Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

Monday, February 24, 2020

Cuddles and Rage talk Bites of Terror - their new horror comic

by Mike Rhode

Cuddles and Rage (aka Jimmy and Liz Reed) have a new book coming out soon, but it's not a friendly little children's book. Instead it's 144 pages of horror comics starring anthropomorphic food. 

As their press release states - 

Tales from the Crypt meets All My Friends Are Dead in Bites of Terror: 10 Frightfully Delicious Tales (Quirk Books; On sale: March 24, 2020) by the creative duo Cuddles and Rage, also known as Liz and Jimmy Reed. The team’s adorably creepy work began as a webcomic and has been featured everywhere from Nerdist to the Washington Post. Now they’re bringing their unique combination of adorable hand-sculpted characters, meticulously designed dioramas, and photographed panels to a graphic novel that’s sure to delight anyone with a dark sense of humor. In the book’s foreword, Fangoria magazine’s Phil Nobile, Jr. notes that Cuddles and Rage is “a brilliant storytelling duo that examines the human condition through stories about anthropomorphic foods who live rich, full, hilarious, and often relatable lives.”  

From an ice cream cone who makes an ill-fated deal with the devil(’s food cake) to a moldy strawberry craving one last dip in a bowl of whipped cream, Bites of Terror’s characters find themselves caught in various fear-filled scenarios, each with a uniquely morbid twist ending. Introducing the tales is the Cake Creeper, a partially eaten groom’s cake who seems to have a sinister agenda. Here’s a sampling of sinful stories to whet your appetite:
  •  Deviled Egg: A freak accident has a Jekyll-and-Hyde effect, leaving a hard-boiled egg split in two sides—one good, one evil.
  • Pizza Party Massacre: A pizza slice working in children’s entertainment reluctantly agrees to attend a last-minute birthday party at a previous client’s house, the site of a violent incident.
  • Death by Chocolate: At the request of his police chief, a turnip detective grudgingly allows a banana from the press to tail him as he investigates a murder spree perpetrated by a killer who removes the chocolate from his tasty victims.
     Unfortunate Cookie: After his mother’s death, a fortune cookie gains her gift of second sight, but his newfound knowledge may be more curse than blessing.  
  • Preserved: A peach tries to keep her life and household afloat while dealing with the incessant criticism and neediness of her mother (and roommate).

In our two previous interviews in 2013 and 2016, I don't think we ever firmly pinned this down. For the record, which one of you is Cuddles and which is Rage? 

Liz: Personality wise, we go back and forth.  Originally, Liz was Rage & Jimmy was Cuddles.

Jimmy: It’s definitely a rotating situation. I feel lucky that we have each other to keep the balance in check. 

Where does the name come from anyway?

Liz: “Cuddles” and “Rage” were nicknames we created for each other when we would co-op game together. I can confirm that you are more successful at gaming when you lead with cuddles instead of rage. I died a lot, but Jimmy was always there to revive me. 

When last we chatted you were publishing comics on HelloGiggles website. When did you stop doing work for it? Are you doing work for any other web publication now? 

Liz: We shared our work there for about two years ending mid-2015. We are so thankful to Zooey Deschanel, Sophia Rossi, and Molly McAleer for the time our comics did live there. They created a platform that lifted a lot of female creators to another level. I don’t think we’d be where we are today without their support. Right now our work is posted on our own site and social accounts, but we’ve done work for a number of other publications and platforms and love collaborating on new projects. 

Your new book, Bites of Terror, is a blend of humor and horror. In 2016, you said " the old days of Cuddles and Rage were pretty dark."  Did you purposefully decide to return to that darkness after 2 children's books? Or were the stories just coming out darker, and you decided to embrace it? 

 Liz: Over the years, Jimmy and I have worked hard on fine tuning our voice to match our “quirky stories with heart” mantra. With the picture books, we originally wanted them to be darker, but the stories for that age group needed more cuddles than rage. I love that those stories bring smiles instead of nightmares to kids. I hope we will have an opportunity to write some creepy kidlit one day. After writing each picture book, we would animate a new Dr. Taquito short to unleash all the dark humor brewing inside our hearts. For me, horror is my true love. Bites of Terror gave us the opportunity to create darker stories fit for the whole family to enjoy. This is where we want to be. 

Jimmy: I agree, we are huge fans of horror. We’re always writing weirder and darker stories for ourselves. I love that we’ve been able to embrace those aspects of our storytelling with Bites of Terror.
What are your influences here? The original EC comics in this mode, or the later DC ones like House of Mystery, or the Tales from the Crypt tv shows?

 Liz: I grew up watching Tales from the Crypt with my mom. That was really my first experience with horror anthologies. Since then I’ve consumed every horror anthology I can get my hands on. They are the perfect length for a quick fix or a long binge watch. In writing the proposal for Bites of Terror, I read a lot of the EC comics and dissected how the stories unfolded. You can’t beat the classics. Watching the HBO Tales does make me clutch my pearls at times now. Was I too young to be watching something so revealing in the 90s? This is a question I’m saving for my mom next Christmas.

 Jimmy: I also grew up watching horror with my mom. It’s something that Liz and I discovered that we had in common early in our relationship. We’re huge film fans, and some of our influences there were horror anthologies like Tales from the Crypt, Cat’s Eye, Creepshow, Trilogy of Terror, and Tales from the Hood.  I have always gravitated toward compilations where you get to sample multiple stories. I’m that way at a buffet, too - I’m putting a little bit of everything on that plate! 

 Who takes the lead in writing the spookier stories? The sweeter ones? 

 Liz: We each wrote five stories. It surprises me to say this, but I think Jimmy may have some of the darker stories in there. Young. Old. Sweet. Sour. Nobody was safe from Jimmy’s words. My stories focused a lot on relationships and life. Our 14-year-old dog passed away while we were writing Bites of Terror. My life had been flipped upside down. Getting lost in the writing during that time was very therapeutic—although some of the early drafts read a little too sad at times.

Jimmy: I think we found a nice balance between us in giving each story its own voice. We each gave a few of our characters some sweeter moments, but we also both put a few of them through the emotional wringer. No food is safe around here. 

Who does the character design? 

Liz: We typically designed the characters for our respective stories, but Jimmy did most of the heavy lifting there. I focused on sculpting and sets.

Jimmy: For most of the characters, we tried to use the story that was happening to them to help guide their character design. A curmudgeonly old carton of milk needs to have some big, bushy eyebrows. The Cake Creeper was a big collaboration between us. He’s my favorite character in the book. 

How many media did you use in the new book? I see clay, photography, drawing & paper cutting (the "Make a Wish" title panel). 

Liz: Oh gosh! I lost count. Clay, liquid clay, silicone, foam, acrylics, pastels, wire, wood, paper, gel, inks, foil, sticks, foam board, old clothes, cardboard, cotton, steel wool, spray paint, felt, cabinet liners, mesh bags from produce and tons of miscellaneous trash. It got to the point where I had to accept that maybe some of this stuff was more trash than art. 

Are all these stories new for the book? 

Liz: All new stories. A few of them were inspired by our older comics. 

Are you going to collect your earlier webcomic material? 

Jimmy: We have self-published a few compilations for our convention appearances, but would love the opportunity to put a comprehensive volume together.  

Are you still going to local cons? 

Liz: Yes! Our next local con is Awesome Con DC in May. We always love doing Small Press Expo too in September.

Jimmy: We love the local comics community, and our local conventions have such a great mix of artists. We watch the table for each other so we can shop and always walk away with a bag full of new books and art. 

Are those grape neighbors throwing away raisins? Any other food 'easter eggs' included (besides the deviled egg story)? 

Liz: Yes. The cycle of life is quite short for those little guys. We hid mini jokes throughout the entire book. We even included Middle-Aged Pig who we sneak into every book we make.

See Cuddles and Rage:

Cuddles and Rage Presents Beetlejuice at The Alamo Drafthouse, Winchester, VA - March 26 at 7:15pm
Fountain Books Signing, 1312 East Cary St. Richmond, VA 23219 - March 28 at 2pm
Fantom Comics Signing, Washington, DC - April 11, 2pm
Third Eye Comics Signing (date TBD)

To keep up with C&R:
Disturbingly cute stuff by Liz & Jimmy Reed
Follow us on Twitter: @cuddlesandrage 
Follow us on Instagram: @cuddlesandrage 
Follow us on YouTube: CuddlesAndRage

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Malaka Gharib

by Mike Rhode

Next month, I'll be moderating a Nerds in NoMa panel on March 12th on "Comic Converts: The World of Comic Illustrators in D.C.” One of the attendees will be Malaka Gharib, and I must confess to not being familiar with her work previously, even though she has a book I Was Their American Dream coming out soon from Penguin Random House which describes it thusly:

One part Mari Andrew, one part Marjane Satrapi, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a triumphant tale of self-discovery, a celebration of a family’s rich heritage, and a love letter to American immigrant freedom. Malaka Gharib’s illustrations come alive with teenage antics and earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka’s upbringing will look familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-internet era, but her particular story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigates her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid. I Was Their American Dream is at once a journal of growing up and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.

Sounds good, right? Here's her short bio, grabbed from Catapult, where she has a cute slice of life travel story, Special Request:
Malaka Gharib is a journalist at NPR. She is the author of "I Was Their American Dream," a graphic memoir (Clarkson Potter, April 2019) about being Filipino-Egyptian-American. She is the founder of The Runcible Spoon, a food zine, and the co-founder of the D.C. Art Book Fair. She lives in a rowhouse with her husband in Washington, D.C. 

She's answering our usual questions before the talk.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Comics and spot illustrations, also flash installations and little zines.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

Traditional pen and ink and compute.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?


Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

Work! But it's become my home, have been here for a decade. Kingman Park.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

None, but I've been doodling and making cartoons since I was a kid. Comics and zines started in high school in Southern California.

Who are your influences?

Roz Chast, Marissa Moss, Adrian Tomine, Christoph Niemann, Maira Kalman, Mari Andrew.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

Go to art school!

What work are you best-known for?

The Runcible Spoon, my zine about food. We got profiled once in the New York Times and it was honestly my proudest moment. And now my forthcoming graphic memoir, I Was Their American Dream, about being first-generation Filipino-Egyptian-American. My book will be on sale at Solid State Books on April 30, the publication date [note that this is an event that Malaka will be speaking at].

What work are you most proud of?

My little zines that I make on my Instagram continue to delight me

What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

Children's books, game books. I've got an idea for a new book called 101 Impossible Games And How To Play Them.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

I think about how writing or drawing is all about discipline, but that it takes as long as it needs to take -- and that blocks are part of the process.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

For print zines and comix? I think it will be like vinyl, rare and cultural phenomenon, so then perceived as special.

What local cons do you attend? DC Zinefest? The Small Press Expo, or others? Any comments about attending them?

Those, of course, and the event I cohost: the DC Art Book Fair (July 7 at the National Museum for Women in the Arts).

What's your favorite thing about DC?

The feeling of seeing the National Monuments on the taxi drive from DCA to home, and knowing that this beautiful, fucked up city is mine.

Least favorite?

The color palette of the city in winter.

What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

The atrium in the National Gallery of Art for a coffee.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

I like the meatloaf at Ted's Bulletin.

Do you have a website or blog?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Post on cooking comics

Local cartoonist Robin Ha is featured, but the Post seems to have forgotten that it used to run a cooking comic strip for years - Cheap Thrills Cuisine by Bill Lombardo and Thach Bui - see its introduction at

Some of the newest cookbooks look like comics. But does that work for readers? [in print as Is this the way we want to cook now?]
By Charlotte Druckman
Washington Post July 12 2017, p. E1, 6

A brief history of graphic cookbooks

Washington Post July 12 2017, p. E6
online at

Monday, February 13, 2017

New children's book from Cuddles and Rage (updated)

ComicsDC co-author has reminded me that HE interviewed Liz and Jimmy Reed (aka Cuddles and Rage)  before their new children's book came out.

Sweet Competition

About the Book

Liz and Jimmy Reed, the creators of the "Cuddles and Rage" webcomic, have whipped up a truly delectable picture book debut featuring the antics of competitive twin cherries who will do anything to outsweet…er, outsmart one another!
For this pair of twin cherries, everything is a competition. If Girl Cherry can swing higher, Boy Cherry will boast that he can swing lower. If one is smarter, then the other is cooler. So when they enter a contest to build the best dessert ever, they immediately pit themselves against each other. But when you're attached at the stem, there's only so much you can do on your own. Things could be easy as pie—so to speak—if they put aside their differences and join forces. Will Boy Cherry and Girl Cherry cream the competition by working together…or will one try to be the cherry on top?
With loveable characters and laugh-out-loud situations, Sweet Competition is the perfect addition to any child's bookshelf. After all, there's always room for dessert!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Christiann MacAuley of Sticky Comics

by Mike Rhode 

Earlier this year, I met cartoonist Christiann MacAuley at Smudge, a comics expo in Arlington's lamented Artisphere. She's been staying busy with Sticky Comics, a weekly webcomic for Cosmopolitan, but here's her answers to our usual questions. (all images are courtesy of her) 

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

I mostly create one-shot humor comics about modern life. Sometimes they're autobiographical.  My work appears weekly on since 2013. 

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I typically draw on off-white paper with a totally normal pencil, like the kind you'd put in a kid's backpack. I draw pretty slowly and erase a lot. Then I ink with a combination of black art pens. After this, I generally scan the page into my computer and add color and shading in Photoshop. I have a Surface Pro 3 tablet with a pen, but I prefer to only use the pen for coloring and sketching, not finished drawings.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born? 

I was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia in the 80s. I grew up near Herndon in a 50s brick rambler that has since been replaced by a dozen townhomes.  

Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in? 

I live in South Arlington in a great neighborhood on Columbia Pike. Unlike a lot of people I meet, I'm from around here, so I'm pretty much living in my hometown. I even went to college in Northern Virginia at George Mason University. I've always had better reasons to stay in the DC area than to leave, including my family, friends, and good jobs. I do require regular travel to keep my wanderlust at bay. One nice thing about being from such a transient city -- I have friends I can visit all over the world who I met here in DC.  

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
I'm pretty much self-taught, although I have taken some drawing classes and one short cartooning class since I graduated college. As a child I didn't try very hard with art, even though I wasn't terrible at it, and most of my teachers would have said I was best at writing. I still see writing as equally important (sometimes even more important) than drawing in my work. I studied History and Literature in college, which gave me a lot of practice writing, and have participated in some writing workshops since then. I also work as a designer, which gives me a lot of everyday exposure to colors and composition. I'm always trying to get better at both writing and drawing. 

Who are your influences?

During childhood, I read a lot of newspaper comics, and I was particularly inspired by one-panel cartoons like The Far Side and Bizarro. I also liked to read kids' comic books like Donald Duck, funny stuff like Cracked and MAD Magazine, and mystery/horror comics like Tales From The Crypt. My dad subscribed to something called CARtoons, which was a cartoon magazine about cars, and I read it every month. I think that my early impression of comics was more topical and less story-driven, which is probably still reflected in the work I do today. 
As a young adult, I had an interest in zines (I wrote two zines in high school with friends), and the zine scene introduced me to the raw punkrockness of indie comics. I was an avid reader of Life In Hell by Matt Groening and other indie newspaper comics. But I had almost no interest in seriously making comics until I read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud in college. It made me consider comics as a powerful, unique medium. I began looking at The Comics Journal and artists like Art Spiegelman and Daniel Clowes. I'm still in awe of Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes, I think it's one of the most innovative comic stories I've read. 

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

I probably would have taken a few more art classes! I would also have liked to learn more about animation, something I'm trying to learn today. 

What work are you best-known for?

I started making comics and posting them on the internet almost ten years ago. Probably my most widely-shared comic is called An Update Is Available For Your Computer (2011). You can find it on my website, although it's really dated now. Since then, my comics are what I'm best known for. They largely focus on the humor of everyday stuff, like eating, sex, and riding the Metro, from my own perspective that happens to be female. 

What work are you most proud of?

I'm really proud of anything that legitimately makes people laugh. When people laugh at my work it makes me feel great. Amusing myself is the main reason I started drawing comics, and making other people laugh is usually why I share them. A few funny comics I'm proud of are How To Go To Work With A Hangover (2015), Juice Cleanse (2015), Morning People Are Smug (2014), The Seven Deadly Keys (2011), and Spoiler Alert (2010). 

What would you like to do or work on in the future?
 I'd like to publish at least one book in the near future and probably develop relationships with more magazines or online publications like I have with If I ever get better at animation, I wouldn't mind doing more of it. As far as subject matter I'd like to work on, I would love to do some more work related to some other topics that interest me, including technology, futurism, and classical literature. Also, I'd love to write and draw an autobiographical comic memoir at some point. 

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

Work on something else. My twin sister, Sheridan, calls this FAUXcrastination. I think she coined the term. The idea of fauxcrastination is that yes, you're procrastinating, but at least you're getting something done. Otherwise you'd just be watching Netflix or reading Facebook or whatever. I also think getting out of the house, taking a walk, and talking to friends all help. If I have a deadline and I'm in a rut, I basically just force myself to work until dawn. I'm an avid night person. 

What do you think will be the future of your field?

I think comics have a bright future. It will always be a great way to convey ideas in an accessible and interesting way. I also think there's a great future in being funny, if you can keep it up. I'll never get tired of laughing. 

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

The Small Press Expo is my favorite! I regularly exhibit there, and actually started attending when I was a teenager making feminist zines in the 90s. I have also done Intervention a few times and love the supportive community there. SMUDGE is another awesome local indie comics show I've done twice, and hope to do again. I will probably try tabling at AwesomeCon one of these years too, although I haven't done it yet. 

What's your favorite thing about DC?

Wow, there's a lot. Personally it's my family and friends. As far as DC area goes, I adore the multiculturalism here. In the DC area, I have eaten almost every kind of food there is, and can regularly see art and culture and meet people from almost anywhere on earth. 

Least favorite?

Probably just how expensive it is to live here. I'm sort of a minimalist, but even living in a small space without owning a ton of stuff requires a pretty good job and a lot of hard work. I think the cost of living here is hard on the art scene, because it's so hard to make enough money just to pay rent. 

What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?

I take international visitors to the Air & Space Museum. Not just because I love space travel, but because it's a fairly unique American thing and they usually love it. Some other favorites are the FDR Memorial at night in the winter when the fountains are frozen, the Washington Monument with kites on a windy day in spring or fall, and exhibits and cafeteria at the Museum of the American Indian. 

How about a favorite local restaurant?

I'm kind of a dive restaurant person, so a lot of my favorite places are in the NoVa 'burbs where you can find great Vietnamese (Pho Vinh Loi in Bailey's Crossroads), Korean (Kogiya in Annandale), Mexican (Taco Bamba in Falls Church), etc. In DC proper, I'm going to say it's Quick Pita in Georgetown. 

Do you have a website or blog?

My website is You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and even a few other places. If you google my name you'll also find a lot of my recent work on

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Mother-Daughter anime pilgrimage to Japan

A special guest post by Arlington's Karla Hagan.

Japan.  Where else would an anime- and manga-loving fifteen-year old choose?

Erin chose Japan to visit, out of anywhere in the world, for her special fifteen-year old Mom-daughter trip.  That’s how we came to visit in late June and early July. Japan is a paradise for lovers of the graphic and comic arts. We went into a drug store and Erin recognized a manga character on a package of razors. Snoopy and Betty Boop were commonly-found American comics characters (Tokyo Skytree Snoopy, anyone?). Every town, village, or attraction we visited had its own cartoon mascot (known as a yuru-kyara). Even the remote village of Koya-san, a UNESCO World Heritage site founded in 805 A.D. as the center of Shingon Buddhism that took us a bullet train, two separate rail lines, and a cable car to reach, had a yuru-kyara (it looks like a Buddhist mushroom). There are yuru-kyara for causes like recycling. At least one Japanese prison has them. (In 2013 a Guinness World Record was set for the most number of people dressed as yuru-kyara dancing together.  Because apparently that’s a Guinness World Record category.)

We had great experience traveling in Japan, and we saw three things in particular that may interest readers of this blog: The Kyoto International Manga Museum, the Studio Ghibli Museum outside Tokyo, and the Moomin House Café in Tokyo.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum  [photo 1 – Erin outside Manga Museum]

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is set up as part traditional museum with informative displays, and part reading and research library. They have lectures, workshops, and classes. The building, while not large by Washington, DC museum standards, is an old schoolhouse and is interesting in its own right. There is a café and a small museum shop.

Their collection entails nearly 300,000 items related to manga, according to the museum. To Erin and me, the more impressive part of the museum was the reading library aspect.  They have about 200 meters (about 650 feet) worth of shelving holding nearly 50,000 manga volumes. This photo of Erin browsing the books shows how the manga is accessible and available to grab from the shelves.  [photo 2 – Erin browsing Manga Museum shelves]  I’m not sure how you get to the higher levels in this picture – I didn’t see a ladder – but they were not behind glass. There were manga volumes available to read on all three floors of the museum. They had manga from around the world - also available to pull from the shelves to read - but ComicsDC editor Mike was not impressed with their North American selection [photo 3 – Manga from Around the World].

They have very affordable annual passes for kids that allow unlimited visits - about US$12 for elementary aged children and US$36 for middle and high school aged children (US$60 for you adults). I had read online before visiting that lots of school children go there to hang out after school and read manga. They have a children’s reading room that is comfortable and nice.  We were there at a time that was most likely during their school day (when isn’t it during the school day for a Japanese student, with their cram schools and such?) and there were only a few kids. There were mostly Japanese adults there, men and women. Seniors even. Manga in Japan is truly for everyone.

One neat thing you can do at the museum is get a manga portrait of yourself done. Erin and I sat down together for a portrait and I’m so glad we did. It’s one of my favorite souvenirs from the whole trip. [photo 4 – Anime Karla and Anime Erin] The artist was Nakahara Kasumi. The lettering at the top in purple and blue is our names spelled out in Japanese phonetically. It’s funny to me that she drew Erin flashing the peace sign. Erin did not pose that way. Instead it was a flourish Kasumi added -- and I know exactly why. It’s because whenever you see Japanese school children – and we saw this all over in Japan – taking a photo of each other at a shrine, a temple, in the city, anywhere, they always, and I mean ALWAYS, pose flashing a peace sign. Boys, girls, teens, kindergartners. Every kid, every time in photos. It was cute that she drew Erin that way too.

Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, outside Tokyo

Studio Ghibli is familiar to any fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films. The Studio Ghibli Museum is an amazing place. It is lovely and understated and touching and beautiful, just like the movies. It just might be the sweetest place on Earth. It is a place for children, like a less commercial, less saccharine Disney World. There were lots of small doors and low windows and displays. But it is also a place that adults who like Ghibli movies will appreciate as well.

Unfortunately there were no photos allowed inside the museum, so these photos are all outside. There were so many details to discover, like the soot sprite window in the Totoro ticket booth that greets you at the entrance [photo 5 – Karla at Totoro ticket booth], all the beautiful stained glass windows with Ghibli characters and scenes, the Jiji-shaped (the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service) faucet handle on a sink outside, the art nouveau/steampunk water fountain and bench. Mayazaki’s movies so effectively use scene to create a mood, and so does the Ghibli Museum. The style of the museum is an odd-sounding English country/steampunk/art nouveau mix that somehow melds together in an evocative and beautiful way.

Inside the museum were displays about animation and the creative process for the Ghibli team. There was a FULL-SIZED plush catbus that kids could play on (but only young kids- don’t for a second think we weren’t jealous!). I sure do wish I could have gotten a picture of that! We saw a short film that is only shown at the Ghibli Museum called Mei and the Kittenbus, based on the My Neighbor Totoro characters. The film was about Mei, a baby catbus, and Totoro, and it was sweet and touching and fun. I’m going to tell you a secret we learned in the movie, and it is the most wonderful thing: there are more catbuses besides the My Neighbor Totoro one! In the movie not only was there was a kittenbus, but there was also a bullet train catbus and a steam ship catbus! (Or should that be catbullettrain and catsteamship? At any rate, it was FANTASTIC!)

The Ghibli Museum restaurant is a real treat in and of itself [photo 6 – Totoro at The Straw Hat Café]. We waited for about 45 minutes to get in, but once we did it was all worth it. The style inside the restaurant, called The Straw Hat Café, is particularly English country. The food was served on adorable dishware with Ghibli characters and embellished with Ghibli flags [photo 7 and photo 8 – The Straw Hat Café food]. If you go and want to take home the cute flags, save them from your food because they sell them at the restaurant for $6 for a set of four! On the patio outside the restaurant, they sell beer that is only available at the Ghibli Museum [photo 9- Ghibli beer] – which, unfortunately for my husband, I couldn’t take home unopened.

If you are in Japan and at all a fan of Studio Ghibli films or of design, I highly recommend the Studio Ghibli Museum. One note, though: you cannot walk up and buy your tickets at the museum. You must purchase them in advance. I was heartbroken to tell a Swedish family we met in another part of Japan who were headed next to Tokyo and who had an interest in visiting the museum that I had purchased the tickets two months before our trip. Locals can buy tickets in stores like Lawson’s, but if you are planning to travel there you should definitely buy them before your trip. In the US you can buy tickets through the travel agency JTP USA. While getting tickets does take some advance planning, ticket are not expensive compared to American theme park experiences (I’m looking at you, Disney!): US$19 for adults and cheaper for younger ages. Also be aware that the films change; they have a rotating array of short films shown only at the Ghibli Museum, and it’s not always Mei and the Kittenbus that is showing.

One Studio Ghibli footnote from our trip that shows what Ghibli films can mean for the Japanese: we had a wonderful visit to a hot springs bath village called Shibu Onsen in the “Japanese Alps” in Nagano. The village was very old with all wooden buildings. It had nine different hot springs baths that you could visit for free if you were staying in one of the inns in the village. Picture traditional wooden Japanese architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and being able to walk from one end of the village to the other in about ten minutes. Our innkeeper was a lovely woman named Keiko, and when we checked out of the inn she noticed the Totoro paper fan I was holding that I had gotten at the Studio Ghibli gift shop. With delight, she asked if Erin and I knew the film . Finally we realized she was asking about Spirited Away! If you’ve seen it, you know it is a film about adventures that happen in and around a traditional Japanese style bathhouse. Keiko shared with us that the film is very meaningful for people in her village because it features the culture around baths that exist in Japan, and because that bath culture is such a big part of her village. She excused herself and went back into her office to get something. When she came out she was carrying a figure of No-Face from the movie! We posed with her and No-Face for a picture in front of her inn before saying goodbye. [photo 10 – Keiko, No Face, Karla, and Erin in Shibu Onsen]

Moomin House Café, Tokyo [photo 11 – outside of Moomin House Café]

Located inside the Tokyo Skytree shopping complex, the Moomin House Café is an absolute delight for fans of the graphic arts in general or of Tove Jansson’s series of books for children about the Moomin family in particular. Jansson illustrated the books herself, creating an array of interesting and personality-laden characters. The Japanese are very big fans of the Moomin books, which I knew before visiting Japan. When I heard there were Moomin cafes there, I knew we had to go.

The food is prepared in the most kawaii way! [photo 12 – Moomin House Café menu]  All the food, both sweet and savory, is prepared including shapes from the Moomin universe. We ordered dessert there: Hattifattener madeleine and pudding in a souvenir mug for Erin [photo 13 – Hattifattener madeleine and pudding in a souvenir mug] and a whopper of an assembled dessert for me that including Hattifattener and Moomin-shaped cookies and a Moominhouse cake [photo 14 – Crazy Moomin dessert].  It was almost too kawaii to eat.  Almost. J At one point when I had gotten up to go look around at the gift shop, the waitress came and set the Snork Maiden down next to Erin. You can see Little My in the background, sitting at the neighboring table. Like everywhere else in Japan, service was excellent, and the servers at the Moomin House Café made sure that all the customers had a guest Moomin family member at their table at one point or another during their meal.

We had our share of other great experiences. Visiting temples and gardens. Eating excellent sushi. Riding the super-efficient, super-clean, super-awesome bullet trains. Going to cat cafes (it’s a thing in Tokyo). Scratching our heads at the Robot Restaurant and at all the people wearing surgical masks. But even visiting these three places alone I think made the trip worthwhile for an anime- and manga-loving fifteen year old, and her mom as well.

Karla Hagan teaches physics by day and only occasionally has a comics blogger alter ego (ok, never before). She is totally qualified to write this blog post by virtue of living three doors down from Mike.  The comics are strong with that one.