Over the years, the food we eat in movie theaters has become a core part of our cinematic experience. From the classic buttered popcorn to the fabled 1.5 pound Bavarian Legend pretzel, it’s an inescapable fact that when we see a movie, our stomachs start to rumble. International Manga Award-winning author Abby Denson and her artistic partner Utomaru know this feeling all too well, and that’s why they’re bringing Kitty Sweet Tooth‘s Tasteorama to a bookstore near you!
Published by First Second of American Born Chinese and This One Summer fame, Kitty Sweet Tooth‘s Tasteorama focuses on the eponymous “B-movie and sweets-loving cat,” who gets the opportunity to manage her granddad’s movie theater. When she takes the reins, however, it’s not enough for her to keep the ship afloat. No. She decides she’s going to create “the ultimate cinematic dining experience” in the vein of the Alamo Drafthouse chain many of us know and love. Moreover, Kitty Sweet Tooth will team up with a witch and a “misunderstood (not mad!) scientist” to accomplish her goals.
Prior to Kitty Sweet Tooth, Denson has worked on titles that combine her love of Japan and sugar, including Tough Love, Dolltopia, Cool Japan Guide, and Cool Tokyo Guide. Her artistic collaborator, Utomaru, will make her American book publishing debut with Kitty Sweet Tooth. Based in Tokyo, Utomaru has previously illustrated book covers, posters, and music videos for J-Pop bands such as Oresama. She also designed visual elements for Kaiju Musume 6, “an Ultra Monster-themed restaurant” in Roppongi.
The Beat recently sat down with Denson and Utomaru to learn more about Kitty Sweet Tooth‘s Tasteorama and discuss how Utomaru feels about making her American debut.
Alex Lu: Abby, Utomaru, how did the two of you come to collaborate on Kitty Sweet Tooth’s Tasteorama?
Abby Denson: I travel to Japan regularly, and I randomly met Utomaru in Shinjuku several years ago at a horror-movie-themed bar (specifically themed to the movie Suspiria) in Golden Gai called Cambiare. We have a lot of similar interests, and I admire her amazing art, so we kept in touch over social media and would try to meet whenever I went to Tokyo. When I was considering an artist to collaborate with for this story, I thought of her immediately!
Utomaru: We became good friends quickly. We both love film and art. When she told me about this book I was very happy and immediately I said “YES!” At that time, I wanted to do something new that is not only graphic, but with a story. I admire Abby’s imagination and the characters she creates. It is a great opportunity for me.
Lu: Abby, I really enjoy your blog, City Sweet Tooth. The way you blend your love of desserts with your cartooning is both fun and informative! What kind of desserts can we expect to see included in Kitty Sweet Tooth’s Tasteorama? Things that we might be able to make ourselves, or some of the craziest looking desserts you and Utomaru can dream up?
Denson: You can definitely expect crazy-looking desserts that do unpredictable things! For instance, there is a jelly dessert that expands when exposed to oxygen and ends up growing out of control! In addition to the fun and fantastical desserts that we will have in the story, we plan to introduce a recipe or two that readers can make at home.
Utomaru: I am really enjoying creating the colorful wacky deserts. I hope that our readers will make their own foods inspired by the story after reading and enjoy them with films!
Lu: Utomaru, how does it feel to make your American debut with this book?
Utomaru: American pop culture such as films, cartoon and comics made me who I am today, and I am very excited to be a part of it.
I’m very glad to be able to work with Abby. I know she has been working on the character Kitty Sweet Tooth for a long time and I will do my best not to disappoint her.
Lu: Tell me a little bit about the lead characters in this book. What are Kitty Sweet Tooth, her Pop-Pop, and this misunderstood scientist character like?
Denson: Kitty Sweet Tooth is a cute cat who loves desserts, traveling, and B-Movies. She has an upbeat attitude and wants to make something fun that her local community can enjoy. Her Pop-Pop (inspired by my own grandfather) is a kind and supportive grandfather to her, he loves sweets and owns a little candy shop in town. He also owns an old theater which is not doing so well lately, and falling into disrepair. He gives Kitty the opportunity to manage the theater and make it more successful.
Contrary to local rumors, Dr. Battina Redwing is not a mad scientist. Just very, very, very, very smart! … And misunderstood. She is a bat who lives on Stormy Mountain, and she is the niece of Pop-Pop’s friend, the projectionist, Danny Bat. She is very enthusiastic about science and her experiments. She loves collaborating with her friend Walter Witch, together they use science and magic to create sweets and all kinds of things!
Lu: What is the world of Kitty Sweet Tooth like? Is it a blend of New York and Tokyo? A stylized version of one or the other? Something completely imaginary?
Denson: The world is busy, colorful, and full of friendly animals. I imagine it as a smaller local neighborhood within a big city like New York or Tokyo where there is a close sense of community and support for local businesses.
Utomaru: You will meet a lot of animals and strange creatures living and working there. Every individual has unique personality. I will try my best to make them believable as city-dwellers.
Lu: The cinematic dining experience that Kitty Sweet Tooth sets out to create is a lot like the one popularized by Alamo Drafthouse. Are you both personally a fan of this type of movie-going experience?
Denson: Yes, I enjoy those experiences at the Alamo Drafthouse and Nitehawk Cinema. It’s fun to have special menus that are paired to the movies. I’m a longtime fan of campy and cult cinema, so I love being in New York City, where I can see the great programming at those places, as well as IFC Center, Film Forum, Film Society of Lincoln Center, BAMcinématek, Anthology Film Archives, Quad Cinema, and more!
Utomaru: There is no theater like Alamo Drafthouse in Tokyo, so I have never been to that kind of theater yet. I hope to go there the next time I visit New York or Texas. America is full of original movie culture that I admire: Eat in theaters, drive in theaters and horror hosts.
Lu: Obviously a big part of Kitty Sweet Tooth is the desserts, but another major part is film! Should we expect to see homages to any particular movies or genres of film?
Denson: Definitely! Kitty is a B-Movie fan who has access to an old theater archive, so you can expect homages to some classics!
Utomaru: Kitty and I share a love for genre movies especially of 50s and 80s sci-fi horror. I also love the new wave cinema from the 70s, as well as musicals, gang flicks, film noir and melodramas from the 30s and the 40s. I will definitely add the flavor of my favorite movies to Kitty Sweet Tooth’s Tasteorama!