For the past eight years, comics artists have hoped to win one of Slate's Cartoonist Studio Prizes. They're a pretty big deal, these awards.
Each year, the Slate Book Review and the Center for Cartoon Studies, plus a pair of guest judges – this year Candida Rifkind, a comics scholar at the University of Winnipeg, and Dan Nott of the Schulz Library – comb through endless comics to find the year's two most talented winners.
And this year, Twin Cities artist Will Dinski, creator of Eat Street Diners Club, was awarded the Best Web Comic of 2020. His monthly series follows a group of friends as they dine their way up and down Minneapolis’s “Eat Street” (aka Nicollet Avenue). As a prize, he received $1,000 and “eternal glory” (their words).
Even for readers unfamiliar with the Twin Cities or the multitude of dining options along Nicollet, the tenderness and attention Dinski pays to his subject is magnetic and charming. The episodes delicately navigate cultural and personal terrain alongside food we know and love. One installment might feature the characters dining and chatting at Pho Tau Bay, while the next will find them arguing over everything but which of Kmart’s parking lot taco trucks is the best, before pivoting to social distancing outside Young Man farther down Nicollet.
Dinski tells City Pages that he has been making comics since grade school, has been sharing his work online since graduating college, and has since published a garaphic novel (Holy Hannah).
Nonetheless, distributing ESDC through the digital blog-newsletter platform Substack makes sense for a few reasons. “As a cartoonist, you’re expected to have work online, but I also love to design handmade books,” says the artist, who was also a MCBA Jerome Book Arts Fellow in 2013. He says he appreciates that by using this digital format, “the emailed comics can arrive on a Sunday morning, [which] reminds me of reading comics in the Sunday newspaper as a child.”
Dinksi was partly drawn to capture Eat Street after living in the area for so long, and seeing so many amazing restaurants come and go. “I’d always wanted to write about every restaurant on Eat Street,” he says. “I haven’t been making these comics for that long, really, and already there are five that have closed since making a comic about them.”
Beyond showcasing the fleeting yet social world of restaurants, Dinski admits, “Also, food is endlessly entertaining to draw—as is the architecture of Eat Street.”
Though dining culture has changed a bit due to the coronavirus, sustaining his inspirational spark hasn’t been a problem, even if Dinski says he hasn’t been inside a restaurant for a bit. Of his artistic process, the artist says he’s “embraced that I get to draw more of Eat Street from the actual street,” while ESDC’s friend-group lovingly charts the approaches eateries have taken to serving their patrons during the pandemic.
Go to Eat Street Diners Club, where readers can start from the beginning of the web series and follow up to the present moment as the characters munch their way through some of the best, most recognizable food (and moments) in Minneapolis. You’ll also find a link to sign up to get the latest comics sent right to your inbox.
Find all of Will Dinski’s other comics and illustrations at willdinski.com.