While Anthony Bourdain will always be remembered for changing the television landscape with his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, it goes without saying he has left behind a great literary legacy. And now, fans of the late author/TV host can explore one of his literary passion projects in the form of a new comic book collection called Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts.
Before he became the best-selling author of Kitchen Confidential, a behind-the-scenes look at restaurant life, Bourdain had already published a number of crime novels. And somewhere in between his cookbooks, memoirs, and other non-fiction work, the brilliant globetrotter took a turn at the comic book genre.
In 2012, Bourdain joined co-writer Joel Rose to produce the ultra-violent Get Jiro! (and its follow-up Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi). The graphic novel, which takes place in a not-too-distant future version of Los Angeles where master chefs rule the city like crime lords and people literally kill for a seat at the best restaurants, was a send-up of the “foodie” culture Bourdain so enjoyed diminishing. It also added fuel to a new era of food comics, which would eventually see the likes of Brian Wood’s Starve and Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Hungry Ghosts, which reunites Bourdain and Rose with legendary comic book editor Karen Berger (best known for her role as founding editor of Vertigo Comics), is a collection of the four-part comic book series released earlier this year. It tells the story of a Russian oligarch who, in the middle of his dinner party, invites the chefs working in his kitchen to play a version of 100 candles, a Japanese Edo-period game in which brave samurai would try to one-up each other with terrifying tales of ghosts, demons, and unspeakable beings. “I had never heard of Kaiden, the Japanese Edo-period ghost stories, before Tony brought it up,” says Rose. “Never heard of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, the samurai game of 100 candles. Tony mentioned it first during a joint interview, and then afterwards over a beer at a nearby tavern, he got into it. He was encyclopedic.”
Bourdain and Rose’s take on the game replaces samurai with chefs who tell dark and gruesome tales about food and hunger, with each story taking inspiration from the many horrors found in Japanese mythology. “We read hundreds of ghost stories and eerie tales, joked over myriad spirits and all their incarnations,” Rose says. “We had fun putting the book together and made sure each story was exactly where we wanted it, told the way we wanted to tell it.”
Hungry Ghosts is loaded with a long list of spirits, and Bourdain and Rose play with them all. “We knew we had to make the food thing work for us, so we felt the ghosts and goblins we settled on were also best suited for the palate,” Rose explains. The story, “Boil in the Belly” is certainly a case in point. Featuring the work of comic book legend Paul Pope, who also did the four jaw-dropping covers of the series, this story dives into the shapeshifting monsters known as bakemono. The storyteller chef, based on a famous chef and mutual friend of both Bourdain and Rose, tells the tale of a good-boy chef, based on a local restaurateur held in affection by both authors, who wakes up one morning to find a snake-like monster in his belly. “To put the bakemono in the belly of our poor chef hero was our sweet delight,” Rose says. “To inflict on Paul, our pure pleasure. He never bristled, got it right away, and succeeded beyond our wildest, succulent dreams.”
If you’re a fan of unsettling tales and comic book violence, then you should add Hungry Ghosts to your reading list. Not only is it a celebration of culinary creativity and the power of storytelling, both of which come together to deliver kitchen nightmares that are guaranteed to haunt you, it’s also a collector’s item for both Bourdain fans and comic book enthusiasts. The stories are stunningly illustrated by artists ranging from Vanesa Del Rey (Bitch Planet, Redlands) to Mateus Santolouco (Dial H, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), with amazing color by José Villarrubia, which further amplifies the horror elements in each story.
As a bonus for fans of the comics, the collection features several recipes from Bourdain, including one for pan-seared duck breast with red cabbage (it’s printed below). Co-writer Joel Rose also includes a handy guide called to the ghostly spirits featured in each story called The Real Ghosts, with illustrations by Leonardo Manco, as well as an extended dedication and beautiful send-off to Bourdain.
Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts is now available for purchase online and at bookstores across the country. As a preview, here’s Bourdain’s duck recipe: