Rutabaga the Adventure Chef

rutabaga comic composite with author

By Lauren Hittinger

When you think of adventures in mysterious lands with dragons, kings, and barbarians, you probably don't think of chefs.

But that's exactly how local artist and graphic novelist Eric Colossal imagined Rutabaga, the main character in his recently released comic Rutabaga, the Adventure Chef. This tenacious and scrappy chef seems to always cook his way out of the troubles he invariably finds himself in.

I chatted with Eric Colossal about the story behind Rutabaga, and his experiences becoming a full-time artist working on published books.

comic author illustrator Eric Colossal
photo courtesy of Eric Colossal

Tell me a bit about your background as an artist and a graphic novelist.

This is something I've done all my life, which is a standard answer for people who are trying to make this their living. I grew up reading comics, and Mad Magazine, and stuff like that. My brother and I made our own magazine like Mad and sold it in our middle school. It got to a point when it was deciding what to do college wise, and the two things I liked to do were play video games and draw. So I went to art school, the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I lived there four years doing comics -- mostly slacking off, because, I don't know, who's ready to go to college?

Rutabaga comic 6

Rutabaga comic 1

So then I got out of college and got a job at a game company in upstate NY. I worked there for four years and in my off time I drew comics. This is the third year I've been doing Rutabaga. About March of last year, I went to a comic convention and I met someone who bought my books. A little while later she asked me if I wanted to be published.

It took 6-8 months for everything to be finalized; I had to find an agent, had to freak out...

I knew I wouldn't be able to do both things well, so I let my job to do comics full time.

Rutabaga comic 2

What is Rutabaga the Adventure Chef about?

Rutabaga is about this little guy named Rutabaga who lives in a Lord of the Rings type world. But he's a chef. There's all of these plants and animals in the fantasy world, and someone's got to try them. If you have a barbarian who kills things with a million eyes, you should cook it and have this feast.

Mostly he just gets into trouble and has to cook his way out.

Who is this book designed for?

So, when I was creating it, I was looking at it as a comic book kids can read.

Rutabaga comic 3

I don't know how normal [my girlfriend, Jess Fink, also an artist, and I] are, because we have watched cartoons our entire lives. We talk to some people and it seems like they grew out of them. So when it comes to marketing, it seems like it's marketed towards kids, but that's more of a formality to me -- "Yeah yeah, it's marketed to kids, but did you read it?"

The main character, Rutabaga, is incredibly sincere, tenacious, and just overall likeable. How did you come up with this character?

A few years ago I had just finished my second self-published comic and I had this idea for another comic I wanted to do, but it was really sad, about memories and regrets. Then I started reading the original Dragon Ball comic and this other comic, Yotsuba!. They're adventure comics. I was reading those and thinking about how good I felt reading those and I thought, "Oh man, I want to do that."

Rutabaga comic 4

But I could do that! I can do whatever I want. It's not fair to say, but the idea came into my head -- I don't want to do something about a barbarian, I want to do something about a chef. It was just this wave of creativity that hit me. Because it was so upbeat, it just ramped up my creativity. I wasn't thinking about how could I make my main character more sad; I was looking to make him make him funnier and make more jokes.

I watch a lot of documentaries about food. I end up watching them at 1 am and I'm so hungry for dim sum. When I watch the documentaries, each one of these chefs is so excited. You can't be grumpy and make food. And when you're done making it, you get to eat it and it's just wonderful.

Rutabaga comic 5

I noticed that this is just Book 1 of Rutabaga. What's next for these characters?

I am working on Book 2 right now. I have one chapter left to thumbnail and that should hopefully come out next year. As far as I'm concerned, this is what I want to do. I know at least what book 3 is about. I don't know how long it could do. I gotta get a movie made, I gotta get a video game. I'm hoping for a book 3 and a 5 and 100.

Do you have any other projects coming up?

Right now Rutabaga is everything. This is my first time working in this way, where I write out a script, send out a Word doc, and they send edits, and then I iterate on that, and then I send sketches and iterate on that. It's a totally different process and new way of working. I'm focusing completely on it, so I can figure out how it works, and get comfortable with it. It takes up so much time and energy that there's not a lot left.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

You can read the beginning of Rutabaga's adventures online. And Book 1 is available via Amazon.

Eric Colossal will be at the Electric City Comic Con at the Schenectady Country Public Library on Saturday, July 11.

Lauren Hittinger writes about shopping, crafting, and living well on a small budget at The Thrifty Ginger.

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