February 15th, 2011



100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

(Internet Archive)

“I’m done, the man who told me Welch rare bit is a harmless dish is a liar.”

The first step in making Welsh rarebit is to convince yourself you are not making cheese on toast with a fancy name. No, this is cooking. It’s foreign, even. This is no ordinary toast. Go out and buy sourdough bread to help convince yourself of this fact.

Heat a frypan and then add the mixture of things I am about to tell you about. If you do not have all of these things, don’t worry. Like most remotely fancy meals, Welsh rarebit started as peasant food a million years ago, and peasants were not noted for being picky about whether they used dijon mustard or cayenne.

Use dijon mustard. Add a teaspoon of it to a small mountain of cheddar cheese (about a cup), as much cream as you think your poor heart can stand and three tablespoons of beer. Drink the rest of that bottle of beer while you cook. Some may tell you that chilli pepper jam is also a valid ingredient. Ignore these people and add two egg yolks if you’re bored by the ingredients so far. Also, salt.

You probably had to buy a six-pack of beer to get those three tablespoons. Now would be a fine time to drink the rest.

Fry all of the stuff together with a knobble of butter in the pan until it is a big mess of artery-hardener. You know what, we may as well add a splash milk to complete the dairy quadfecta. It will become good and goopy when the cheese melts. Spread it all the way to the corners of the four slices of sourdough toast that I have not actually told you to toast yet, but which you should have started toasting on both sides already. Put them back in the grill with maybe a slice of tomato and one of those odd-looking mushrooms from my backyard on top. You will only need two slices to feel full, but make four just so that you can get good and sick, which is the effect we are aiming for here.

When the goo has melted and is starting to golden brown, take them out of the grill. Drizzle Worcestershire sauce and sprinkle pepper over the top. Then try to eat them without dying.

The first one is quite tasty, in that it tastes like tomato and mushroom on top of a hillock of bland creaminess. The second one is more so and you should be feeling full by the end of it. I know I am.

Winsor McCay’s comic strip Dream Of The Rarebit Fiend ran in the New York World-Telegram from 1904 under the pseudonym of Silas. Each Dream Of The Rarebit Fiend is essentially the same formula – a disturbing dream that ends with the dreamer waking up and swearing off the consumption of cheesy meals before bedtime.

I’ve only once had the experience of a big meal causing strange dreams. It was pizza, so perhaps there is something to the idea that cheese is some kind of hallucinatory dream-fuel.

“There probably is,” says the Fiend.

I polish off the last of the second slice.

“Well done,” says the Fiend, sounding impressed. He is red but only on Saturdays. During the week he’s in black and white; on Sundays he doesn’t exist at all.

“Thanks,” I say, picking up the third slice queasily.

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” asks the Fiend.

“I’m going on a vision quest. I’m nearing the end of this 100 Comics To Read Before You etcetera project, but it’s getting hard. There are all of these great strips and single-panel comics and webcomics, but it’s hard to wank on about what they’re ‘really about’ for a few hundred words when they’re so succinct. Even wordy Winsor McCay’s strips are pretty self-explanatory. Look, just read one. What can I add to that?”

I take a bite, inhaling like I’m slurping noodles to cool down the molten core of cheese.

“Surely there’s a healthier approach,” the Fiend says in his cream-smooth voice.

“It’s better than smoking magic cigarettes. Rarebit has a history in comics. Have you heard of Roarin’ Rick’s Rare Bit Fiends?”

“Let’s say I haven’t.”

“Comics artist Rick Veitch kept a dream diary. He’d give himself 15 minutes to record his dreams of the night before in comics form, which was appropriate because his dreams were heavily influenced by all the comics he read and drew. He’d dream about machines that looked like they were drawn by Jack Kirby, and about other comics creators. After Alan Moore, who he’d worked with on Swamp Thing, announced that he’d become a practising occultist, Veitch dreamed about the two of them hunting demons together. It was great.”

The Fiend raises a single, sharply angled Winsor McCay eyebrow.

“Um, no offence. It was just a dream.” I shovel in another mouthful of rarebit. I’m slowing down, I can feel it. My brain’s still going but my heart rate’s dropping and I chew the cooling gunk like a cow on cud. Oh god, all this dairy, I’m becoming a cow. Don’t think about it or it’ll happen and you don’t want to dream about having udders. Big pink things dangling and swinging.

“What you’ve done then,” says the Fiend, “is summon a demon to ask for advice on a comics project.”

“Yes. Oh god, I’m becoming Alan Moore. Find me a razor, I must shave!”

“Calm down,” says the Fiend. “Finish off that slice and I’ll tell you what to do.”

I choke it down, tiring. It feels like I’ve been eating for ages, like I was born with this stuff in my mouth and will die the same way. It’s exhausting. It feels like I have been eating since the 11th of December, 2007. I think I’m at risk of getting sick of whatever this food is a metaphor for. I don’t even like cheese.

“Here’s what you do,” says the Fiend, one hand on the back of my chair and the other on the table, one foot flat and the other pointed toe down like a 1910 gentleman. “Stop writing about them. Let them sell themselves. All you need to do is pick them out and show them to people. You don’t need to write something 1,000 words long to explain this. Your work here is done. Swallow that last mouthful and go to sleep.”

It makes so much sense. Why didn’t I think of that? My head gently touches down in the cloudy softness of the fourth and final slice.

The last thing I hear before losing consciousness is the voice of the Fiend. “Sweet dreams,” he says.