'It's messy, colourful and abstract as hell!' FatBoy Zine creator Chis O'Leary on his Asian food diary

Want to explore the world of Asian cuisine but don't know where to start? Pick up a copy of FatBoy Zine, the exquisitely designed diary-cum-cooking zine created by Chis O'Leary.

Cookbooks are a useful way to discover new recipes, but sometimes they don't meet the practical needs of a busy, messy kitchen. Ideally, you need something insightful, well-designed, and flexible enough to weather the various ingredients and spillages a work surface might throw at it. That something is FatBoy Zine.

Created by London-based creative Chris O'Leary, FatBoy Zine was first released in 2018. A labour of love, it was the result of on-and-off work that took over a year to complete and get just right. "It started as a form of therapy," Chris tells Creative Boom. "I'd recently lost someone close to me, my Mum. And I feel that when someone close to you passes, it starts to raise questions about yourself, including: how do I see myself, how can I feel closer to my heritage and what is really valuable to me?

"So, as part therapy and healing, part self-interrogation, I tried re-creating meals I had growing up, largely Filipino and Hong Kong dishes. After nearly a year, I found I had a whole book, but I had no intention originally to publish it. However, my friends encouraged me to share it with others. It felt like a huge relief when people contacted me and felt like they could connect to what I was feeling in their own situations. I decided to keep exploring the topic, and four years later, we're four issues in!"

The part cookbook and part diary approach to FatBoy Zine is unique. And rather than being a bolted-on sales gimmick, this angle emerged from the original concept organically. "I love collecting cookbooks and magazines," Chris explains, "but as usable objects, they tend to either be so precious and heavy I can't cook with them easily, or they don't tell me why the food is special.

"That means I usually end up cooking from an online recipe. I decided to make something that felt personable and un-precious. If it got messy or damaged, that's all part of it. It's what I love about zines and indie publishing."

Considering this Chris and his partner were new to the world of magazine publishing, FatBoy Zine is a remarkably polished product. You would never guess they were unprepared for how much-unseen work goes into putting out a magazine and all the logistical and organisational skills it requires.

"I think that's a trap of so many people starting their magazine," says Chris, "the background work and the feeling that you 'have to go big' on the first couple of issues, with loads of content and high production at every stage; you end up pricing yourself out after your first issue! I wanted to avoid that with something I could treat as simple but loud in other ways."

Speaking of being loud, FatBoy Zine has a one-of-a-kind look which sets it apart from other culinary publications. Each issue has a central theme which the art direction and recipes are then built around. Chris reveals that from there, it's like "inviting people round for dinner". With the point of view and message prepared, they can then be paired off with contributors who will have something interesting to say on each topic.

"It doesn't have to be specific or even agreeable to your perspective," he adds. "But you know they'll bring a big portion of themselves to the theme, and that's more important. Also, I feel like the Asian community, whether it's in food or creative, is so supportive and wants to collaborate. It makes it easy reaching out to people."

As for the art direction, Chris reveals that the core visual influence for FatBoy Zine is Asian food packaging: "the colours and typography are just an endless source of joy to look at". Fancy and low-key restaurants are another source of inspiration, as he loves the scene of a table after everyone has eaten. "It's messy, colourful and just abstract as hell! And weirdly, I'm inspired by the Fluxus art movement. I love the playfulness and attention to how people interact with art, not just the art itself."

As well as these three influences, Chris also invites great visual creatives to contribute. "It's important their vision comes to life just as much as mine," he says. "For example, we worked really closely with Ken Lam on the latest issue, he's a brilliant photographer we featured in issue three, and after getting to know his process, I knew I wanted to work with him again on issue four but give him more room to breathe and experiment. He shot the cover and the three "courses" that break up the whole zine."

And because it's an independent publication, FatBoy Zine can afford to take its time and make sure the art design and contents look perfect. "This latest issue took over a year. Our second took five months!" laughs Chris. "We don't put pressure on ourselves to follow a schedule. When it's ready and feels right, then I think people appreciate the care and attention. Again it comes down to being precious about something quite precious."

He adds: "For us, food is the medium of having a bigger conversation. Our recipes are simple and tasty, but it's the conversation and open dialogue we encourage from people who read the zine that sets us apart. We get to be experimental and create something beautiful NEXT to delicious food! Instead of endless streams of recipes without a real driving perspective."

Browse and buy all the issues over at the FatBoy Zine shop.


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