Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of Turtle Bread! Kim-Joy, for those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and how much of your own lived experience with The Great British Bake Off served as inspiration for the story?
Kim-Joy: Turtle Bread is all about self-acceptance and overcoming self-doubt, and it's told through the eyes of Yan, who struggles with social anxiety and low self-esteem. After a chance encounter with a baking club, Yan begins to find her confidence with the help of the group's leader, Bea, and they all come together to bake Turtle Bread. But as the story unfolds, Yan begins to learn more about herself and those around her, and discovers that things aren't always as they seem…
I did draw on my own experiences on The Great British Bake Off. The baking club is similar in that it brings people together who want to bake, and there can be high-pressure moments which bring out vulnerability. I also drew inspiration from people I met on Bake Off and their quirks and personality traits - though all the characters are fictional. But Alti is the one who truly brings the characters to life - she is so talented and has shaped them into who they are.
I’m also an ambassador for the Wren Bakery - a charity which provides baking training for disadvantaged women - and seeing firsthand the power that baking can have in bringing people together and improving mental health was a big inspiration for me.
BD: Alti, what can you tell us about your shared creative process in collaborating with Kim-Joy to bring this story and characters to life on the page?
Alti Firmansyah: Kim-Joy has not only given me freedom to create the characters but has also given me the needed guidance (specifically for Bea’s outfits) and for the interiors, streets, and houses. Since the beginning, I knew that Kim-Joy’s recipes are filled with adorable and colorful creatures, and when Kim-Joy chose the specific style for this book (Sometimes, I use different kinds of styles in my work depending on my mood and/or clients.), I felt like it mixed it up just right. I could express more with this Manga-ish style, and it blends well with Kim-Joy’s recipes.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. Given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, how do you feel that Yan’s story - and her willingness to open up to her friends about her struggles with mental health - may connect with and impact readers?
Kim-Joy: I hope that people reading Turtle Bread will see that it's okay to be imperfect and that there is strength in vulnerability. It was also very important to me for the story to be realistic - I didn’t want it to be that Yan joins a baking club and baking magically solves everything! Because in real life, there is no perfect ending. We’re constantly taking small steps forward, but also sometimes small steps backwards. And sometimes there are leaps forwards or backwards. And so I hope that this resonates with readers who are also constantly struggling and feeling vulnerable, and continuing on with steps and leaps in all directions. I want people to feel empowered to keep on trying. I want people who feel like they don’t fit in, to know that people who understand them are out there. And opening up to people and talking about mental health is a powerful thing.
Alti: From the beginning, many of Yan’s characteristics are so relatable to me. I do smile from time to time while drawing Yan’s expressions – not to mention I cried a little when the book was close to the end – and I think that is how I could express her more in my art because we are connected somehow. If I can connect with Yan, I do hope the readers can connect with her, as well.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the graphic novel into subsequent books, allowing Yan’s (or the other characters’) journey to continue?
Kim-Joy: Whilst there’s no current concrete plans for a sequel, I would be totally open to exploring the possibility! There is definitely more to Yan and the other characters' stories, and as a details person, I would love to properly delve into those stories. I wrote loads of info for all the characters as part of the process of writing the book, and there’s so much more to explore there! So, who knows what the future holds!
Alti: I really do hope so! Because of the diversity of mental health issues, each with its own level of severity, I think it opens up a whole lot of stories that we can relate to and expand upon.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
Kim-Joy: My newest baking book, Bake Me a Cat, has just been released, and it’s everything I love and full of cat themed cakes, cookies, breads, everything!!
I also have lots of ideas for other books… so watch this space!
Alti: Currently, I am working on card illustrations for Upperdeck Company.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Turtle Bread and your other work?
Kim-Joy: Go to Amazon for the digital edition now, or your favourite comic store this October, and go read Turtle Bread! I’m also on Instagram (@kimjoy), and TikTok (@kimjoyskitchen). I also have lots of YouTube videos on @Kim-Joy. If you go on my YouTube, I actually have a recipe for Turtle Bread that you can watch and recreate yourself! And on Instagram and TikTok, I’m always sharing new baking videos, trying to spread a bit of joy and talking about mental health on my social media channels.
Alti: You can go to Amazon to check out Turtle Bread, and you can see mostly of my work through my Instagram (altifirmansyah).