Binge-watching sessions are not always about super-sized snacks and gross pyjamas: sometimes, they can spark a pretty great idea for a project. When London-based illustrator Liam Cobb watched one too many episodes of MasterChef, he stumbled upon the concept of his latest comic. The Inspector, published by Breakdown Press, traces the adventures of a globe-trotting restaurant inspector who travels to different eateries to see if they meet the standards required to receive a coveted Michelin star. Cobb transforms the familiar, pudgy Michelin Man into his protagonist: he drives around in a fluorescent pink convertible, only to arrive at restaurants and ask for a “side of ketchup” with the tasting menu.
“I watch a lot of MasterChef and enjoy the pompous elements of shows like that,” says Cobb. “The idea came to me after I finished a previous comic, The Fever Closing, watched a lot of TV and realised ‘the inspector’ would be a funny idea for a short comic. That world of affluence and pomposity is also easy to take the piss out of.”
Cobb then researched how Michelin inspectors operate to help craft his story. “Essentially, they travel around the world secretly judging restaurants they’ve chosen to visit,” he says. “The story is quite simple and is basically a montage of him dining in over-the-top restaurants and driving about.”
The Fever Closing was in fact Michelin Man’s debut in Cobb’s work. In that story, he gets invited to a fancy dress party, and something about this amicable protagonist had Cobb hooked. “I really enjoyed writing the scenes and dialogue for him, and wanted to build another comic around him, but I didn’t want to use the character for the sake of it,” he says. “The Michelin Man is a very funny design. The vacant expression on his face has an everyman quality to it too; I can project any emotion onto it, which can have amusing results. The contrast between his smiling, blank expression and the situations I put him in was hilarious and made me want to create an entire comic.
“It never even crossed my mind that it would be a story about a ‘human’ inspector; the whole story revolves around this ludicrous idea that the Michelin Man has any authority on fine dining.”
The interplay of imposing restaurants and “vague European landscapes” hints at the crossover between architecture and nature, which is a recurring theme in Liam’s work. His stand-alone illustrations—which often provide an experimental break from his longer comic projects—explore Cobb’s obsession with constructed spaces. In a hypnotic series of architectural illustrations released earlier this year, he drew Modernist buildings rendered in delicious two-toned color palettes. The atmospheric drawings steal quiet moments from everyday life, as characters lounge in their homes while the afternoon sunlight glides through the verandas. Sometimes, the composition may not need the presence of a human at all. “Buildings and landscapes can tell as much of a story as any other character,” says Cobb.
The soft colors and grainy textures that have now become synonymous with his work are informed by the risograph printing process, which lets Cobb play around with opacity to create interesting patterns. “I enjoy the aesthetic look of this technique and the process it involves,” he says. “There’s a little bit of unpredictability about the printing too, which means I usually can’t tell exactly how the final print is going to look, especially when I’m layering different colours and textures over one another.
“For The Inspector, I wanted to use lots of color, but when it comes to risograph printing, you’re limited to certain colors, as well as how many layers you can print.” He chose a blue, yellow and fluorescent pink, which led to a palette of textured oranges, greens, and purples. “I try to use the different colors to create joyful tones in my illustrations, as well as achieve some nice fades for sunsets and ‘exotic’ foliage,” says Cobb.
While the risograph lends the dewy, afternoon glow to Cobb’s illustrations, it also dictates the final steps of his process. “When working on comics, I usually create a little mockup of the book, and start working out the rhythm of the story and figuring out where I want the drawings to dominate the pages, and when the dialogue and story should have time to breathe,” he says. After that, he sketches out a page and works on the final inks by hand, creating drawings double the size of his printed book, mostly in A3. These drawings are then scanned into Photoshop for final coloring and prepared for print. “The pages themselves don’t look so great on the computer once colored,” he says, “but when they’re printed, all is forgiven through the risograph printing.”