Fear and Hunger in Japan: On Anthony Bourdain’s Last Graphic Novel

Although Anthony Bourdain died before the release of Hungry Ghosts, he did review and approve the design of the last of his three graphic novels. That’s right: “graphic novels.” This acclaimed writer, chef, and TV host wasn’t only obsessed with cooking. Once an aspiring comics artist, Bourdain also had a passion for the medium in its myriad forms. He loved and collected adventure newspaper strips Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates and Will Eisner’s The Spirit, action superhero artists such as Jim Steranko and Neal Adams, and Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad and Robert Crumb’s Zap. And the just-published Hungry Ghosts blends together his tastes in food, comics, and Japanese culture, sprinkled with a generous helping of the supernatural.

art: Paul Pope.

Based on 100 Candles

Hungry Ghosts also includes five all-new and original recipes prepared by Bourdain, but anyone who’s expecting to savor the funnybook equivalent of a refined, luscious cooking experience will be shocked to discover a series of gruesome, gory stories in the twist-ending tradition of 1950s EC horror comics rendered by “Ghastly” Graham Ingels. The narrative is based on “100 Candles,” a storytelling parlor game from Japan’s Edo period, only the samurai are now chefs, and each of their nine tales focuses on food. The artists illustrating this anthology include famed comics pros Francesco Francavilla, Vanesa Del Rey, Irene Koh, and Paul Pope.

Hungry Ghosts, co-written with Joel Rose, is from the Dark Horse imprint Berger Books. The editor, Karen Berger, founded DC Comics’ Vertigo, the line that had published Bourdain and Rose’s 2012 debut graphic novel – and New York Times #1 bestseller – Get Jiro! – which he dedicated to Jack Kirby – and its 2016 follow-up, Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi, in 2016. When I interviewed the book’s art director Richard Bruning about his design approach to the handsomely-packaged hardcover, he replied: “Hungry Ghosts was an interesting challenge due to both the unusual editorial material and the diverse range of artists with their singular styles. Although the monstrous legends and ghostly spirits come from Japanese folklore, the actual stories take place in a wide variety of cultural settings. This caused me not to go too heavily into Japanese motifs. The logo was a deliberate attempt to evoke a Japanese flavor but keep it otherwise clean and not ornamental in any way.

art: Paul Pope.

Stay Out of the Way

“For most of the non-story design pages, of which there were quite a few, I leaned towards a simple black/gray, red and white palette. Again, modestly Japanese in its appearance but also to separate it from the multitude of color schemes that the masterful and diverse color artist José Villarrubia used in each of the stories. Interior fonts were brushstroke style for headers for the Eastern influence with a crisp classic serif type, Minion Pro, for the body copy. And, as always, ‘stay out of the way of the art.’ Just give it its best presentation and keep it the focus.

“I’m very happy and proud with how this book turned out. And I’m glad that the wonderful Anthony Bourdain was able to see – and approve – the final files, even if he, unfortunately, never got to see it in print.”

art: Alberto Ponticelli.

art: Alberto Ponticelli.

art: Irene Koh.

art: Alberto Ponticelli.

art: Alberto Ponticelli.

art: Francesco Francavilla.

art: Leonardo Manco.

art: Langdon Foss.

art: Dave Johnson (left), Alé Garza (right).

art: Francesco Francavilla.

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