Jarrett Melendez grew up on the mean, deer-infested streets of Bucksport, Maine. A longtime fan of food and cooking, Jarrett has spent a lot of his time in kitchens, oftentimes as a paid professional! Jarrett is a regular contributor to Bon Appetit and Food52, and is the author of The Comic Kitchen, a fully illustrated, comic-style cookbook. When not cooking and writing about food, Jarrett usually writes comic books (like this one, Chef’s Kiss!) and has contributed to the Ringo-nominated All We Ever Wanted, Full Bleed, and Murder Hobo: Chaotic Neutral. He is currently writing a graphic memoir for Oni Press. Jarrett lives in Somerville, MA.
Danica Brine is walking sass in a leather jacket, forged in the icy lands of New Brunswick, Canada. From her waking hours to the moment she slumps over asleep at her desk, Danica can be found with a drawing tool in her hands. Her work has been featured on the covers of Wayward, Elephantmen, Exorsisters, and Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor. She’s also contributed artwork to All We Ever Wanted, featured in the New York Times, and The Comic Kitchen. When not working as a comic artist, she illustrates children’s books for a Canadian French-language publisher. Danica lives in Moncton, NB, Canada, with her husband, Nick, and their shiba inu, Taro.
I had the pleasure of interviewing both Jarrett and Danica, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
JM: Well, I’m 36, a Leo, single, and I write comics and for food media. I love cooking, writing, video games, and, of course, comics. I wrote Chef’s Kiss, and I live in Somerville, MA with a collection of Monokuro Boo plush pigs.
DB: Thank you! I’m Danica, the illustrator for Chef’s Kiss. I’m a freelance artist living in New Brunswick, Canada with my partner Nick and shiba inu, Taro. Other than drawing I love long walks in the woods and playing too much Animal Crossing.
Where did the impetus for Chef’s Kiss come from and how did the two of you get paired together for this project?
JM: Danica and I had been friends for about four years when we decided to collaborate on this book. We’d been talking about trying our hands at making comics and sharing a ton of interests, like BL manga and anime, food, beautiful men—all the best things. At the time, you didn’t see a ton of queer romance in western comics, and we wanted to change that.
DB: Jarrett and I have been friends for almost a decade now, and we’ve always wanted to collaborate on something together. Chef’s Kiss came from Jarrett watching me draw cute boys for commissions at conventions and him saying, “hey, I should write a comic and you should draw it”. Chef’s Kiss was the result of a faithful meeting at a Boston Comic Con years back.
How did you get into writing/ illustrating? Were there any books/stories growing up that made you think “I want to do this myself one day”?
JM: I’ve been writing stories since I was a little kid. English was always my strongest subject in school, but it wasn’t something I saw myself doing as a grown up. It wasn’t until I was in college and read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami that I started considering writing as a career. I think that was the first book that made me cry, and all that raw emotion rekindled my love of writing.
DB: I’ve loved drawing ever since I can remember. My favourite thing of all time as a kid was colouring books! Growing up in a bilingual community, I was exposed to French bandes dessinées (comics) like TinTin, Spirou and Astérix & Obélix as well as French translated manga. I always loved Disney movies too, and thought of pursuing animation. When I finally attended animation college, that’s where I discovered I wanted to draw comics! My partner Nick, who is also a comic illustrator, has also been a strong influence on me getting into drawing comics professionally.
Were there any queer narratives growing up that stuck out to you and/or left an impression?
JM: Gosh, not really. It wasn’t really common to see queer folks in mainstream media when I was little unless it was mired in tragedy, like the film Philadelphia. Apart from that, stuff like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk were probably the first overtly queer pieces of media I was exposed to and, honestly, had the biggest impact in terms of making me realize it was okay to be queer.
DB: As a hetero female, I never thought of seeking out queer narratives in particular. I think being exposed to things like manga, I just love the thought of beautifully drawn male characters? Maybe it all spun from that?
Cooking and writing about cooking can be two very different things. What’s the appeal of both to you and what drew you to them?
JM: I love cooking for loved ones, and I love getting people excited about the things I love so, for me, the two go hand in hand. Writing about cooking gives me the chance to get others excited about cooking, whether it’s a recipe I’ve developed, or a piece of kitchen equipment I particularly love using. When I’m really in a groove in the kitchen, I lose myself in the process. I can hyper fixate on things sometimes, like a particular food craving. This one time I had a huge craving for meatball subs, but none of the spots near me were quite right, so they couldn’t satisfy the craving. So I spent 12 hours making rolls, slow cooking sauce in the oven, and roasting meatballs, then braising them in that sauce to make, for me, the absolute perfect meatball sub. And I’d do it again.
How did you come to find yourself becoming an illustrator and could you describe your artistic background for us?
DB: I’ve always been drawing. In high school, I took a fine arts mail correspondence course and the same time. In my 20’s it took me going to college for animation to figure out I wanted to draw comics, so here I am today in my 30’s doing what I love best! Through the years, I’ve work for several indie publishing companies in the US, Canada and France as well as illustrated children’s books for a small publisher local to me. Chef’s Kiss is my first fully published graphic novel.
I’m very curious to know where the pig character comes from? Was there a real life inspiration for Watson the pig?
JM: I’m just obsessed with pigs! I think they’re super cute. There sort of is a real life inspiration, actually! So, all of the plush pigs in my collection have names, and one of my favorites is named Watson.
DB: Pigs are Jarrett’s favourite animals. Dogs are mine (but I love baby boars too!). We knew we wanted Watson to not be your average pig…I drew him to look like a pig and act a bit like a pet dog. We both wanted to make him win every reader’s heart. I hope we’re successful!
How would you describe your writing/ illustrating process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?
JM: It’s a lot of staring into the middle distance thinking about characters, settings, action and dialogue. Just a lot of daydreaming, almost. Once I have a good framework for a story, it becomes very mechanical: outline, page breakdowns (deciding the key moment for each page, and how many panels it’ll take to get there), then scripting the action, followed by dialogue. My favorite parts are the sitting and staring—it’s very nostalgic, like being a kid trying to cook up the next scenario in your game of pretend—and then the dialogue.
DB: I love being able to tell a story using pictures in harmony with the script. My favourite part of the process has to be inking. Storyboarding and pencilling takes a lot of concentration. Inking is so relaxing, you’re just following your lines and filling in your blacks. I love watching repeats of shows like The Office when I ink.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
JM: Is that full head of salt and pepper, daddylicious hair natural? Why, yes. Yes, it is.
DB: Bagels with butter and cream cheese? Or just cream cheese? The right answer is the first one.
JM: Also, Danica is 100% correct: butter, then cream cheese.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?
JM: Say yes to things, take chances, and don’t wait to try and publish your work, whether its a webcomic, self-publishing, or pitching to publishers. The first thing you create and put out into the world is not going to be your best work, and you can’t be afraid of that.
DB: 1.) Either it’s drawing, writing, creating music..If you love it, do it. 2.) Try not to let the number of followers on social media dictate what is success. I’ve noticed this trend for the last while and it can destroy you as an artist. 3.) Nothing is simply handed over either, you need to put in the mileage.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
JM: Yes! Danica and I are currently developing a post-apocalyptic Mexican fantasy graphic novel, and I just turned in a script for my graphic memoir. I have about six different projects in various stages of development, all coming out over the next few years. Buckle up!
DB: Other than being quite busy with a backlog of commissions, Jarrett and I are starting development this year on a new graphic novel featuring Mexican folklore and adventure!
Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ books/comics you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
JM: Commanders in Crisis by Steve Orlando and Davide Tinto is a great superhero book, but I’m also a huge fan of Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, and Heartstopper by Alice Oseman—both are super wholesome queer romance graphic novel series. I’m also a very big fan of Casey McQuiston’s books—Red, White and Royal Blue made me cry like a gigantic baby, and I loved every second of it. Horror fans should also peep Orlando’s Party and Prey, which he co-wrote with Steve Foxe, with art by Alex Sanchez.
DB: Since I’m always so busy drawing, I rarely get a chance to sit down and read something other than for research…All I know is that there should be more books out there with content catered to the LGBTQ+ community! Especially for younger readers that are looking to identify with characters in those stories 🙂