Book of the Month
What did the
Art by Langdon Foss
Size: 160 pages
Sometimes two of your favorite things crossover in a way that you can’t help but get excited about it. When it finally ends up in your hands, you hope and pray that it’s going to be good. Sometimes you’ll even accept halfway decent, as you know that your expectations could often hit unreachable heights. When Get Jiro! was finally released by Vertigo/DC Comics, I found myself at one of those crossroads. Would this book, whose creative team was almost too much to believe, be something that reached my unreasonable expectations, or would it fall short like so many of those vanity projects we’ve seen come and go over the years?
For those not in the know, in addition to comic books, one of my personal passions, hobbies, interests, call it what you will, is food. I like to eat, a lot. I’ve always enjoyed eating, cooking and the whole world of culinary pleasures. Over the past few years I’ve had the great opportunity to find some like minded folk and have some unforgettable dinners at restaurants around the world. As my passion for eating and food as grown, of course I’ve taken in the modern classics of food literature, including those by Anthony Bourdain. After reading his books, Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, and then enjoying his long running television show, No Reservations, I found Bourdain fits into the role of the rockstar of this particular passion. Like my admiration of my music idols like Walter Schreifels, Kevin Shields, Ian MacKaye and Morrissey on the music side of things, Bourdain has become the matinee idol of food. Not just for me, but many others.
When it was announced that Anthony Bourdain would be teaming up with his longtime friend Joel Rose to write a graphic novel which would be illustrated by Langdon Foss, my curiosity was piqued. We’ve seen these celebrity vanity projects come and go. Some turn out a fairly good degree of quality, while others, most sadly, end up being forgettable. Before I could dismiss this as a celebrity vanity project, I remembered Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations which spotlighted the comics mecca of Cleveland, Ohio, where for much of the episode Bourdain tours the city with the late comics legend Harvey Pekar. After hearing Bourdain speak in reverence of Pekar, I knew that this guy got it. He’s not just some tourist getting on the comics bandwagon like so many others. If he’s putting ink to paper, it’s because he has something to say. Add to this his and Rose’s dedication at the beginning of Get Jiro!, dedicating the book to the memory of Jack Kirby? Yep, he gets it all right.
Thankfully, that something he had to say ended up being Get Jiro!, the latest entry into a genre of comics that I find to be sorely under served, the food comics genre. A few years ago I was happily lost in the world of Oishinbo, and most recently we’ve been playfully amused by Chew, but as of today the current title that’s got me the most excited about food comics is Get Jiro!
Putting Bourdain’s celebrity aside, as I opened Get Jiro!, I resolved to take it in as the complete work and judge it based on its merits from that standpoint, and do my best not to get distracted. Luckily, the team of Bourdain, Rose and Foss make that incredibly easy from the get go. The first page of this 160 page graphic novel is a full page splash, almost a portrait, of our protagonist, Jiro. Standing in his chef’s garb, glistening knife in hand, Jiro is a sushi chef. From this first image we get a glimpse into the character that without any words, says so much. Strong, quiet, and focused. As we turn the page, we’re introduced to the world of Get Jiro! It’s a world in the near future, so while its recognizable in the dress of the people of Los Angeles and the sprawl of the city with it’s strip malls and dense population, this world is slightly different in that most of the fame structures we’re accustomed to have faded away. Food and chefs are the celebrities in this world, and it’s a competitive one to boot, where forks and knives become weapons as well as cutlery.
Get Jiro!, when broken down probably isn’t unlike many stories we’ve seen before. Clearly it’s a bit of fantasy from someone like Bourdain, himself a former chef, of a world where food reigns is a unique idea, but not not one that we can’t relate to. Bourdain and Ross create a scenario where in this world of power chefs, on one side a greedy, corporate, meat based organization and on the other a more extreme opposition in sustaining, earth friendly vegans. It’s in this world that Jiro finds himself caught in the middle of. A quiet sushi chef on the outskirts of town, his skills become legendary and he becomes sought after, and the target of those who cannot make sushi or food nearly as well as he can. Throw in a little hyper violence and you get a fast paced story that you won’t be able to put down.
While I was very familiar with Bourdain’s work, and to a lesser extent his writing partner Joel Rose’s work, I had never heard of artist Langdon Foss before he was announced on the title. After seeing his tour de force on Get Jiro!, I will be anxiously awaiting his next work and Foss is able to leap to the top of the pack. His style is cartoony in the Seth Fisher camp, but with just the right amount of relatability and punk rock attitude. While many comic artists can draw action, violence, and quiet conversation moments, to be an artist who draws something as visceral as food, it can be a challenge. Foss steps up to that challenge and makes you believe in the food in front of you, whether it’s Jiro’s sushi rolls, the vegetables of the vegans or the meat of the corporate chefs. Never once did I find myself questioning the food at play, and that was the biggest challenge going into it. Meticulously detailed and drawn with layers and layers of depth in character and setting, Langdon Foss definitely makes a name for himself with the artistic accomplishment of Get Jiro!
When I finished reading Get Jiro!, I couldn’t help but to exhale. The frenetic pace and twists and turns Bourdain, Rose and Foss put together keep the reader on the edge of their seat to see where the story would go. When it finished, I not only found myself satisfied after a funny, often action packed roller coaster of an adventure, but I found myself hungry for more. In creating this tale, Bourdain, Rose and Foss have created a fictional world I could definitely see myself wanting to return to, and that is a true mark of success. It may be Bourdain’s first comic, but he’s teamed up with some real pros like Rose and Foss to put together a great first effort. Get Jiro! stands on it’s own as a modern action packed graphic novel for all fans of comics, foodie or not, and a wild success for Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose and Langdon Foss
Seriously, don’t order the California Roll