“The onion serves to season and enhance the flavor of other foods. I guess sometimes people are like onions. We complement each other and bring out the flavors that make us who we are.”
Onion Skin opens with food flying across the page as a food truck flies through the page chased by motorcycles. Then we meet Rolando. After an “accident” at work, Rolando has lost direction. He soon meets Nera who lives in a non-working food truck in a junkyard. One thing leads to another, and despite their lack of knowledge or know-how, Rolando and Nera fix the truck and start cooking. Their food truck, the Dawgburger, quickly grows a large following as they travel through Mexico, thanks to seasoning from two plants left to Nera by her grandmother.
Onion Skin, by Edgar Camacho, was originally written in Spanish and published in Mexico in 2016, where it won the first National Young Graphic Novel Award. This book, which celebrates the cuisine of Mexico in muted colors, was a hit there, and I imagine will be a hit here as well.
Camacho’s distinctive loose sketch style is worthy of praise, and I was often drawn to the unique details of the page that I might have overlooked in a more traditional tight comic illustration. One image in particular toward the beginning of the book struck me. The panel illustration shows a plate of half-eaten chilaquiles. In front of the plate sits Rolando’s discarded glasses, and in the reflection we see his frustration and tears.
Camacho also twists the traditional use of panels with the occasional word or limb that escapes the border or the use of multiple panels to break up a single image. These moments were as much of a treat as the delicious illustrations of food.
However, I was most intrigued by his narrative style. Much like onion skin, this story is told in multiple layers. The narrative alternates between two transitional moments in their relationship – the events leading to their first run in the food truck, and the events that eventually lead to the dramatic chase from the beginning of the book. The alternating scenes end in alternating panels. Each layer is different but parallel.
As the story progresses and action builds, the alternating scenes build tension and feel fast-paced, sure to capture the reader’s attention. At the same time, by creating parallels in the narrative, we are also given the opportunity to explore the evolution of character and relationships.
Onion Skin is a recommended purchase for any public library or high school library collection, especially collections where narrative graphic novels are popular. There isn’t any content in the book that regulates it to adults, but the target audience is adults, and it would fit in the adult collection of a public library. However, this story about breaking free, exploring new ideas, and traveling the country will also appeal to teens who are ready to do the same.
By Edgar Camacho
Top Shelf Productions, 2021
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Mexican,
Character Representation: Mexican,