Readers who want a fun-loving romance with some serious themes should look no further than Bloom, written by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau. Published by First Second Books, Bloom is this team’s first graphic novel, and it demonstrates a beautiful partnership between these two creators.
Bloom is a YA romance comic that follows Ari and Hector, two boys with vastly different dreams, as they navigate a very surprising summer together. In addition to falling hard for each other, they also learn some hard truths about the world and get to know themselves better, all while bonding over Ari’s family baking recipes.
The full plot synopsis reads, “Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom… that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.”
Ahead of Bloom‘s release on Jan. 29, Panetta and Ganucheau answered questions via e-mail for The Beat.
Samantha Puc: Where does the concept of Bloom originate? Does it have any personal meaning or resonance for either of you?
Kevin Panetta: Savanna and I knew we wanted to work on a project together. We both love romance and slice of life stories so we chatted about what we wanted to do and eventually got to the baking love story in Bloom.
Savanna Ganucheau: It was kinda like the first thing we talked about, too. It just seemed like the obvious thing. I drew some very rough character designs and from there Kevin wrote some bios that ended up being Ari and Hector.
Kevin Panetta: And Bloom is a very personal story. Beyond being a cute romance, I wanted to write a story about rejecting cynicism and learning to be earnest and loving. It’s something I struggled with as a jerky teenager and I’m much happier being on the other side of it!
Savanna Ganucheau: I think it’s something everyone struggles with. Ari is also very close to my heart he kinda represents overcoming bad choices to me. Also, I’ve always wanted to work on a slice of life romance with a very defined sense of place. It’s a big personal accomplishment for me.
Puc: How did the idea to explore music and baking come into play?
Kevin Panetta: We are both musicians (two bass players!) and we both bake so it just came naturally.
Savanna Ganucheau: Drawing musical instruments is one of my favorite things to do. Kevin suggested them being in a band and it was a no brainer.
Kevin Panetta: And baking was there from the start. I think the first Bloom art was Ari and Hector sitting on a slice of pie, haha.
Puc: From concept to execution, did you find that Bloom changed in any significant way?
Savanna Ganucheau: The art transformed in a major way. In the very beginning I drew them in a very cutesy cartoony style that slowly became more anchored in reality. I think the art style shift happened as the story got written.
Kevin Panetta: The story changed a lot, too. Initially it had a much more melancholy ending. Calista Brill, our editor at First Second, suggested something a little happier. At first I wasn’t sure but the more I thought about it, it really seemed to be the right choice for the story we were telling. Now I think about that sadder ending and I’m very glad it didn’t happen!
Puc: Did anything about working on this graphic novel surprise you?
Savanna Ganucheau: I think just the amount of work was like a very slow surprise. Haha.
Kevin Panetta: From concept to release the book took three years. THREE. YEARS!
Savanna Ganucheau: The art itself from thumbnails to finished pages took me from June 2016 to November 2017, and I was working 5 days a week.
Kevin Panetta: You can blame me. I increased the page count from 200 to 352. Sorry!
Savanna Ganucheau: I agreed, hahaha, I have only myself to blame.
Puc: Was there anything particularly challenging to write or illustrate?
Kevin Panetta: Is it bad to say “not really”? Once we got the concept and the characters down. everything really fell into place story-wise. Sometimes I struggle writing, but Bloom was a joy.
Savanna Ganucheau: The hardest things to illustrate for me was places I’d never been before, like a state fair and Baltimore. There was a lot of Google searching. Also, the van was hard to draw. Vehicles are so hard to draw!!
Puc: Can you speak to the meaning of the title? (I was so tickled to see the simplicity of it work in conjunction with baking, romance, identity and growing up, all of which are major components of the story.)
Kevin Panetta: I came across the title in a baking dictionary! The “bloom” is the finish on a loaf of bread. We already knew we wanted to include a lot of flowers and it also fit perfectly with a coming of age story. I’m really happy with the title!
Puc: In some ways, Bloom could be considered a coming out story, particularly for Ari — but that isn’t the focus of the story by any stretch, which is honestly refreshing. Was telling a queer romance story that didn’t center itself around one or both of the characters “coming out” important to you? How so?
Savanna Ganucheau: We definitely wanted to tell a story about characters who are already comfortable in their identity. I think with queer stories we’re making our way to an age where stories like Bloom are becoming more common and that’s very exciting. Coming out stories are equally important but it’s nice to have variety.
Puc: Do you have a favorite moment in Bloom, whether it’s a specific panel, a piece of dialogue, or something else?
Kevin Panetta: Ari’s first sighting of Hector is one of my favorite moments. He’s just gotten done fighting with his dad. He’s on his moped with his stupid little helmet. He sees this boy taking out the garbage and just immediately feels a connection. I love that moment and Savanna does it all in the art which is great.
Savanna Ganucheau: Thanks. My fave moment is the pool scene; it was so fun to draw. I also love the kissing scenes…also fun to draw. Hahaha.
Puc: If you could choose just one song to encapsulate Bloom, what would it be?
Kevin Panetta: We have a whole playlist in the back of the book. If I was going to pick one song off of that, it would be “T-Shirt Weather” by Circa Waves. It’s very summery and fun.
Savanna Ganucheau: I agree with Kevin, but also will add “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure.
Puc: Aside from the sourdough rolls, did you consider including any other recipes in the graphic novel for readers to try? Is there anything you like to bake or cook that you think our readers should check out?
Savanna Ganucheau: Kevin wanted all the recipes bakeable at first but it just didn’t fit.
Kevin Panetta: Yeah, it felt a little too technical. I did bake everything in the book, though! My favorite was probably fa’apapa, a Samoan coconut bread. It’s really hard to get right and I never quite nailed it but it was still delicious every time.
Puc: What do you hope readers take away from Bloom?
Savanna Ganucheau: That it’s okay to not know where you’re going, we all have to navigate things at our own pace. Ari tries some stuff out that doesn’t end up working for him and that’s okay!
Kevin Panetta: Yes! You don’t know everything and you don’t have to know everything. Just take your time and learn.
Puc: As I was reading, I was reminded of YA novels like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and The Music of What Happens; do you think Bloom will appeal to readers who may not have been into comics before, but are looking for more diverse queer representation in fiction?
Kevin Panetta: We’ve actually had a few YA prose readers tell us that Bloom is the first graphic novel that they’ve read which is very humbling!
Savanna Ganucheau: I think Bloom’s length and cinematic feel makes it easily approachable for most people!
Kevin Panetta: It’s so hard for me to say Bloom should be someone’s first YA graphic novel, though. Books like This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, Spinning by Tillie Walden, and Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak are so incredible and ground-breaking. Yes, read Bloom, but also read those! Comics are good!!
Puc: On that note, is there anything you’ve read recently that you want to recommend to people who read and enjoy Bloom and want to take in similar stories?
Kevin Panetta: I’m reading Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi right now and it’s a very cute romance novel.
Puc: At this time, do you have plans to do more in this universe? A sequel, perhaps, or a spin-off?
Savanna Ganucheau: Should we do a sequel?????
Kevin Panetta: We’ve been working on a new project together that is NOT a sequel but I think we also kind of want to do a sequel.
Savanna Ganucheau: More Bloom sounds good to me.
Puc: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Kevin Panetta: I just want to say thank you to everybody who has helped us out with this book. People have been so supportive and excited throughout the whole process. So, thank you!
Savanna Ganucheau: Yeah, thank you so much.
Kevin Panetta: Oh, and follow me on Twitter @kevinpanetta and read my other comic Zodiac Starforce! Thanks, bye!
Savanna Ganucheau: Byeeeeeeeeee.
Bloom hits shelves on Jan. 29. Check out the cover below and be sure to pick up a copy from your local comic shop or bookstore.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bustle, The Mary Sue, SheKnows, The Tempest, Rogues Portal, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is also the co-creator of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat women and non-binary creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and cats.