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How Anthony Bourdain’s Pop-Culture Obsessions Fuel ‘Get Jiro’

And what's he doing writing graphic novels anyway?

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

The golden era of food comics is most certainly upon us. This week, Anthony Bourdain and co-author Joel Rose released their second installment of Get Jirothe food-focused series that combines violent yakuza film tropes with the restaurant life of Japanese sushi masters. "I'm given the opportunity to play with a lot different toys now," says Bourdain of his work on Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi. "To be able to go back to my teenage years and do a comic book — especially a really violent, sexy, food-oriented one — it's an unfinished or unrealized dream." Read on for more from the writers on why Get Jiro would be a ground-breaking television series (if American media can get over its bias), how co-authoring works, and how comics fit into a life built on exploring the world and its restaurants:

Tell me about your collaborative writing relationship.
Joel Rose:
We are really good friends, and we go back a long way.
Anthony Bourdain: My first publisher. The first thing I ever had in print Joel published and edited in his magazine. We're used to working together. We both like graphic novels. You [Joel] actually have experience in it. It was a cool thing we thought we'd do and it's like playing in a band. Sometimes the bass player starts the song off, sometimes it's the guitarist.
JR: You know, I've written with a lot of different people. We have a really nice balance. When we wrote Get Jiro!, a journalist actually said, "Why don't you guys do a prequel?" And we were both lit up... I went up to Tony's place and sat around and hammered out a general idea of where we wanted to go. We both love yakuza movies and we knew we wanted to go in that direction. So we talked about movies that we loved. Tony talked about breaking it down into different Japanese styles of cuisine, kaiseki, sushi, and rice which he loves. I went away with the idea of the general flow we wanted to go in. I just put that together in a very rough thing and sent that to him, and he added input. Whenever I ran into a problem I'd just say, "Hey Tony," and in 20 minutes, he always sends me this burst of emotion and humor. It's a very constructive kind of way [of working] with no ego involved or anything like that.
AB: We pretty much knew who our characters were. And once we set up the situation, for me, it's like riffing, constantly riffing back and forth. Really fun.

So how does writing a graphic novel compare to the writing you've done in your books versus writing for TV like on Parts Unknown?
Well, most of the time it's all about me. [Laughs] Writing Parts Unknown, I know who is talking at all times. It's pretty effortless, it's me saying how I feel about things and what I experience. I find plot difficult. I like characters, I like atmospherics, and I like the details, what the room smells like. How to get the characters up a tree and then back down is tricky for me. It's fun because we're working within an established and understood genre; there are certain conventions that I really like and enjoy. That's why I did it.

Why do you think restaurants are a good fit for the graphic novel form?
My dad was a waiter, I worked in every restaurant in New York City basically from the time I was 14 as a dishwasher. Tony has definitely turned me on to a whole different world of restaurants than I was used to. I was much more front-of-the-house. 
AB: Oishinbo was a big influence also. That manga series was really important. We wanted the series to be as nerdy on the details. As precise. You learn a lot about stuff from Oishinbo. So getting the food correct both in the first book and this one was always important. And little nerdy details that — I think if you're not serious about food, and you don't love Japanese food, you might well miss. Chankonabe [a type of stew] is not something that everybody is going to see on a regular basis. The cat cafe. [Turns to Joel] Next time we kill someone in the Lawson, the fast food store with the fluffy sandwiches.
JR: Those are so good.

How far out have you plotted Get Jiro? Do you have a rough idea of where you see the story heading over several issues, or is it more issue by issue?
JR: We haven't talked about going forward with another story. With [this prequel], we had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to go and we knew where it was going to end up, because we had the first book.

The Walking Dead has sparked a new interest in comic books as a potential breeding ground for high-budget television. Do you see a television show in Get Jiro's future?
AB: My friend David Choe talks a lot about porn. He says, "You know, no Asian guys [are] on top." You don't see Asian guys in straight porn much. He says, "How come the Asian action hero doesn't get the girl?" So I think the odds are stacked against [us], but if we could help break that down, that would be so completely awesome.
JR: Warner Brothers owns the rights. We actually got quite a few inquiries before Warner Brothers stepped up.
AB: The first question is going to be: "Does he have to be Japanese? This would be a perfect Kevin James vehicle." So look, I hope so. It would be great. You could certainly have it in Japan. But for broad appeal, to essentially have a Japanese superhero — I think that would be great. Takeshi Kitano; man, there's no one cooler. He's a little older now, but he would have been perfect for this.