Hungry Ghosts #1 Advance Review

No Spoilers

by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, Alberto Ponticelli, Vanesa Del Rey & Jose Villarrubia

Anthony Bourdan, famed chief, TV star, and celebrity comic book dabbler; gives us another taste of his non-culinary talents in a ghost story miniseries loosely based on Japanese folklore.

Being a fan of his first graphic novel from Vertigo, Get Jiro!, I was excited to see Bourdan continue writing culinary centric comics and use Japanese aesthetics in a new story. While there is plenty of both, the emphasis on food (which Bourdan by his main career choice should be an expert) becomes tenuous at best.

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The book opens with a Japanese witch welcoming the reader to the world of Hyukumonogatari Kaidankai, which is translated to ghost stories and tales of the weird. The setting then switches to an elaborate dinner party by a Russian billionaire, who himself invites his privately reserved cooking staff of highly prized chiefs to engage in Kaiden, a game from Feudal Japan involving Samurais telling each other ghost stories by candle light to test their bravery. Two of the six chiefs tell their tales, both involving victims who pay for thoughtless actions at the hands of supernatural entities.

The first story, “The Starving Skeleton”, I found to be an amusing, if straight-forward tale of a chief who refuses an act of charity and pays the price. The second, “Pirates”, was more of a feminist fable with questionable story logic in its climax, as the victims lined up for their punishment without a second thought.

The premise by Bourdan and co-writer Joel Rose is certainly intriguing and ripe with potential. The art by Alberto Ponticelli and Vanesa Del Rey is wonderfully rich and layered, giving the stories a pulp texture reminiscent of the Tales from the Crypt comics. This may be one comic I recommend buying for the art alone, for the moment at least.

There’s a disappointing lack of focus on food for this issue, which for me defeats the point in having a world renowned chief write the story. Get Jiro! was literally a graphic novel focused mainly on food to excellent results, and its hard not to hope for similar entries here. We know few of the characters in this issue by name, and so the success of the issue weighs heavily on the plot and art. The latter being the strongest aspect of this issue. Yet the plot lags behind in some regards.

I can tell that Bourdan and Rose want to do something different from Get Jiro!, and I want to give them that chance. However, I worry if they are up to the task they’ve set for themselves.

It’s by no means a bad issue exactly, even though I question the need to set a story within another story instead of framing the plot more accessibly from the dinner party or the witch. First issues, by necessity, demand a strong showing because of the heavy competition and length of time between issues of a particular series and its competitors. There’s literally a first issue every month, if not every week, and so losing reader interest is a huge concern for freshmen series.

In spite of this, I’m curious to see what future installments can bring to the table. Japanese folklore has many inventive aspects and creatures to draw inspiration from, and I still find myself hoping for more food based comics. I’m confident Bourdan can fit both of those qualities into the next five issues.

Hungry Ghosts #1 may not be to everyone’s liking, or astound with its first offering to readers, it’s fresh and promising enough to check out on its art and unusual cultural background. For those looking to expand their tastes, or looking for more of Dark Horse’s horror/pulp stories, Hungry Ghosts is recommended.

Disclosure: Publisher Dark Horse Comics provided a review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site and publisher or agreement on the review’s content.

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