Q&A: Tyler Capps

Tyler Capps

Learning to cook may be daunting for those with little to no experience, but author Tyler Capps uses humor, down-to-earth instructions, and sequential art to make the process fun in Cooking Comically: Recipes So Easy You’ll Actually Make Them, a quirky take on cookbooks.

Tell us about the genesis of this book.

For a long time now I’ve made comics about whatever I’ve been into at the time. And I’ve been doing amateur photography since high school. Back in 2011, I was in a photography class at my local community college, and for one of the assignments, I did food photography. That led to the thought of photographing the entire process of making a dish, and since I was starting to get into cooking at the time, the idea of drawing on top of it all just popped into my head one day. The end result was [my first comic], “2AM Chili.” When I showed it to a friend, she insisted that I put it online.

So I posted [the comic] to reddit, not expecting anything to happen. When I came back, it was the top post on the front page, and hundreds of thousands of people were seeing it. A lot of people hated it, more liked it, and quite a few asked for more. So I decided to try just one more recipe to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke, and that recipe did really well also, so I…[launched] the site and [kept] going. After a few recipes were up on the site, I was contacted by a literary agent.

How did you begin cooking?

I really got started cooking only about three or so years ago when I moved into my apartment in Asheville, NC. I’d had the itch to learn to cook for a really long time, but until that move, I had never been in a situation where I had my own kitchen and the time to play around in it. So as soon as I did, I went nuts.

Like your target audience, were you also initially inexperienced when it came to cooking?

Absolutely. I’ve screwed up cooking quite a bit. When I first started, I had a habit of taking on recipes that were beyond my skill level, and so I ended up with a lot more bad food than I probably should have. I mess things up less now, but it still happens occasionally.

What is your comic/art background?

Admittedly, I have a lot more experience and training in art than I do in cooking. I’ve been drawing ever since someone handed me my first crayon, and I grew up reading comic books and comic strips. Throughout school, if there was an art class available, I’d be in it. That’s really been the one constant throughout my life. No matter what else I do, art and drawing are always there in the background. And when I go through periods where I don’t draw as much, I take photos or find some other creative outlet to pursue.

Who are some of your graphic novel influences?

My biggest influence by a pretty big stretch would have to be Bill Watterson and “Calvin and Hobbes.” I had every collection book growing up, and I read them religiously. They really shaped my view on comic strips and what they could achieve, and they were my main education on the language of sequential media. But I think almost anyone who draws a comic strip now would say the same thing. I would also have to give some credit to Frank Miller and Sin City for my affection for the white-on-black color scheme.

Where do you get the inspiration for your recipes?

My ideas…come from all over. There have been a few that were entirely off the top of my head, but for the most part, [my process] involves figuring out something I’d like to eat and then a lot of reading of different recipes for the same dish and mashing everything together and making my own little tweaks. I’ve also adapted a few recipes from my mom, brother, and friends.

Your recipes also have such great names, such as Sexy Pancakes or Damn Dirty Ape Bread—where did you come up with them?

I usually try to come up with some kind of play on words or a funny pop culture twist, but if that doesn’t work, I go with something straightforward. Or sometimes I just rip off my friends’ suggestions.

You make a point of saying that even though cooking is seen as stereotypically feminine, men should also embrace it. Have you convinced a lot of your website fans that they, too, can learn to cook?

I’ve gotten tons of messages and emails from people who said that Cooking Comically was the reason they got into the kitchen to cook things. Some of my favorites are from happy girlfriends or wives who say they finally got their significant others into the kitchen because of the site. I’ve always thought that if I can just get a person into the kitchen at all, my job is done. It’s really awesome to know it’s working on even a small level.—Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor for School Library Journal, and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.