The soon-to-be published The Comic Book Guide to Growing Food by gardener and cartoonist Joseph Tychonievich, featuring art by Liz Anna Kozik has been attracting much attention in these days of lockdowns across the globe. With demand for allotments high and many making the most of garden spaces, back yards and window boxes as a distraction from the pandemic, the interest isn’t unexpected, but meaning no disrespect whatsoever to the book’s talented creators, it certainly isn’t the first gardening inspired comic or cartoon, as hyped.
Due for release in February from US publisher Ten Speed Press, also publishers of Dungeons and Dragons books, the recently-released The Comic Book Story of Basketball and more, The Comic Book Guide to Growing Food is being pitched as “the first graphic novel guide to growing a successful vegetable garden, from planning, prepping, and planting, to troubleshooting, care, and harvesting.”
If the marketing department for this book had done even the tiniest bit of research for the book, for example, they might have come across the author and cartoonist’s previous work, The Complete Guide to Gardeners: The Plant Obsessed and How to Deal With Them, offering tips to those living with the garden-obsessed “tips on how to guide your gardener to a healthier relationship with plants, and get your life back”.
Casting their web search beyond the author’s back catalogue, the same marketing team might have discovered The Garden by Sean Michael Wilson and Fumio Obata, a recently-published story of healing through mindfulness and gardening, in which a career-driven protagonist finds peace and a new sense of calm through nurturing her garden as part of the process of recovering from a nervous breakdown.
We’d also draw the publicist’s attention to Marker Comics Grow a Garden for children in January, written and illustrated by Alexis Frederick-Frost, offering illustrated instructions for six gardening projects.
Here in the UK, there have been cartoons aplenty drawn at both the expense of gardens, gardeners and gardening, most notably, perhaps, by Britain’s Norman Thelwell, many collected in Up the Garden Path – published back in 1972.
The Daily Mirror continues to reprint Mr Digwell, first published in the 1940s, created by writer Ambrose Heath with art by Bernard Venables, later written by Ian Gammidge (who also produced storylines for “The Flutters”, “The Larks”, “Ruggles”, and a revival of Norman Pett’s celebrated creation “Jane”), and drawn by Jack Dunkley. Numerous collections of the strip have been published down the decades.
Mr Digwell today is Paul Peacock, author of some 30 books, who studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, has hosted the City Cottage online magazine and appeared on the BBC’s Gardener’s Question Time. An experienced gardener, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul, whose is keenly interested.
Books featuring his work, alongside selected Mr. Digwell strips, include Back to the Garden (published in 2009) and A Year in The Garden (2012). He also has a column of gardening tips on the Primrose Gardens web site.
The strip’s title span out into its own gardening podcast, although some web links appear broken on the Mirror’s web site.
Mr. Digwell had a rival from the get go, of course. “Adam the Gardener”, created by writer Cyril Cowell and artist Morley Adams in the 1940s, featured every week in the Sunday Express, advising gardeners exactly what to plant and how – from carrots in the last week of May (but ‘do this after sunset, when there is less chance of trouble from the carrot fly’) to lily-of-the-valley in the final week of November. Collections have been published intermittently since 1955.
Despite the failings of the marketing department to do much research before staking their claim to The Comic Book Guide to Growing Food being the first gardening-inspired graphic novel (and I am absolutely sure readers of downthetubes can provide other examples), it does sound interesting – and artist Liz Anna Kozik has an eye-catching style to her art, with some beautiful examples of her work online.
The graphic novel, due for release in February, tells the the story of Mia, an eager young professional who wants to grow her own vegetables but doesn’t know where to start, and George, her retired neighbour who loves gardening and walks her through each step of the process.
Throughout the book, “cheat sheets” sum up George’s key facts and techniques, providing a handy quick reference for anyone starting their first vegetable garden, including how to find the best location, which vegetables are easiest to grow, how to pick out the healthiest plants at the store, when (and when not) to water, how to protect your plants from pests, and what to do with extra produce if you grow too much.
The graphic novel is written by gardening expert and cartoonist Joseph Tychonievich, who gardens in his Williamsburg, Virginia yard. And in a friends yard. And with lights in his closet. He pretends that this is necessary research to write his books and magazine articles about gardening. Thankfully, he informs, his husband accepts this, and the unpredictable deluges of vegetables he grows, with grace.
Joseph is also the author of Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, The Complete Guide to Gardeners, and Rock Gardening: Reimagining a Classic Style and is the editor the North American Rock Garden Society quarterly journal.
Artist Liz Anna Kozik is an interdisciplinary scholar who works at the intersection of science communication, environmental humanities, and art.
Her research focuses on the myriad culturo-scientific facets of ecological restoration in the American Midwest. Through comics and an active social media presence, she shares stories of the practices, people, and history of prairie restoration.
If you like Liz’s art, some smashing prints are available here.
If you are a visual learner, beginning gardener, looking for something new, or have struggled to grow vegetables in the past, The Comic Book Guide to Growing Food does sound like a graphic novel to check out. Just know it follows in tradition, not ahead of it.