Interview: Vera Greentea on Comics, Creativity, and Cakes… Actually? Mostly Cakes

Vera Greentea is a name you may well have heard, especially if you’ve been on Kickstarter in the past few years. Having taken seven projects through the site – and successfully funded every single one – she’s been a rising star in the comics scene. From Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits through to PAPA and her most recent series ‘Recipes for the Dead’, she’s built a catalogue of great comics, marked by the unexpected and charming stories as much as they are by the fantastic, lush artwork from people like Allison Strom and Laura Muller.

I hear she’s also a great baker, but that’s neither here nor there.

With the third issue of Recipes for the Dead just about finished and planned to be launched later this month, now seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Vera and find out about her comics, only about her comics, and nothing apart from her comics work. Happily she agreed, and we certainly talked a lot about comics as a result!

VeronicaBakingRftD3

Vera! I hear you have a new comic! What’s it about?

Vera Greentea: Wow, news travels fast! You’re right, I’ve just completed my Kickstarter campaign for Recipes for the Dead Issue 3: Steam Minted Meringue. Recipes for the Dead is a Victorianpunk manga-style comic encrusted with a thick layer of baroque monsters, zero grams of airships (hence; not steampunk), with a core of romance, adventure and a little pinch of creepiness.

Veronica Wickfield is a baker who becomes an illegitimate owner of a magical cookbook that lures lurking shadows, attractive punky musicians and a furious gear-creature with intent to destroy her pastry shop – all in just this one issue. 

But enough of that, because I wanted to ask you about cake making for a bit. When did you first get the bug for cake making?

I was an eighteen-year old university student, living with ravenous roommates, a large bag of stale Doritos, and a very secret drawer of potato pancakes that came once a month from my grandmother. One day, while consuming an oversized styrofoam carton of French Toast Sticks from the dining hall, my roommate and I wondered if we should learn to make our own – but then, we proceeded to marathon through two seasons of Daria instead.

It was only after college and upon moving away from the dining hall, I finally decided to attempt making a Trés Leches cake out of a Goya packet – with poisonous results. Haven’t looked back since.

blueberrypie

Vera Greentea’s blueberry pie

Would you agree with the idea that baking is therapeutic? Do you find it calming, as a hobby?

Completing 7 Kickstarters as an introverted writer does demand a calming side-hobby, and yes, baking is mine. While funding of Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits – my creepy miniseries focused on the Day of the Dead – I was obsessed with making a Mexican flan from scratch. During the last Recipes for the Dead campaign, I finally perfected a black raspberry scone (and will probably never again). And while trying not to panic over whether PAPA would be funded last year, I baked a bunch of mini-Snickers into brownies.

What kind of things do you most like baking? Are you a cake person foremost, or have you been known to bake a biscuit from time to time?

Cake is my favorite thing to make for a holiday, birthday, or “I went to a comic con and now I just want some cake” day. However, for normal everyday baking, I actually go for simpler off-the-cuff type of recipes – things like pies and cobblers. Cobblers are especially easy – you just mix sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, and milk in any pan; melt some butter into it; throw a bunch of slices of a fruit (peach works great here); add cinnamon on top and bake! It’s 30 minutes and suddenly everyone thinks you’re some sort of baking prodigy!

What’d you say is your absolute all-time favourite cake?

Carrot Cake! I grew up in a Russian household with its own brand of desserts: baked apples (which are really just apples steaming in an oven, no additions of any kind), sirniki (this is basically just cottage cheese and raisins fried on a pan, and poppy seed bread rolls (these are delicious).

carrotcake

So, it was only in college when I had my first slice of carrot cake and boy, it was magic! I’ve since learned to make one out of scratch using freshly grated carrots, minced pineapple and cinnamon cheesecake frosting – and no, my Russian relatives won’t touch it.

Are there any types of cakes you’ve always wanted to try out, but never gotten round to or had the time for? Is there an ‘Everest of Cakes’ for you, perhaps?

That Green Tea Matcha cake is such a delicate, easily ruined thing. One day, I’ll make it, and it will be perfect. One day…

What’s one of those?

A Green Tea Matcha Cake! Matcha is basically the healthiest kind of green tea – you drink the tea with the leaf still in there, and it’s kind of this thick green liquid. It takes getting used to, but it’s awesome.

So, I buy this matcha powder by the pound, and then there is sooo much… of course, I HAVE to use it to make a green tea cake. It’s supposed to be this super light and fluffy, spongy, green tea-scented cake, with maybe a light frosting – but because it’s so light, it’s easy to burn or overmix or screw up in a billion ways. But I am keeping the faith, haha.

Are you a fan of experimentation? In your baking, I mean, not your comics.

Experimentation is the main tenet of creative baking for beginners, along with Ambition (“I will make a great chocolate cake for my paleo-dieting, lactose-intolerant, nut-allergic in-laws”), a Calm Demeanor (most utilized when the hungry Better Half moseys into the kitchen and says passive aggressively, “well, are you healing the sick or following instructions on a Sara Lee box?”), and perhaps most importantly, the Powers of Persuasion (“taste this, baldy!”).

I can tell you this, Steve, I’m fairly sure that my first true experiment (a Green Tea Matcha sponge cake) killed the fly that sat on it. This is why Veronica Wickfield didn’t make the originally planned matcha cake in Recipes for the Dead Issue 3, and stuck to the much easier meringue cookies. Veronica only bakes things I’ve successfully made!

cheesecake

This interviews marks the only time a comics article has ever been pro-cheesecake

What’ve been some of your greater successes as a baker, would you say?

Cake is serious business, and I like to attack all baking projects death or glory style. I wear my apron high like a breastplate and my Harry Potter Quidditch replica goggles over my glasses, ready for anything.

So, with great gravitas, I would say that my family’s favorite is the annual Christmas trifle (or Hanukah trifle, depending which side of the family you ask), which Better Half and I adopted from our trip to Ireland a few years ago. The trifle contains piping hot homemade custard, an awesome sour cream and pound cake baked early in the morning, and a cauldron-amount of different jams (usually strawberry, blueberry and IKEA lingonberry), as well as toasted almonds. The adults in my family gobble this out of ice cream bowls, and the younger kids usually dunk their hands into theirs and throw whipping cream missiles at our ever-suffering cat. So yes, I consider our trifle very successful; as a Christmas Eve dessert, as Christmas breakfast, and the perfect artillery in a food fight.

Do you watch any baking shows – Great British Bake Off, for example?

I truly enjoy baking shows, and especially like them on while I’m prepping my Kickstarter packages for shipping. The Great British Bake Off is a big favorite – mostly because of the serenity of the show in comparison to others but also because of the wonderful Mary Berry, who has a lot of great advice both for baking and life in general.

I do watch some others; Top Chef: Just Desserts is a fun one (I especially love it when they make grandiose cakes), and Cupcake Wars isn’t so bad in a pinch either.

Following on from that, do you have any thoughts on soggy bottoms? For? Against?

The only good soggy bottoms are the ones in the fictional band from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. Otherwise, I’m totally against any kind of soggy bottom – it means that the cake has been undercooked! Yuck. I’d most likely throw that sucker out and start over, though first I might munch on the frosting while watching 6 episodes of Dr. Who…

chocolatecake

Chocolate cake! Nice plate too

What’d be your top tips for bakers?

Let catastrophes happen – they make for entertaining stories to be used in your comics! (Like that one time when my cake recipe turned out to be a demon summoning spell… now I have a whole comic series about it!).

What advice would you give to anybody looking to get into cake making themselves? Do you have a particular recipe book you treat as a bible?

This is a little old school, I guess, but I kind of love Joy of Cooking for basic baking. It really gives you an idea of what the point is of each ingredient, which later helps you fix it if your cake gets a bit derailed, somehow ends up on the ceiling, and is screeching at your cat. Don’t be alarmed, read your Joy of Cooking for answers. It understands.

Oh, uh… speaking of books, this new one of yours. Recipes, is it? Where can people find it online?

Right! The series is called Recipes for the Dead, and Issue 3 is named Steam Minted Meringue. It will be available on my website this late October. The art by Allison Strom is truly a work of fine illustration, so I would take a look just for that!

Many thanks to Vera for her time, and photos! We may have spoken mostly about, uh, cakes – but her comics are faaaaaantastic too! You can also find Vera on Twitter right here.

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