CULTURE/LIT "I work in advertising," says Shannon O'Malley. "I just want to make people read my evil shit." The evil shit O'Malley refers to isn't a sales jingle, but recipes for apocalyptic cakes. Want to know how to make an Agent Orange Carrot Cake? Rachael Ray, Paula Dean, and even Sandra Lee probably can't help, but O'Malley has just the right ingredients to tantalize your "cyst-ridden pus hole." A collaboration with photographer Keith Wilson, her colorful picture book Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes From the End will be published by Running Press in the spring of 2011 — for now, you can feast on some appetizers from the tome (and order recipe cards) on her website. I recently met with O'Malley to discuss the sweet and the deadly. We were at a cafe, but neither of us ate dessert.
SFBG I guess I look at apocalyptic cakes from an arty angle, and also from a nihilistic one.
Shannon O'Malley Yeah! Fatalist gluttons! [Laughs]
SFBG I like the juxtaposition of something tasty and sweet with something harsh and disastrous.
SO Me too.
SFBG How did the first cake come about?
SO Not from any preoccupation on my behalf. I'm not a good cook, I don't bake cakes. It happened because in December of 2008, it was my partner's birthday. She's obsessed with the apocalypse and actually wrote her undergraduate thesis on zombies. She got me into reading J.G. Ballard.
When you're with someone who talks about something a lot, it sort of seeps into your brain. Her birthday came around, and I didn't want to buy her something, I wanted to make something for her. Around the same time, she was obsessing about cake, so that whenever anything went wrong, she'd say, "I want cake."
The whole week before her birthday I thought I'd make her a cake cookbook — a zine of fucked up cakes. But I thought that was sort of vanilla, excuse the pun. The night before, I started to really ask myself what she liked, and I thought of the apocalypse. Cake and the apocalypse — it made perfect sense. I stayed up all night on the computer making this eight-page color zine called Apocalypse Cakes. I started thinking about the plagues, and just took this shitty JPG I found on the Internet of red velvet cake, and called it Raining Blood Red Velvet Cake.
I did all the writing and Photoshopping and layout. I started at 11 p.m. and basically stayed up all night because I loved it so much.
At the time I was living in Austin, and I went to Kinko's before I had to go to my ad agency job. I bound it and made a couple copies. That night I gave it to her for birthday. Then I started showing the zine to my friends and being like, "Look what I made — isn't this funny? Aren't I fucking funny?" That's when I decided it should be a book.
SFBG Is that when you began your blog?
SO Yes. At first I thought it would only be text. But then I got with my friend Keith Wilson, who is a filmmaker here in town, and he said, "No, you need pictures."
He and I got together, and our first two cakes were the Raining Blood Red Velvet Cake and the Branch Davidian Texas Pecan Pie. We made them at my house. We set the Branch Davidian Texas Pecan Pie on fire in the yard in front of my house. He styled it. He's super meticulous and way more object- and space-oriented than I am, and he has a great eye for macabre details.
SFBG How did your Photoshop project compare to images that were set designed?
SO It totally changed things. Keith adds something that on my own would give me trouble. I don't want to go through the trouble to make things just-so, but he totally gets into that. His mom was a caterer, and that helped him with his food assembly skills.