“Which do you want to taste first—the mealworm or the cricket?”
Those were Blue Delliquanti’s first words to me as she held out a tray piled high with chocolate-coated insects. Blue and I met up while she was an artist in residence with the Serenbe Institute near Atlanta, where she spent time working on a graphic novel about, yep, eating bugs.
Blue is a Minneapolis-based designer, artist and illustrator. She’s the creator of the webcomic O Human Star, a science-fiction family drama. Meal, her soon-to-be-released graphic novel, stars a chef on a quest to persuade people—including her girlfriend—to eat a wide variety of insects.
So after munching on a few bugs, Blue and I sat down to talk about her creative process and her book:
Blue, how did you get introduced to insect cuisine?
I graduated from Franklin College Switzerland in 2011, and during my time there I traveled quite a bit. While visiting Thailand, I was invited to help prepare a special dinner of fried crickets. We collected them in fields on the outskirts of town using a solar-powered light. It was a fun, mass-participation event, and the resulting meal was delicious. I never forgot it.
And that started you down the road of eating bugs?
After the Thai experience, I maintained what I then thought was a casual interest in how people eat insects around the world. I eventually ordered a few products from a business called Don Bugito, which cultivates mealworms and crickets as a component of “Pre-Hispanic” Latin cuisine. I made a pretty good mealworm curry, and things took off from there.
Why is the graphic novel a good vehicle for this topic?
The graphic novel format is an excellent way to add life to instruction guides and personal stories about food. The visual element makes it great for introducing esoteric topics.
A good example is The Drops of God, a comic written by two Japanese oenophiles, Yuko and Shin Kibayashi. Their rollicking story introduced the joys of wine to a Japanese audience that wasn’t as familiar with wine as perhaps a Western audience might be. The graphic novel format let them describe a person sipping a particular wine by dropping the character into a lovingly illustrated field of flowers.
Tell us about your story’s main character.
She is Yarrow McMurray, an enthusiastic young woman who loves sharing her passion for insect cuisine. The story follows her quest to get hired at a restaurant that features insect dishes as she cultivates a circle of equally eccentric friends.
What’s your approach for illustrating the book?
Since this is a book about food, the dishes and ingredients must look spectacular. I’ve been practicing drawing still lifes so I can understand how to make food look warm or glistening or creamy.
And I want to draw insects—the stars of my show—exactly as they are. Insects are a natural component of our world and of the diets of most countries. By depicting them accurately, I hope readers will better understand the role they play in the book and in our food chain.
Above and below: pages from Delliquanti’s web comic, O Human Star
What lessons can designers learn about storytelling from graphic novels?
Because storytelling in graphic novels is visual, every detail the cartoonist chooses must have purpose. Graphic novel readers develop an eye for details. If the artist draws a bustling city street, readers want to know what the people who share the main character’s city look like. If the artist draws two characters sharing a panel, but no dialogue is spoken, readers look to see the importance of that moment.
Briefly describe your process.
For most big projects—like Meal and my serialized webcomic O Human Star – my process is almost entirely digital. The only exception is the scripting phase. I’ll figure out the structure of each page – panels, images, dialogue—by sketching out thumbnails. I do these in a sketchbook, and then scan them into my computer.
From there, I clarify each thumbnail by redrawing it in the pencils stage and finalizing it in the inking stage. I then add colors, tones, text and speech balloons, all digitally in Photoshop. This process gives me the most freedom to experiment and shift things around.
For shorter projects, however, I still use traditional pen and ink to stay in practice.
“We Belong Here”
Name a few illustrators who inspire you.
I also really love the comics of Der-Shing Helmer and Mildred Louis—they both write compelling stories and are great at making their characters act. And I love cartoonists like Jeremy Sorese and Michael Deforge, who draw things in such unique ways and structure their pages so deliberately. I know I’ll never be bored studying their work.
“Anaander Mianaai,” inspired by Ann Leckie’s book Ancillary Justice
What are other go-to sources for creative inspiration?
Aside from cooking, I like walks or bike rides and visiting places I’ve never been before. I always have a small sketchbook just in case I notice something while people-watching or meandering around a park. I also like listening to music and podcasts, and then drawing things based on what I’ve listened to.
page from Delliquanti’s web comic, O Human Star
What advice do you have for a younger designer who is interested in pursuing graphic novels and comics?
Read everything—fiction, non-fiction, comics, poetry, prose. Study films and paintings to understand how and why filmmakers and painters make their artistic choices.
And learn all the different ways people create comics. Are they going for cinematic and immersive experiences that make you forget you’re reading a comic? Or are they drawing attention to the mechanics of comic, like panels and speech balloons? How does this affect the story they’re trying to tell? It helps to really examine storytelling devices and visual choices made by masters of their craft.
Looking to start your own creative business? Get ahead with HOWU’s online workshop, Getting Down to Business: 8 Action Planning Steps for Creative Freelancers.