The Zombie Cookbook That Lacked Enough Live Backers

Sometimes, Kickstarter campaigns don’t meet their funding goals—but it’s not the end of the world! In this series we explore what happens next.

Freelance illustrator Gary Simpson began writing a zombie-themed cookbook called Dead Eats in 2009. In the summer of 2010, he took his idea to Kickstarter, hoping to raise enough money to create a few prototypes of the book to send to literary agents and publishers. After 60 days, Gary had received pledges for only $745 of his $1000 goal. Here he talks about the experience and shares a recipe from the book.

L.V. Anderson: How did you get the idea for a zombie cookbook?

Gary Simpson: Well, the actual day that I had the idea, I was at the bookstore. I live in a small town in northern California, and they have one bookstore, and there was an entire wall devoted to cookbooks. I was picking up books left and right, checking them out, and there was an essential theme going on to them; each one started getting into a genre, almost. There was a bacon cookbook; there was one for vegetarians, vegans; how to cook like a restaurant chef and stuff like that. But they’re all still a little obscure. Looking at the ingredient list, it was like, you need this pickled pear and you need this type of white peppercorn, which you might not normally have in your pantry.

And there was one particular cookbook that really struck me, and it was a children’s cookbook; it was a Star Wars cookbook. It had these awesome pictures of cupcakes and cookies, and they had these little Star Wars figurines next to them. And the whole Star Wars theme was really detached from the actual food, but they gave them really clever names, like a Wookiee Cookie. These quirky little things that would interest a kid and possibly their parent to cook with them, and as I was going through it, I thought, “Nobody’s made a zombie cookbook.” Which, at the time, we were getting more and more saturated with zombies.

Did you intend this to be in any way an ironic commentary on the zombie phenomenon?

You know, I actually loved horror movies growing up, and it was kind of one of those—not so much counterculture, but not everybody was into it. And it is ironic, the fact that everybody seems to love zombies now. So yeah, the whole thing is wrapped up in a tongue-in-cheek presentation, like, well, if you’re interested in food and you’re interested in zombies, then there’s a zombie cookbook.

Did you write the whole cookbook before you did your Kickstarter?

I actually did. A lot of these recipes I knew in the back of my mind anyway. ‘Cause my dad worked for a hotel chain, and he was a restaurant manager, and he had all these recipes that he passed on to me. And my grandmother was a big farm cook, always making these huge portions for everybody. She taught me a lot of things. And there was a point where right out of high school when I had to decide whether I wanted to do illustration and fine arts, or if I wanted to become a chef. I enjoy cooking on a personal level; I like being able to see people’s face when they’re eating it. So I decided not to be a chef. Since then, I’ve always been an experimental kind of cook, like, let’s try this ingredient with this and give it to friends and family and see how they react. I actually had a large database of food, recipes I had acquired. So yeah, I actually did write the entire thing first.

How would you describe the way that you cook?

A lot of these would now be considered comfort food. Now the Food Network’s basically telling us there are all these different types of cuisine, and a really big thing now is comfort food and slightly Southern cooking, and if anything it’s all in line with that. When I studied, it was underneath a French chef and later an Italian chef, so those traditional ways of making food carried over into making things like steaks, burgers, cornbread. You know, simple things that people would make at home, but in a kind of fancy way.

So tell me about some of the names of your recipes that evoke zombie-ness.

Well, there’s a Brain Stroganoff, which is similar to beef stroganoff, but in the actual appearance of it, in the end it actually looks like a brain on noodles.

How do you do that? How do you make it look like a brain?

Well, you take loose meat, which is basically any kind of ground meat. And you combine it with panko or bread crumbs, and cottage cheese or goat cheese.

Okay. That sounds disgusting. I mean, it sounds delicious, but it sounds like it looks disgusting.

Well, some of these things are supposed to be over the top, like you’d almost make it on a dare. Like you would with haggis, Scotch egg, something that’s like, “I can’t believe I just ate one of those,” or “I’m never going to touch that.” There are actually a number of people that it appeals to.

Tell me about the people that it appeals to. What kind of enthusiastic responses did you get? Or, on the other side, was anyone grossed out by this idea?

The gross-out factor was more that there was a couple of vegans that said, “Can you substitute something for this?” or whatever. But for most people, it was more the curiosity: What this is going to end up looking like, and what does it taste like? It changed people’s expectations. Everybody I talked to in person about it loved it. Like they wanted to see something from it. Which is great, which is kind of the whole point of it. Talking to people online, same thing. I contacted about thirty different literary agents, and within the first day, I got ten responses.

And there seemed like there was a lot of steam building up, and one of the literary agents told me that I should sit on it for about a year, because sales are down. The reason why you saw so many at the bookstores is the recession; people were trying to unload them. So at that point, after reaching out to see what literary agents might think of it, that’s when I got involved with Kickstarter to see what other people think about it.

What specifically were you trying to raise the money for? Was it to put together a more polished version of the cookbook?

Yeah. It was basically the final part in making a project. Something needs to be tangible. You can pitch an idea; you can give an elevator pitch or whatever, but people need to have something tangible in front of them before they can truly get 100% behind it. So the money was just going to get a finished product, print out a couple hundred of them, and send them off.

And so once you decided to start a Kickstarter, what kind of promotional stuff did you do?

Really, I didn’t do anything. I’d never tried Kickstarter before, and at the time it was still a young platform, so the very first month that I went into it, I really didn’t do that much to push it. I only put in a couple updates, I offered some stuff, but it was a pretty cold start, because I didn’t know what Kickstarter was going to do, if there was a platform to launch off of, or if Kickstarter internally would do stuff. I wanted to see where it would go.

What did you decide to do after your Kickstarter campaign was over?

I went back to the cookbook; I revisited it; I edited the hell out of it. It’s got three more coats of polish on it. And I still have it.

Do you have a literary agent now?

Not one signed on, no. I have a number of people interested, but I’m not ready to move forward.

Why not? Are you still waiting for the right moment?

In a sense, yeah. As far as marketing or promoting it, you do need to devote a portion of time to it, which unfortunately my work schedule right now doesn’t permit. I don’t have that much personal time anymore. And the zombie cookbook, I know that if I was going to devote time to it, I’d have to devote a lot. I just don’t have the time for it yet.

How do you envision it? If it’s something that comes to fruition someday, do you envision it being a full-color cookbook with photographs, or do you think that since you’re an illustrator you would draw illustrations for it?

The basic outlook of it would be a very kitschy Betty Crocker book, something from 1950s or ‘60s, but re-visioned in a zombie apocalypse kind of way. There would be pictures, of course, just because I know personally people want to see that kind of stuff.

So true, yes.

But there’d be a lot of—people love information graphics, so it’d be like what part of a human body equates to what part of a chicken, like taste-wise. So there’d be information graphics detailing that, and we’ll take a cow and a pig. And there’s still a lot of introduction to it. I know being in the kitchen a lot, you shorthand things. Like what’s the difference between a pot and a pan? Or what’s a spatula? Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know what these things are.

So you want it really to be a very educational, basic source.

Yeah. Like somebody who’s taking home economics in high school or middle school could even do this stuff.

Do you think cooking is something that people should do more?

I think cooking is very inspiring. It’s such a basic thing to want to make something, almost in a craft-like way. On a day-to-day basis, creatively, I have to do XYZ for a client, but I’m still inspired because I cook every day. Putting peanut butter on a hamburger; in some strange way that’s fulfilling and it’s refreshing, and I think that should appeal to a lot of people. They should want to learn how to cook. We gloss over these things when we’re growing up, like how to write a check, how to open up a bank account, how to cook, how to save money. Just odd things that seem like they should be fundamental.

Do you have any concern that the zombie moment is going to end before this cookbook gets produced?

Not particularly. It’s pretty much an industry at this point. It’s like saying there won’t be anymore vampire-slash-werewolf movies. They already found an audience; same for zombies. It’s not so much a genre anymore, it’s an actual industry. There are zombie snack foods now and zombie shampoo. It’s weird, but it’s an industry now.

A RECIPE FROM DEAD EATS

SKULLCAPS

4 large Portobello mushrooms, stems removed
½ lb “sausage”
4 strips of “bacon”
4 oz. cream cheese
4 drops hot sauce
4 tsp salsa
4 slices Provolone or Swiss cheese
2 tbsp Graveyard Herb

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and when hot, add bacon and cook on both sides till crisp. Remove bacon strips, and then crumble sausage into heated skillet, reducing heat to medium. Cook sausage for 10-12 minutes or till all pink is gone. Chop and crumble bacon strips into bacon bits into a mixing bowl. Add sausage, cream cheese, hot sauce, and Graveyard Herb until blended.

3. Place the mushrooms on the baking sheet, filling each cavity with the sausage mixture, mounding it slightly. Add a teaspoon of salsa to each mound and place in heated oven. Bake for 22-24 minutes.

4. Stack slices of cheese one on top of each other on a cutting board, with a sharp knife cut a skull shape into the cheese. Separate the cheese slices and place one skull-shaped cheese slice onto each mushroom. Cook mushrooms an additional minute in the oven. Serve hot.

GRAVEYARD HERB

Makes 16 tsp (the size of a normal bottle of seasoning).

2 tsp thyme
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp savory
2 tsp paprika (smoked preferred)
2 tsp celery salt
2 tsp basil (sweet preferred)
2 tsp sage
2 tsp rosemary



Previously: The Unfunded Art Project Inspired By Victorian Human Skulls and The Connie Converse Album That Never Got Crowd-Funded


Was your Kickstarter unsuccessful? Want to talk about it? Send us an email with a link to your Kickstarter page at kickstarted@theawl.com.



L. V. Anderson lives in Brooklyn and works at Slate. Images and recipes are copyright Gary Simpson.