“ Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book” (Jonathan Cape, 1965)
Len Deighton is credited with creating the first known example of this broad genre. Yes, that Len Deighton, the prolific British spy novelist. In 1965, he published a collection of the black-and-white “cookstrips” he had created for the Observer newspaper to teach London’s bachelors to cook; he took a funny-pages approach, condensing each recipe (chicken Kiev, duck a l’orange, borscht, cassoulet) or ingredient (“3 or 4 Ways With Spuds,” “Know Your Onions,” “Gird Your [Lamb] Loin”) into a rectangle divided into smaller boxes containing terse, handwritten directives and an accompanying sketch, one step or application per section. A year after “Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book” came out, its sequel, “Où Est Le Garlic?,” followed.
“Dirt Candy: A Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
By the time Amanda Cohen introduced this book with co-authors Ryan Dunlavey and Grady Hendrix in 2012, enough time had elapsed since the espionage expert’s breakthrough culinary debut that Cohen seemed to have invented a previously unseen format. Named for her playful vegetables-only venue, the New York City chef’s effort borrowed a cartoon setup to tell the story of her restaurant, recipes included. Unlike Deighton’s, hers has a pointedly narrative bent and reads more as an entertaining calling card for the business than a resource for home cooks. Even if the recipe for the huitlacoche cream or the Stone-Ground Grits with Pickled Shiitakes and Tempura-Poached Egg it goes into were typed up the old-fashioned way, your average civilian probably wouldn’t be inclined — or equipped — to prepare them.
“Relish: My Life in the Kitchen” (First Second, 2013)
A year after “Dirt Candy” was published, illustrator and author Lucy Knisley birthed a more personal take on the comic-strip culinary narrative and one rendered in color. She billed it as a food-focused memoir and tacked on a recipe at the end of each chapter. Knisley sticks to an uncomplicated, albeit varied range of comfort food. But unlike her prose, the recipes are unconfined by the boxy grid and rendered as free-form how-to illustrations.
“Pierre Hermé et Moi” (Marabout, 2014)
In France, illustrator Soledad Bravi, whose work is so widely recognized she goes by her first name, convinced equally well-known pastry chef Pierre Hermé to teach her how to make the beloved desserts from his shops at home so she could present his recipes to the French populace in her signature schematic style. The result of that collaboration pairs her doodlings of ingredients and technical prompts with typed-up instructions to guide readers through the particulars of each task — cute, short and sweet.
“Chop, Sizzle, Wow: 50 Step-by-Step Kitchen Adventures” (Phaidon, 2014)
With this kid-targeted entry in “The Silver Spoon” series, Phaidon puts the Italianate recipes back inside the box — or boxes, with each step receiving its own picture. The only narrative impetus here, if it can even be called that, is the unfolding of culinary procedure. Scott McCloud, author of “Understanding Comics,” calls it a successful example of an illustrated cookbook because “every idea has its own visualization.”
“The Adventures of Fat Rice” (Ten Speed Press, 2016)
Intended to reflect the inventive spirit, cuisine and decor of Macanese-inspired Fat Rice restaurant in Chicago, this ensemble production mixes traditionally presented recipes with comics-esque guides to technical challenges such as butchery or wok cooking and snapshots of finished dishes.
“Cook Korean!” (Ten Speed Press, 2016)
Asked to contribute to a friend’s comics anthology, artist and textile designer Robin Ha produced a one-page illustration depicting the preparation of a classic Korean dish. She thought it might be an effective way to introduce people to the food of her culture and show them how to prepare it. From there, she began sharing what she calls “recipe comics” on her website and went on to expand the series into this cookbook.
“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” (Simon & Schuster, 2017)
Samin Nosrat, a writer, restaurant-trained cook and seasoned culinary instructor, sought to teach people how to cook without recipes but knew she would have to include some recipes nonetheless. Convinced that including photos would reinforce readers’ dependence on precise formulas, she opted for illustrations and infographics and teamed up with artist and graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton to get the job done.