ADVANCE REVIEW! Get Jiro! will go on sale Wednesday, July 3, 2012.
There is a tradition of celebrities "writing" comics. Rock musicians. Genre actors. Porn stars. What have you. There is also a tradition that these comics are terrible. They are pointless, vanity projects by people who don't know the first thing about writing comics and published by companies knowing they will bank a few coin on name value alone.
Anthony Bourdain, I am happy to say, has broken this tradition.
Because Get Jiro! is pretty good. It's a funny, violent little satire that mixes foodies and celebrity chef culture with Kurosawa Akira's Yojimbo (or Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, depending on how you look at it), and spices it up with obsessive sushi culture. It's a comic with a good sense of humor that pokes fun at things that need to be poked at, and respects things that need to be respected. There is nothing epic here, nothing ground-breaking. I have seen the "chef as action hero" done before and done better in Johnny Hiro. But it is entertaining.
The story is set in the future, where foodies and celebrity chefs dominate all other forms of entertainment. Imagine the Food Network pouring out from your TV and covering the world like a plaque, transforming everything it touches. In this world is Jiro, a traditionalist sushi maker working in a run-down little shop practicing his art. He gets caught in a struggle between Bob, the epicurean who knows exactly what a good meal is but still pushes out big-box, money-making junk restaurants for the masses (think Bobby Flay), and Alice, the neo-hippy locavore/vegan/frutopian who follows every trend she can cash in on (think Alice Waters). In classic Yojimbo fashion, Jiro agrees to work for both and pits them against each other, trying to clear the playing field for small, artisanal restaurants.
Get Jiro! works because even though Bourdain is a celebrity, he is also a writer. He and co-writer Joel Rose spice up the story with sex and violence and food porn. There is some nice deadpan humor — I loved the cops discussing the merits of sushi rice while dealing with a severed head. Bourdain packs the book full of his personal food philosophy, like that a run-down taco truck serves better, more delicious food than most four-star restaurants, or that tiny bistros run by passionate, skilled cooks are the greatest things in the world.
Artist Langdon Foss does a decent job. I'm not familiar with Foss; his biography lists him as an artist for Heavy Metal and Wizards of the Coast. His art has an almost Steve Dillon (Preacher) tinge to it, with tube-headed, expressive figures filled in with lots of little lines. Foss does a good job with the details, and I was impressed to see a piece of sushi drawn with almost every grain of rice illustrated.
Unfortunately, DC was chintzy and for a review copy sent me an uncolored proof with only the first twelve pages colored. This is a double-punch when you see that Get Jiro! Is a collaboration by two of the best colorists in the business, Jose Villarrubia (King Conan), and the King of Colors himself Dave Stewart. Those first twelve pages show just how much a colorist contributes to a book over all, and can make a mediocre artist look brilliant. Villarrubia and Stewart add weight, depth, and much-needed punch to Foss' simple outlines, and the uncolored portion of the books looks amateurish by comparison. I am willing to bet that the final product will be outstanding to look at, but that will be thanks to the colorists not the artist.
Oh, and one pet peeve: Because sushi chef Jiro is Japanese, Get Jiro! is peppered with Japanese words to add a little authenticity and flavor to the story. That's fine. The problem is, they are misspelled. Is it REALLY that hard to get a Japanese speaker to proof a book like this? I mean really. Especially with cooking terms that are the same in English and Japanese. Japanese chefs don't make "daishi." They make "dashi." They don't chop "moguro," they chop "maguro."
If you are listening Anthony Bourdain, here is a deal for you! If you want to try this again, send me your books and I will proof the Japanese for you. Free of charge. Because just like sushi, getting the little details right makes all the difference.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.