practicing drawing.

Want to learn more? Check out Jesse's blog at jezzeblog.blogspot.com. Ready to buy? Smart decision. 

Finally, feeling like you'd kill for a cupcake after reading about all this sweetness? Well then, we'll close this post out with one of Head Spy Jessie's recent illustrations, done as a custom commission for a very cool cupcake enthusiast and owner of the website Cupcaketastrophe. Enjoy!

Custom order--crime scene cupcakes




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Reader Comments (34)

Fantastic! Jesse is so talented and her book is well worth having - for foodies and non-foodies alike!

March 25 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Moore

brilliant post, really enjoyed it, thanks!

March 26 | Unregistered Commenterlobstersquad

fruit sorbet with honey as a favorite dessert? small portions/just a taste?? i shudder.

well, i guess that leaves more goodies for me. :)

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterA. Grace

Thanks for bringing us another great interview. I might have to get this book. It looks really cool. And thanks for introducing me to Skinny Laminx. very cool!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterAran

I'm a little way late on this note, but I'm itching for some red velvet after reading your Valentine post from last month. Your comprehensive coverage of red-velvet action was impeccable.

But as a field reporter, I have to make sure you cover Northeast Ohio next time you do a 'round the world. There's a top-notch cupcake shop called http://www.mainstreetcupcakes.com" REL="nofollow">Main Street Cupcakes in Hudson, Ohio. I've had cupcakes at dozens of shops and bakeries around the world and let's just say Main Street takes the cake. And the incredible red velvet is just a drop in the bucket of deliciousness.

Thanks for all the sweet, sweet news!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterGP

too cute, TOO cute! I love the first comic, totally applies to me now. :D It instantly lifts my mood.


March 26 | Unregistered Commentercuriousfoodie

I love illustrations about food! Sometimes I feel they capture the moment more than real pictures.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterVeron

Thank you, thank you, thank you - I love cakespy. This was a fantastic read!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

I have to tell you that I so enjoy the Batter Chatter, not just the interviews, I actually like saying the phrase "Batter Chatter" in my head! I love the custom illustration and the books sound great too! ; )

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterAnali

wow, I have to check this book out! totally up my alley, and excellent interview as always. :D

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterLiz²

Another book to read + Another great illustration = a great day!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterKrysta

Heather: Thank you so much for bringing our attention to her wonderful book!

Lobstersquad: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!

A. Grace: Hey, takes all types to make the world go round. All the more for you and I, my friend!

Aran: Thank you! Her work is very, very cool--and so is Skinny LaMinx! I visit often, always great work there.

GP: Hey, never too late for some Red Velvet love!! Glad you liked the bordering-on-obsession writeup.

and oh my--Can't wait to try Main Street Cupcakes! we've been considering a cross country bakery tour...shhh...

Curious Foodie: Doesn't it? That one just makes me happy.

Veron: Agreed! Plus, it's sweetness sans calories.

Cynthia: Thanks! glad you enjoyed it!

Anali: Thanks! It was Mr. Cakespy's idea ("Batter Chatter"). He instantly said "oh no, that is way too cheesy". Oh, no--just cheesy enough. :-)

Liz: Thanks! And do check it out, it is great work!

Krysta: Thanks! Glad we could bring a little (more) sweetness to your day! xoxo

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

I like what I read! cool!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterBig Boys Oven

great read!!! I love when you feature illustrators and artists...

pop by for my latest work featuring some sweet ladies and their cupcakes...


March 26 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Evans

gorgeous art! and yay comics!

thanks for posting this.

March 26 | Unregistered Commenterren

What great illustrations! The humble human-food relationship constantly impresses me with its never ending complexity. Poor sad cupcakes, whatever led to their demise?

March 26 | Unregistered Commenterchou

I AM the 'Coffee' illustration. Seriously. What a great profile -- thanks for turning me on to her work.

The crime scene cupcakes..... classic.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterEB

So enjoyed reading the interview of someone I have come to know on the net and met in person just a few weeks ago. I have to get a copy of her coffee in the morning illustration!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterFreshly Found

Jessie, thank you! Once again your brilliantly bring to light someone who is so likable & talented (like you!).

xoxox Amy

March 26 | Unregistered Commenterfamiliabencomo

Great post! I wish i had this kind of talent. Very cool! Jessie's illustration is fantastic too. Love it.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterZen Chef

I loved this post!
I found the tea-with-butterflies drawing particularly lovely. Black and White Pop is the best.

More art & illustration please...

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterMary-Laure

I like the name "Batter Chatter". That is genius. I am still concerned about how many marshmallow peeps were injured or maimed in your previous post.

Love the crime scene also......what an imagination. Cupcaketastrophe.....soooo cool. I wish my mind was as clever!

Wow! This book totally excites me. I LOVE comics! Especially this kind, with short 1 or 2 page jokes. This could have to do with me having the attention span of a fish but I'm going to put it down to good taste. The top one has to be my favorite...although I think it needs another panel at the bottom saying "1 hour later" with the girl looking the same as the top panel haha.

Thanks heaps for the shout out too. You are one rad and talented chickadee!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterJade Is Green!

I have jesses' book - and I love it, thanks for the great interview.

March 27 | Unregistered Commenterkat
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