Script: Christopher Sebela
Artwork: George Kambadais
Colours: Lesley Atlansky
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Fresh from a successful Kickstarter campaign, Short Order Cooks is a self-published series about crime, cooking and bad decisions. This first issue introduces us to Rockwell Granger, a would-be cook who finds himself up to his eyes in debt and struggling to make ends meet. And, when the low-grade criminals who loaned him the money to start up his food cart business come calling, Rock finds himself grudgingly agreeing to do a little ‘freelance’ work for them, sparking off what looks set to be a jaunty crime caper packed with humour, excitement and mouth-watering tacos.
Writer Christopher Sebela’s crime credentials are already well established from the likes of Dark Horse’s Eisner-nominated High Crimes, and he takes great pleasure here in once again putting his own unique stamp on the somewhat over-saturated genre. It’s a fairly familiar tale – the loveable screw-up getting in over his head with the local crime family and ending up having to do something he’d rather not to pay off his debts – but Sebela’s decision to set the story amidst the cut-throat Portland food truck scene gives this series an extra level of quirky charm that instantly sets it apart from its straight-faced crime competitors.
As a leading man, Rock isn’t particularly likeable, which feels almost intentional. He’s not a villain by any stretch of the imagination, and there’s a certain relatability to his frustrating inability to ‘live the dream’, but he’s also grumpy, lazy and ultimately seems to be solely responsible for the predicament he currently finds himself in. So yeah, an easy guy to relate to, but a difficult one to feel too sorry for, if that makes sense?
The story ebbs and flows throughout the course of the issue, introducing us to Rock and a few choice supporting characters, from the vaguely menacing Bardem brothers to enigmatic Harper Maybury, a girl who may very well hold the key to Rock turning his run of bad luck around.
The artistic pairing of George Kambadais and Lesley Atlansky combine to give the book an understated sense of charm. It’s not overly cartoony, but there’s a slightly animated aesthetic at play and some bright, lively colours throughout. There are some impressively laid out pages too, including some great use of panels to show rapid movement (like Rock being ejected from the Bardems’ trailer), and the pair throw in some great visual flourishes, such as the first time Rock tastes Harper’s taco (so to speak). The lettering of Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou also helps to give the self-published book a slick, professional aesthetic and keeps the story flowing smoothly throughout.
The pacing is perhaps a little uneven at times, and the final pages do come a little out of leftfield, but overall Short Order Crooks does a great job of managing to be light-hearted without ever feeling slapstick or flimsy, which is a difficult balance to strike
It’s fairly baffling, particularly given some of the – let’s be honest here, garbage – that gets printed by bigger publishers on a weekly basis, that nobody snapped up Short Order Crooks when it was being shopped around. It looks great, it reads great, it has actual recipes for some of the food in the story. And If that’s not a winning formula, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, Short Order Crooks feels like a quirky indie movie that you find yourself watching and then instantly want to tell all your friends about. It’s Goodfellas with tacos. New Jack City with food carts. Or… something. Dodgy comparisons aside, it’s a hugely promising start to what feels like a passion project for the creators, and while it’s a crime (ho ho) that it hasn’t been picked up by a major publisher, it’s great to see Christopher, George, Lesley and Hassan making this damn thing anyway, and doing so with some truly professional flair.