The Hungover Gourmet


An Interview with Author Robert Tinnell

by Dan Taylor

In his role as a film producer, director and screenwriter, Robert Tinnell has worked with the likes of Burt Reynolds, Malcolm McDowell, and a pre-24 Elisha Cuthbert. In recent years, though, the man who brought us the wonderfully-titled SURF NAZIS MUST DIE! has turned his attention to the world of comics and graphic novels. The result? A solid lineup of tales that tap into Tinnell's love of horror films including the old Universal monster mashes (celebrated in THE BLACK FOREST and its recent sequel) as well as the swinging heyday of Hammer horror (captured in the pages of the phenomenally fun TERRY SHARP).

So it came as a bit of a surprise when Tinnell told me he was working on a more personal comic strip that was more food memoir than anything else. The finished work, FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES (see review), is a funny and warm tale of one Christmas Eve in the early 1980s. In between promoting the book – which includes recipes from his family's archives courtesy of wife Shannon – Tinnell answered a few questions about how FEAST came to be and what we can expect along these lines in the future.

You've been behind the camera in various capacities for several decades. What prompted you to pick up pen and paper on the comic/graphic novel side?
You have to blame that on good friend Neil Vokes. As much as a comics fan as I am – and I'm someone who actually studies the history of comics – it never occurred to me I'd be so lucky as to write one. Neil had done a marvelous book with Mike Oeming called PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE and I think the experience of doing creator-owned work got him inspired to do more. He loved a project Todd Livingston and I had – THE BLACK FOREST. The rest, as they say, is history...

FEAST is a departure from the two-fisted, cult-fighting directors, vampire-battling gunslingers, and monster mashes you've been writing. What inspired you to tackle such a personal and non-genre project?
Pragmatism really. I originally envisioned it as a romantic comedy – a spec screenplay, that is. But manager nuked the idea. My comic career was taking off, however, and he supported the notion of trying the idea out as a comic strip – though it sure wasn't any less work than a screenplay.

Feast of the Seven FishesI love the characters, especially the side characters and family members, in the strip. How much of them and the strip is drawn from your own background and family?
Quite a bit. I was never the sensitive, thoughtful guy the lead character, Tony, is. But the great-grandmother, the grandfather and his brothers – all are based on real people. Often the dialogue is verbatim from a documentary I made of them a few years ago. So it is my family – but it isn't. We didn't own a grocery story, for example...

You worked with two artists who have different styles, yet the strip has a seamless feel to it. Do you agree and how do you explain that?
They both got the material, for one thing. Second, once Alex replaced Ed he slowly worked the material into his own style – and by doing it thus it just sort of shifts. However, the tone they both employed never falters. Ed brought a sense of reality to it. Even with just a few lines he lets you know where you are – who you are with. Now Alex, who is real veteran of the craft did the same, but he also amped up the storytelling and atmosphere. What can I say? I'm blessed...

I'm always leery of how family members will respond to work that they see themselves in, whether it's intentional or not. How did your family – blood and extended – respond to the book?
It was a concern, I must admit. A lot of them were dead so that was not so bad! But there are a lot of Italian folks out there who may see themselves in this too – and that gave me pause. So far, however, the response has been one-hundred-percent positive. My family is crazy about it. The book transforms them to a time and place filled with people they love. So I'm safe.

You've mentioned that you plan to tell other Christmas Eve tales at various points in this family's timeline. What made you decide to start in the 80s?
Pivotal era for me. 1983 was the last year everyone was alive. My last Christmas with my great-grandmother. Really evocative for music and fashion – though I did not get to explore that nearly enough. At this point they don't even realize they are on the verge of losing their ethnicity. Something I want to explore in upcoming books. I think it would be really cool, ultimately, to tell their epic story in a series of stand-alone books that read together weave one giant tapestry.

Will those additional tales be told in a similar fashion – as an on-line strip followed by a compilation – or will they go right to the graphic novel/book format?
I'm not sure. Honestly, I'd prefer to just do the books from now on. Nothing against the online strip thing – I'm doing two more. But with FEAST – I think we have the traction to just do the books – but we'll see...

The recipe part of the book has lots of info and input from Shannon, but what kind of cook is director/author Bob Tinnell?
One who drinks heavily. I only cook omelettes and the Feast. Maybe something while camping... However, I really do cook the Feast – although I have my crew working with me...

Last question... I'm coming to the Tinnell house for dinner this Christmas Eve. What's on the menu?
This year's menu – subject to change:
Whiting (new recipe that Shannon picked up in Philly - don't know the details yet)
Baccala (new recipe)
Pasta with anchovy sauce
Stuffed Calamari with Sauces
Stuffed Calamari without sauce
Fried calamari (not breaded)
Marinated calamari (served cold)
Zuppa di mare
Marinated eel
Some sort of octopus dish
And of course - oyster shooters!

Try to get here before noon...

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