Smash Pages Q&A: Falynn Koch

The cartoonist and illustrator discusses her latest work from First Second, ‘Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!’

Falynn Koch is a cartoonist and illustrator who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design and has been focused on making nonfiction comics. Her first two books were part of the Science Comics series from First Second Books, Bats: Learning to Fly and Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield.

Her new book is Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! Part of a new line of instructional comics from First Second, Koch is perhaps a perfect person to make the book, being a cartoonist who also attended culinary school. As an amateur baker, I was glad to have the chance to talk with Koch recently about the book and her process.

I like to start by asking people, how did you come to comics?
I went to SCAD but I didn’t take a comics class until the end of sophomore year. When I saw all the amazing work the sequential-art students were making, so different than the newspaper comics or the superhero floppies I was familiar with, I knew I wanted in.

So what is Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!
It’s a comic that combines the story of a young wizard who wants to learn alchemy through baking, real recipes that the reader can make at home and an overview of the science behind what’s happening when you bake.

How did you end up working on this book, because you’ve made two previous books with First Second?
Yes, First Second always gives me a lot of freedom to explore and explain the various topics I’ve worked on how I want to. For this book, we were both excited about the idea of a DIY baking book, and with my culinary background, I knew I wanted to be at the helm, and they knew I would be a good fit.

In what ways was the process of making this like making the Science Comics books you made?
I really explore the science behind baking in this book, what’s happening when proteins and fats and sugars and gluten all combine and react to each other. There’s lots of comics with recipes in them, and some that talk about the science, but I wanted to take this a step further by explaining things visually.

As you were writing and drawing these, were there conversations about how much detail to get into? Is this too much information? What was the audience and the thinking as far as this is the right amount of information?
There definitely were those conversations, both with my editor and with myself. There’s always the issue of how much space and pages you have to work with, and about how much info is right for that space. And on top of that baking is tricky in general because one baker may swear by one technique, and another may tell you something different, and it’s possible to get the same results. I tried to write it for an audience that may have already taken some first steps into baking, but wants to get more confident with trying new things.

You went to culinary school, you ran a food truck … how much of those experiences and that knowledge was important to being able to write this book?
I think the biggest thing I learned from my life experiences is that sometimes a recipe can go wrong even when you followed the instructions or even done it before. Maybe its just not your day, or maybe you need more practice, or it could literally be the day itself, say if its very hot or humid. Baking is tricky and it can feel terrible to waste time and ingredients on something you wanted to get right, but that’s when you have tell yourself its ok, let it go, and try again.

The comic isn’t simply facts and recipes, so how did you come up with the idea of the narrative around all this and how it should work?
I really do think of baking as magic, and kept coming back to that when thinking of what the story should be. When cooking there’s a lot of wiggle room to experiment and adjust as you go, but when baking there’s no fixing the recipe after you put it in the oven. Do things wrong and you’ll just have bunch of ingredients that are hot. Do everything right though, then ta da! –You get a beautiful warm baked treat and that really does feel magical sometimes. 

What was behind the decision to anthropomorphize all the ingredients?
Baking involves your hands a lot, and much of what you do with them is common and repetitive, like pouring a liquid into something. So, I thought I would find a balance of letting the ingredients tell you directly what’s happening and why, and leaving the human hands for techniques that involve them in very specific ways.

Did anyone go, “Is it weird we’re eating the talking baked goods?” Or maybe that’s just me…
It totally is, but I think of it this way, in real life if you don’t use your ingredients they’ll get stale or go bad. If your ingredients go bad without you ever baking with them, then no one can enjoy them. So I think if they could talk they would want to be eaten; it’s their purpose.

How did you decide what recipes to include and what the characters would bake in the book? Because you could have gone in a lot of directions.
The book mentions the major ways that ingredients are combined in baking, called their mixing methods. I thought about what recipe would be best to demonstrate each method, but also be familiar to many readers. That way you know if the recipe turned out ok. You don’t want someone unsure if things went wrong because they have no idea what the end goal is, but most of use know what we want a muffin or pizza dough to be like, and if you don’t, you probably know someone who does.

I will say that your joke – “Those premade cake spells could be made of anything! They never taste right!” – made me laugh out loud.
It’s true though! Almost everyone has what they need to make a basic cake in their house, but they don’t know how to. So they buy the exact same ingredients in box that typically comes with a bunch of preservatives that you don’t need when you bake from scratch. Fun fact: There’s this common belief that boxed cake mixes weren’t popular until people started adding fresh eggs to them, but boxed cake mixes with dried powdered egg were never ever popular, even when they were first invented. The popularity of the boxed cake didn’t have anything to do with eggs, they took off when pre-made frosting hit grocery shelves, too.

You have in your bio that donuts are your favorite baked good. But what is your favorite baked good to bake? And why?
Yeah, doughnuts are sort of cheating because they are a fried goods, aren’t they? As far as oven-baked goods go, I love making soufflés. Cooking shows make them seem scary, but they really aren’t, and it’s super fun to watch them double in size as they bake. My husband jokes that my favorite seat in the house is on the floor in front of the oven.

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