There's more to life than cupcakes and frosting

Tribune Newspapers

There are probably easier routes to Turkey, but author and illustrator Sara Varon followed the path of a talking cupcake.

"I really wanted to go to Turkey, but it seemed too indulgent," says Varon. "So I decided to make a project about it and go there as research."

That project became "Bake Sale," a new graphic novel starring Cupcake and his pal Eggplant, who set out to visit Eggplant's Turkish Aunt Aubergine together and wind up learning about friendship and identity along the way. We chatted with the native of Highland Park, who now resides in Brooklyn.

Q: Are parts of "Bake Sale" autobiographical?

A: Ever since I went to art school — I went to the Art Institute — I wanted to go to Turkey to see Ayasofya (an architectural marvel built as a church in the 6th century). I went for 10 days with a friend for research. It was amazing. I realized I couldn't draw it, though, so I didn't have the story set there. I didn't feel like I would know how to represent it. But there's a postcard in the book that's from Ayasofya.

Q: The book is about finding yourself, but is it also about friendship?

A: Friendship is a recurring theme in all my books. I like the idea of somebody looking for something that maybe they already had. Or getting an idea of something in your head and realizing that maybe the idea and reality are not the same thing. That you have certain goals but then you realize maybe you had it all wrong.

Q: Do you write and illustrate with a particular age group in mind, or do you just set out to tell a story, knowing it will find an audience?

A: I just take something I want to tell, and I write it. I've been lucky so far; everything I've done the publisher decides what age group it's for. All my stuff I think is for ages 8 and up. But the conversations and lessons you could be having at age 40 or 15 or whenever.

Q: I read that when you first moved to Brooklyn there was a patch of white paint on your wall that you turned into a chicken and that was the birth of chicken and cat. Is that true?

A: That is true! That was the beginning of chicken and cat (characters in two of Varon's books, "Chicken & Cat" and "Chicken & Cat Clean Up"). All my books are about where I'm living at the time. In "Bake Sale," when Cupcake opens the refrigerator, that's my refrigerator. That's my mailbox.

Q: Did you ever want to own a bakery like Cupcake?

A: I really like to eat, but I would be a terrible business person, and I would get really fat. So I prefer to be a customer.

"Bake Sale"
By Sara Varon
First Second Books, 158 pages, $16.99

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