On Friday, January 13, the Ladies Night group, who meet monthly at Graham Crackers Comics in Chicago, released the fourth volume of their comics anthology. Group leader and editor in chief Megan Byrd (who is also a comics blogger at Comic Book Candy), curated nine vibrant stories that fill more than 60 pages of comics written and illustrated by more than a dozen female creators, many of whom attend the monthly meetings at Graham Crackers Comics. Past anthologies were themed Chicago, Death and Prom, and How to Magic. The new volume is titled Eat It Up and is themed around food, but more specifically, as the introduction points out, hunger.
Anthology cover by Jenn St-Onge
The anthology explores hunger in different ways, always using edibles as a conduit. However, hunger can be related to a desire to connect with others, and connection is a persistent and resonant theme here. The book starts out strong with a short tale called "Affectionate Confection" about a young woman in college who seeks a connection with another young woman, and decides to let her baking speak for her. The unabashedly queer story moves elegantly through the protagonist's thought process, visiting her memories with her grandma when she was a child, and is presented with beautiful illustrations and hand lettering by Dani Knight. The warmth of the story comes through in Knight's carefully chosen color palette. It's a lovely short story that will stay in my memory, and recalls the courtship between Willow and Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Writer Rachel Simon brings her own unique quality to a simple tale of a growing affection between two people, and how taking risks and evolving from new knowledge can foster that connection.
A page from "Affectionate Confection" by Rachel Simon and Dani Knight
There are a lot of funny stories in the anthology, including one where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches become the latest craze in Istanbul, which is done in an exuberant manga style. Another one is a light and charming tale about battling monsters with baked goods. The grey and pink hues of Brittany Peer's coloring is striking. The story "Ophelia" concerns a captive octopus who connects with two scientists over Swedish fish. The story cleverly switches perspective between the head researcher, and the octopus herself.
A page from "The Croissant" by Yee Wai and Al Rosenberg
Besides the first story, there is one other queer tale concerning two women, "The Croisssant." One woman, Al, is struggling with illness and has doctor's orders to watch her diet. Her girlfriend can eat whatever she chooses, but also tries to be sensitive to her partner. The tale is darkly comedic and wrestles with a grim topic: immediate satisfaction vs. mortality. It has a satisfyingly morbid-yet-affirming ending while also having some of the most lush illustrations of the book. The illustration of food and the panel structures are gorgeous and the attention to detail Yee Wai brings to her work is impressive.
A page from "A Story About Yakitori" by Becca Hilburn and E*phi
Eat It Up is uniformly excellent with professional level work in every detail from writing to art to layout. I read a digital copy, but I'm certain the print edition looks even more whimsical and exciting. The concluding stories of the volume were not my favorites, but the level of art in two "Patriarchy and the Chocolate Factory" (a fun spoof on Willy Wonka), and "Unexpected Blend" (a psychedelic tale of tea people that was a little hard to figure out), is amazing. "Unexpected Blend" is especially unique with its oozing texture and mixture of saturated jewel tones. I would love to see more work from artist Ashley Ribblett. The concluding story, "A Story About Yakitori," is cute, and includes two girls on a brief tour of Tokyo's food scene. It lacks the energy and immediacy of the rest of the stories, but is a pleasant tale of two lovely young women (are they girlfriends? it's ambiguous) bonding over yakitori and other delightful Japanese delicacies. True to the qualities of the book, the quality of work is simple, warm, and lovely, and serves its brief five-page format well. Overall, Ladies Night Anthology: Eat It Up is highly recommended, and incredibly affordable at $9.99 here.