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Required Reading: Get Jiro!

By / Posted on 30 July 2012

Get Jiro!Anthony Bourdain’s profile certainly has raised over the past dozen years. 2000′s Kitchen Confidential made him an instant buzzworthy star of the budding celebrity chef scene and led directly to similar books of essays. A Cook’s Tour—the written travelogue of his debut television series—begat the wildly popular No Reservations, which spawned another hit tv show in The Layover. His rising celebrity has garnered him popular appearances on Top Chef and Yo Gabba Gabba. With all of this success in documentary and essays, it’s easy to overlook that Bourdain is also a crazy talented writer of fiction. Before the success of Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain released both Bone In The Throat (1995) and Gone Bamboo (1997), two wonderfully spot-on takes on the classic New York mafia novel with an appreciation for restaurant culture. Just last month, DC Comics released the first ever graphic novel written by Bourdain, and it’s comforting to see the chef easily slip back into the glamorous world of fictionalized gang violence.

The not-too-distant future Los Angeles of Get Jiro! sees the once-great-city factioned off into the camps of two rival super-chefs: the all-technique, all-business chef in whites, Bob (more than likely inspired by the frequent object of Bourdain’s ire, Bobby Flay), and the locally-grown, no-waste vegan, Rose. The greatest strength of the writing here is in Jiro‘s world-building. No longer limited to the Earth as we presently know it, Bourdain (assisted by La Pacifica‘s Joel Rose) crafts an entirely believable environment that is just close enough to our own to make it believable that people on the street would beat and rob one another for reservations to the hottest restaurant in town or that cops would look the other way when a sushi chef decapitates a customer when they ask for a California roll. We weren’t kidding about that glamorous violence.

Get Jiro! – No California Roll

This over-the-top bit of customer service is our introduction to Jiro, a brilliantly talented traditional sushi chef with a small shop in a strip mall on the outskirts of town. The putz on the receiving end of Jiro’s kataba turns out to be the connection for Bob’s meat supply, and this abrupt break in the system leads to an all-out gang war for Jiro’s alliance to either side. The outsider-looking-in perspective of Jiro’s allows the reader to see just how sick and depraved “civilized” society has become and plays strongly to an idea frequented on Bourdain’s No Reservations program: that common home-cooked meals with appreciation for tradition are often far more wonderful than the so-called gourmet.

Langdon Foss’s art holds its own against the incredibly strong storytelling. Expressive while never veering too far from realism, Foss’s clean and even linework plays just as strongly with the ludicrous Tarantino-styled super-violence and the exploitative food porn that Bourdain calls for. In the first half of the book, Foss dedicates six pages to the preparation of a Pot Au Feu dinner and three panels to observing how Jiro French-trims an enforcer’s arm. Both acts are treated lovingly and with tremendous respect, and neither feels as though it is given too much or not enough time to shine.

Get Jiro! does all the things you want a good graphic novel to do. It introduces a lively world with an animated cast of characters, features a compelling and relatable central conflict, and tells a complete story in a satisfying manner. That self-contained format is what separates graphic novels from periodical comics, and as such it is uncommon that we read an original graphic novel and think we’d like to see a sequel, Get Jiro! is that rare exception. The world is so lovingly-crafted and the characters well-rounded, a return would be delightful. More than that, though, we’d love to see what else this marvelous creative team could create, given the opportunity.


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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.