Foodie Art On Tour: Talking Kitchen Table Magazine With Brett Warnock

by Hannah Means Shannon

Kitchen Table Magazine is the newest publishing venture of Top Shelf founder and former co-publisher Brett Warnock, and it successfully Kickstarted its first 80-page issue a few months ago. The magazine stands at the intersection of food interest, local sustainability, culture, illustration, comics, photography, and more. A number of comic artists and illustrators participated in the first issue and suggested a lot of interesting directions for visual narratives on these themes.

Now, Brett Warnock is hitting the East Coast to take part in a special event in Brooklyn on Friday, March 1st, and for the Food Book Fair, taking place in Brooklyn this weekend on March 2nd and 3rd. Kitchen Table Magazine is spreading its wings and Warnock joins us on Comicon.com today to talk about the magazine and the events where you’ll find it featured this week.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Hi Brett! I understand you’ll be heading over the East Coast soon where people can learn more about Kitchen Table Magazine and this amazing event, the Food Book Fair. First up, can you tell us about the Food Book Fair in Brooklyn, and what part you’ll be playing in it?

Brett Warnock: I’m super new to the world of food-based publishing, but from what I can gather, Food Book Fair started as a broad-based conference that gathered makers and fans to discuss the issues of the day with workshops and cooking demos and such, and within that was a sort of pop-up showcase of indy food zines called Foodieodicals. And now that showcase is the primary focus.

I’ll be tabling at the show alongside about twenty or so other food periodicals. I’m reminded of some of the smaller indy comics conventions I attended back when i started Top Shelf Productions, and I have to tell you, I’m really fired up.

HMS: Now, Kitchen Table Magazine is brand-spanking-new, to the public at least. The first issue of 80 pages has been funded on Kickstarter and is being unleashed on the world. Are there other avenues that people are going to be able to get this magazine if they missed the Kickstarter?

BW: I’m working with two distributors, Small Changes (regional to the broader Western US) and OneSource (national), but it’s still so early in the game, I’m not sure how wide their reach is quite yet.

As ever, if you like print publications, go ask your favorite brick & mortar retailer if they carry it, or would special order it. Tell your favorite bookstore, comics shop, or magazine stand about Kitchen Table, and if they don’t already, hopefully they might start carrying it.

A number of places in Portland stock it, include many of the New Seasons markets, Food Front co-op, most Powells, Oui Presse (coffee shop), and a small but smartly curated magazine stand called The City Reader.

If all else fails, then of course the magazine can be ordered through our website, www.kitchentablemagazine.com.

HMS: What were some of the factors that made you choose Kickstarter for launching the magazine?

BW: Visibility and working capital. Straight up. Launching, running, and fulfilling your promises with a Kickstarter campaign are so much work, but for me, it was essential.

HMS: To what extent do you think that magazines/books/comics are getting more “intersectional” by combining peoples’ interests and kind of cross-pollinating? I think some years ago, traditional publishing would’ve said that was too niche, but it seems like something expansive is what people are looking for these days.

BW: That’s a terrific question. People are as media savvy as ever, more sophisticated in their tastes. They can see right through advertising. Plus, after decades of corporate hegemony in the media landscape, and a phenomenon I’ve read about called digital fatigue, people crave authenticity, and they want to hold a thing in their hands again. Quirky projects with a unique human vision that are real. Projects that are interesting, fun, educational, entertaining, and ultimately uplifting.

While mass-market publishing (assets in a corporate portfolio) continue to struggle staff layoffs, or outright folding, it’s truly a Golden Age for readers of small press and self-published print.

HMS: As for comics, were there US-origin comics that really suggested a place for food and cooking in the medium prior to say, 10 years ago? Is there a tradition to be inspired by?

BW: I studied the medium and the business of comics for twenty years, and there’s no tradition to speak of that I know about. I know that there is an entire genre of food comics in Japanese manga, but nothing here traditionally.

There’s been more activity in mini-comics and zines, that I’ve seen. Ten Speed Press put our Robin Ha’s Cook Korean!, and Image Comics released a terrific fantasy series called Flavor by Joe Keatinge, Woo Jin Clark, and Tamra Bonvillain.

HMS: I know that mainly looking outside the USA to France and Asia, if not even the UK, must provide so much fodder (pun intended) for seeing what new directions food themes can take in the medium. Any big loves in terms of comics, creators, or graphic novels from those traditions?

BW: Wow, I’d like to see your reading list. I used to own a few volumes of Oishinbo, and those are pretty terrific. I guess I’m out of the loop as it pertains to food-themed comics.

HMS: So why bring ideas about sustainability and place into this? How closely does this align with your own concepts of food culture, and to what extent are you finding like-minded folks out there?

BW: After I “retired” from Top Shelf, I launched a blog called Acorn Feather Nosh, about food and nature, topics which for the last several years have been my great passions. But when I realized I wanted to publish a magazine, I immediately knew that to call it (even in part) a nature magazine would have turned a lot of people away, for better or for worse.

And so I tweaked the frame just slightly, and I think that while the idea of place could indeed incorporate themes of nature, it actually transcends that limitation. Place, for me, is that physical space we find ourselves in that keeps us grounded in an ever fast-fast-moving digital world.

As for sustainability, that’s the hippy in me that wants to do right by the natural world, to help people decouple from corporate food systems, and find agency in growing things and cooking at home.

I haven’t found many like-minded folks yet. I suppose that’s my big gamble, but I have to listen to my instincts, right? Fingers crossed.

HMS: Looking at the contents of the first issue of the magazine, we’ve got discussion of movies, the outdoors, life experiences, as well as things I might expect more like ethnic food, brewing, donuts, and more. How do topics start and then make it into the magazine? Are creative people suggesting topics that they want to work with, or are you looking for certain subjects?

BW: Curating content (wearing my editor’s hat) and putting it all together (wearing my art director’s hat) is the alchemical process that I love most. For the first issue, because I had no money really, I had to create a lot of the content myself; I repurposed a lot of stuff from my blog, which had a readership of none. And then, as the rest of the content started to coalesce, I reached out to creators whose work I love, and it kind of just came together through sheer will.

With issue #2, we’ll start having themed issues, which will give me some focus in finding content, but material still comes to me out of nowhere too, and that’s just as fun.

HMS: What’s it like working with comic creators and illustrators on the topic of food? Is this a starting point for weird conversations and unusual results?

BW: Everybody eats. Once food comes up in conversation with creatives, the ideas run wild. I think there’s huge potential at the nexus of food and the creative arts, especially as we head into a very unpredictable future where, for the first time in generations, our society will be facing food insecurity and water shortages. My goal with Kitchen Table then, is to be part of the conversation that gets people really thinking about food, engaged about where it comes from, and why that’s so crucially important.

Big thanks to Brett Warnock for talking with us today!

But more importantly, go see him live at an event on Friday, March 1st in Brooklyn, and then at the Food Book Fair on March 2nd through 3rd, also in Brooklyn, a free event that’s bound to be a blast!

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