By Eric Fuerstein
84 pages, black and white
For 17 years, every autumn I’ve gone to the Small Press Expo (SPX) in the Washington DC area, and every year I’ve left with a bag full of cool comics. Over the years I’ve found myself buying more and more mini-comics and self-published books, the sort that I can’t find at my always-great local comic book store chain. One of the discoveries for me this year was Rutabaga: Adventure Chef, a collection of the first three chapters of an utterly charming web comic. And while you can read the pages of this comic online for free, I suspect once you check it out for yourself you’ll agree that this is a comic worth supporting with a copy of the print edition, too.
The plot of Rutabaga: Adventure Chef is fairly simple; Rutabaga is an adventure in a fantasy-themed world, but one that isn’t in search of magic swords or pots of gold. Rather, he’s out there to get the impossible-to-find ingredients needed to make all sorts of delicious, amazing foods. As the title states, he’s an adventure chef. Eric Fuerstein gets a lot of mileage out of such a simple concept; in these three chapters he joins up with a group of more typical adventurers (and proves his worth to them), meets the local king and solves a problem with a royal gift, and goes head-to-head with the chef at an adventurer’s tavern. Reading Rutabaga: Adventure Chef it’s hard to keep from feeling like Fuerstein has enough flexibility with the idea of the series that he could keep this going forever.
The writing style reminds me a lot of some classic manga fantasy series like Fairy Tale or One Piece; it’s got a good sense of humor but it’s never out-and-out comedy. Instead, you get to chuckle as Rutabaga shows Beef the explosive nature of Pop-Shrooms, or the way that Rutabaga’s signature cry of, "Let’s get cooking!" dies down a little more each time as he fails to get Norman to eat anything. Throughout all of Rutabaga: Adventure Chef there’s an actual plot, though, that isn’t just about jokes. From stopping a dragon to helping a king figure out how to keep the gift of a strange creature alive, there are distinct goals that Rutabaga’s got to try and reach. Rutabaga himself serves more as a through-line for these plots than as a deeply nuanced character, but at this early stage that’s all right. He’s got a good attitude and his cheery nature more than carries the comic. Down the line we’ll need to learn more about him but for now it’s all good.
Fuerstein’s art is clean and—in a word—adorable. Rutabaga himself has a big round head with dots for eyes, simple arcs of ink for eyebrows, a little tuft of hair, and little oval ears. Oh, and a big smile. It’s a stripped down and simple look, but it’s part of what lends itself to the charm of Rutabaga: Adventure Chef. Fuerstein shows us with the various creatures and dishes that we encounter throughout the comic that he can draw much more detailed creations when he wants to; this is a deliberate choice that’s designed to tug at the heartstrings, and it works. It also works well with the food-preparing montages whenever Rutabaga cooks; add in the cheery nature mentioned earlier, and those scenes are a real joy to read. The comic itself is created in a square format, but one that can easily fit in seven or eight panels on each page. The progression from one panel to the next is easy to understand, and the art is more than capable of pulling off sight gags (like the debut of Pot), or the dizzying heights of the castle to help give us a sense of perspective. As the characters run and cavort across the page, there’s such a strong energy in Rutabaga: Adventure Chef that I’d find it hard to believe that there are readers out there who couldn’t be charmed by Fuerstein’s comic.
Hopefully Fuerstein will start listing copies of the print edition of Rutabaga: Adventure Chef Chapters 1-3 for sale on his website soon, because you’ll want to buy this comic once you’ve read it. Until then, though, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go and read it from the start. I can only imagine that you’ll quickly be pulled into its charm, just like I was too. Fuerstein might be a new comic creator to me, but this is definitely not going to be the last of his creations that I’m reading. I’m a fan now, and I suspect once you’ve read Rutabaga: Adventure Chef, you will be too.