With the near completion of the post-move unpacking, I have been able to settle in and actually start catching up on my trade and graphic novel stack, which has been accumulating for most of the past two months. And one of the books I finally got to read this week was an OGN (original graphic novel) from Vertigo, Get Jiro! A standalone piece, it's a mix of science fiction and culinary criticism like nothing I've read before.
The first thing that drew me to Get Jiro! was the name of one of its co-authors, Anthony Bourdain. I'm not sure if the average comic book reader would be familiar with Bourdain, but in some circles, he's a huge name. Bourdain is the rock star of the culinary world: a legendary chef who now travels the world trying new foods. He has had two tv series about his travels, and has written numerous bestselling books about food and his time in the culinary world, most famously Kitchen Confidential. He's a wickedly funny man, with a frank and profane sense of humor. I was curious to see what his attempt to enter the world of the graphic novel would be like, and I admit this wasn't precisely what I would have expected, but it pure Bourdain in it's sensibility.
Jiro, our title character and hero, is a sushi chef in Los Angeles, in a future that is probably not too distant. Food is the commodity that rules the world, and chefs are the great power players. There is no culture but food culture. Jiro is an amazing chef, who still works in the outer ring of the city, doing his best to keep his head down. But he has come to the attention of the two chief chefs of the city, who are more like mob bosses than chefs as we think of them. Bob heads Global Affiliates, and he believes in getting the best ingredients from wherever they come from. Rose is the chief of a loose coalition of growers and chefs who believe in working only with local ingredients.
Throughout the graphic novel, Jiro is drawn deeper into the conflict between the two groups, and eventually begins to manipulate them into destroying each other. Jiro speaks very little throughout the book, appearing as a classic samurai or the gunslinger in a spaghetti western, so he never explains why he does what he does in words. It seems Bourdain, and his cowriter Joel Rose, hold both the positions of Bob and Rose, or the extremes that they are taken to, in contempt, and Jiro is an artist who does what he does for the love of the art, of the food, and does not want to be part of the games that are being played.
The comparison to a gunslinger or samurai is particularly apt as you get to see how Jiro deals with many of his problems. Conflict in the world of the future between chefs is not handled in Kitchen Stadium with a benevolent Chairman looking on (if that doesn't make sense to you, go watch some Iron Chef); it's handled in the streets. There's a lot of fighting throughout the book, and it's violent and explicit. If you want to watch a good fight, this is a book for you. The fights are illustrated really well, with seamless panel to panel pacing, and a good amount of blood spray and severed limbs.
The book is not a cook book, but there are plenty of little bits about the way food is prepared and properly consumed. I admit to learning a few things about how to eat and order sushi, and about the proper plating and presentation in classic french cuisine. I don't see things like that in any other comic I've read. Little bits of authenticity like that add to the atmosphere in Get Jiro! I like that this books stretches across genres and reminds us that comics can present all sorts of information in an interesting way. How many other culinary books can have one page discussing meal preperation followed by brutal gangland-type slayings? Not many.
The book has some stunning art from Langdon Foss. While I try not to compliment and artist by saying they remind me of another artist, I am going to break that rule. Foss seems the successor to the late, great Seth Fischer. His art has the same roundness to it, a lack of sharp edges to his characters, and his backgrounds are hyper-detailed. There are a ton of interesting little details on every page, and his art rewards a second reading of the book.
Get Jiro! is available now at any comic shop or book store. It's a great ride and worth the read. And if it taught me nothing else, it's this: Don't order the California Roll. Trust me.