Brave Chef Brianna: Interview with Creators Sam Sykes and Selina Espiritu
Brave Chef Brianna is a brand new 4-issue comic series from publisher KaBOOM!, the kid-focused imprint of BOOM! Studios. The story follows a budding young chef named Brianna who’s about to open her very first restaurant in Monster City. Those of you who love to cook or are obsessed with shows like MasterChef Jr. are going to love this fantastic little series. Here’s the official synopsis:
“From fantasy author Sam Sykes (Aeons’ Gate) comes a story about budding chef Brianna Jakobsson, who’s trying to impress her father but whose best—and only—customers are monsters. Brianna has big dreams of starting her own restaurant. When her ailing father, a celebrity restaurant magnate, poses a challenge to his only daughter and 15 sons, she sets out to create the best restaurant around! Thing is, the only city she can afford to set up shop in is Monster City. Features a first-ever chalkboard back cover!”
What else makes Brave Chef Brianna special? Each issue will contain a REAL recipe you can whip up at home AND a chalkboard back cover you can jot down recipe notes all over. The series is written by Sam Sykes and illustrated by Selina Espiritu, who we had the pleasure of interviewing about the series. We’ve even sprinkled in a few preview pages to give you guys a peek into Brianna’s world.
Brave Chef Brianna: Interview with Sam Sykes and Selina Espiritu:
YAYOMG!: In case our readers haven’t heard about the greatness that is Brave Chef Brianna, do you mind telling us a little bit about the series and some of the challenges Brianna will be facing?
SAM SYKES: Brave Chef Brianna is the story of the youngest child of a great celebrity chef. When he falls ill, he tells his 15 sons and one daughter, Brianna, to go out into the world and make their own restaurants. Whoever has the best restaurant at the end of three years will inherit his cooking empire. Unfortunately, Brianna doesn’t have much money and can only afford to set up shop in Monster City, USA, where her best and only customers are giants, werewolves, goblins, ghosts, and more!
Brave Chef Brianna is all about bravery, so her challenges will be many! But while her goal is to prove herself to her father, her brothers and the many monsters she hopes to convince to love her cooking, the real challenge is learning to be okay with herself. Brianna has very high expectations of herself and they can sometimes manifest in unhealthy ways. Learning to love herself and be her own person will be the real task she faces.
SELINA ESPIRITU: Brianna’s a tough—but cheerful and very friendly—nut who’s pretty hard on herself and wants very much to succeed to make her family and friends proud of her. Sam was very particular about making Brianna’s problems universally relatable, so you can expect her to battle a lot with real-world problems, anxiety, and her doubts on her abilities as a chef, friend, sister, and daughter! Also, rent, probably. Passing city restaurant cleanliness standards. Whether to have two-ply or three-ply rolls in the restaurant’s washroom. Just the nitty, gritty reality of life.
She also has to put up with Suzan, which is another challenge.
YAYOMG!: Brianna is the only girl in her family amongst 15 brothers. Does the sibling rivalry storyline come from experience? Do either of you come from a large family?
SAM: For me, it’s pretty close to home. I only have two sisters (but my extended family is huge) and we fought like rabid animals when we were kids. Like most families, we were pretty competitive, but unlike a lot of families, none of us really liked athletics, which I think is the usual proving ground for a lot of siblings. So instead of competing to see who was the fastest or the strongest, we were always trying to see who was the funniest, who was the cleverest, who could get the big parts in school plays, that sort of thing.
Brianna’s struggle is that kind of struggle times a billion. She’s less competitive than her brothers (really, she’d love it if everyone could just get along and eat cake), but she feels like if she doesn’t compete, she doesn’t belong. A lot of her story is just figuring out whether that’s true or not.
SELINA: Every time someone reminds me that Brianna has fifteen—fifteen!—brothers, first of all, dang, and second of all, HOW.
That would be like if I took my two older brothers and had six of each of them. The arguments over who gets to use the PS4 would be unreal. Lives would be lost. It would be tragic. My brothers and I never really competed against each other, even when we would literally be competing against each other (we did a lot of sports together). We all kind of… did our own things that didn’t really make sense to get competitive about since the fields were so far apart (my brothers are an engineer and an animator). There was a time things got intense over Dance Dance Revolution and Dead or Alive, but that’s it. We’re pretty blasé about everything else (“I’m graduating with honors.” “Cool.” “Cool.”).
YAYOMG!: We love the messages of girl power and independence that Brianna brings. Are themes like these important to you? Are there other inspiring messages for young girls you hope to get across?
SAM: Oh, very much so. I think young people, and young girls especially, internalize the ideas put forth by certain segments of society that they’re not good enough, that they’re not important, that their work doesn’t count. Brave Chef Brianna, as the title suggests, is all about bravery: standing up to those ideas, learning that it’s better to do what you do out of a love of doing it, rather than a need to prove yourself.
While it’s especially true of young girls, I hope everyone can get something positive out of Brianna’s story, you know? Because I think even when we’re older, we never really shake the doubts and struggles we lived with when we were kids. I mean, who doesn’t occasionally stop and remember, out of nowhere, something really embarrassing they did when they were young? I want this story to be about learning to let go of those fears and those anxieties and to learn to define for yourself what success is.
SELINA: As a certified Girl Card Holder, it is incredibly important to me that young girls grow up intelligent, self-aware, and with a healthy ego (that is justified! Don’t be a dingle.) because ain’t no one gonna be your first and best ally except for yourself—so you better be on your A-game.
Another thing that is important to me is for young girls to have workable standards—both for them to stick to and to hold other people by. Understand that the intrinsic value of hard work is more important and more sustaining than relying on other people to validate what you do. Become smarter because you want to be equipped to defend yourself, not because you want awards (though if you want to work toward awards, hey, I’m not stopping ya!). Practice what you want your craft to be because you want to be better than your past self, not just to be better than someone else! Learn to take initiative for basic life skills for yourself, not because your parents won’t get off your back unless you do! Get a dog!
YAYOMG!: Monster City seems like it’s going to be a really fun and unique setting for the series. What are your favorite things about having such a creative world to play with?
SAM: Honestly, my favorite thing is that we can just begin with something cool and just expand it into something amazing and Selina’s amazing talent has been great for this.
In the comic, we meet Brianna’s first friend in Monster City, Suzan Fleshrender (of the New Jersey Fleshrenders). Suzan is a harpy: She’s a girl with stork legs and big black wings. I just threw that to Selina and she ran with it. In the first issue, we get to see a map of Monster City and we see where Suzan lives, all the apartments have landings. Because, obviously, a harpy doesn’t need to use the stairs, does she? That was all Selina’s doing and I love that I can just toss out and idea and see where she runs with it and see how I can respond.
SELINA: You know how Final Fantasy XV is mundane fantasy so you see people with magic using cellphones and such? My number one favorite thing about Monster City is the thing where, essentially, it’s a regular people city, but there are details here and there that human cities wouldn’t have but make sense for Monster City to. Like multilevel street signs that go all the way into the sky for the flying denizens. Or government-funded towel dispensers for when the river-dwelling monsters have to go to work on land. Or thick cables that spider web across the city for people to perch on.
YAYOMG!: What types of food will Brianna be whipping up for the residents of Monster City? Is there anything they won’t eat?
SELINA: I’ve learned to assume that Brianna cooks anything and everything. So, she runs a small restaurant/diner type deal, right? I was mostly anticipating burgers or rice meals and stuff but every time I get a script I see that she’s cooking a surprisingly diverse menu (with a lot of fries, because apparently, skeletons love fries). She cooks a soufflé once. A soufflé. Who has the time?
SAM: Brianna’s a big fan of sweet things like cakes, pies, and desserts. But her training means she can cook just about anything.
SELINA: However, according to the Monster City Monster Book of Bylaws (it bites—like, literally. Don’t touch it.), the citizens of the city are not allowed to eat sugar, cooked meat, and…wheat? I need to check. I checked. It’s flour.
SAM: Brianna has to learn how to cook way outside her comfort zone and to try to convince the monsters that sugar isn’t so bad.
YAYOMG!: Do you have a favorite character in the Brave Chef Brianna series to write or draw? What makes them stand out to you?
SAM: I guess everyone says they love their children equally, and I also guess it’s predictable to say, but Brianna is probably my favorite. I think I went through a lot of what she went through as a kid, namely having an internal monologue that never seemed to go my way, but she’s also tough and brave in ways I wasn’t. It’s both soothing and escapist to write a character who can handle stuff I wish I could have when I was that young. And I hope that maybe some people who are going through that can figure out for themselves how to get out of those troubles.
SELINA: Literally any time the script calls for Madame Cron (a naga), I gush to Sam and [Editor] Jasmine [Amiri] about how beautiful she is in a she’ll-rip-your-head-off sort of way. Of the main characters, she’s the most “monstrous” looking one because she’s old and she saves my life in tighter panels because I can cover some bits with her snake torso and be like, What? no, yeah, it has to be that way because she’s a snake. On the other hand, I also like drawing Brianna mostly because I’ve drawn her the most thus far so I can pretty much do it blindfolded now (don’t quote me on that, ha-ha!).
YAYOMG!: What’s your favorite thing about creating comics for young readers and how does it differ than other work you’ve done?
SAM: The deadlines are SUPER tight, oh my god.
But also, I think there’s an earnestness and straightforwardness that I really appreciate in young readers’ books. Young readers like tackling things head on and experiencing everything, rather than dancing around the subject. It’s been really refreshing to write for people who I know will want to savor every word.
SELINA: I have the honor of having Sam’s awesome series as my first-ever (official) job in creating comics! Before this I’d only ever made one comic using industry standards. For school. And even before that I was making comics for pleasure because I like telling stories but have like a -10 modifier on my creative writing rolls.
Though I have to say between the comics I did for fun and Brave Chef Brianna, there was a bit of a learning curve because I never really used to be practical with my paneling until now AND the style of Brave Chef Brianna is very much different from how I usually draw! Even now, if you compare the final concept for Kevin Park to what you see in the actual comic, you’ll see that I couldn’t help making his proportions a little more realistic.
YAYOMG!: Do you have any advice for our readers who dream of writing, drawing, or working in comics professionally?
SAM: Be friendly! So much of working in a professional industry is based on meeting new people and making new friends. You can call it networking, if you want, but I like to think that being a good person and being fun to work with will get you incredibly far.
SELINA: First of all: the highest of fives to you. You go, Glenn Coco. I mean, I’m here right? So clearly nothing is impossible. Drawing comics professionally was one of the things I was most passionate about and I was touched by an angel (let’s name her Jasmine) and offered a chance. I don’t really think it matters if you start as small as turning your personal anecdotes into comics or as big as collaborating with a friend, what’s important is that your start at all.
People around you not supportive? Get online and find people who are interested in the same things you are! I started seriously trying to better myself by making comics of Dragon Age, and the friends I’ve made from the online community that likes the game are some of the most invaluable ones I’ve made. (Looking at you, sempai and wife!)
And for all you drawers-not-writers out there: Learn to draw hands. Learn to draw backgrounds. This is non-negotiable. It has to happen. There is no scenario where you can’t not learn how to draw either of these things!
Now that you’ve read this amazing interview and are screaming internally (and probably externally) with excitement – go get your read on! Brave Chef Brianna is out today, so hit up your local comic shop to snag your copy. We’ll also be giving away a few copies here on YAYOMG!, so keep an eye out for our giveaway post.
We’re so beyond grateful for the opportunity to chat with Sam and Selina – thank you both so much for your time and thanks to the always awesome team at BOOM! for setting this all up. For even more awesome comic reads, click here!