We’ve slowly seen a new niche carved out in comics, involving food and the culinary arts. With the release of Get Jiro, we see one of the biggest names in food culture throw his hat into the sequential art ring and know that the genre has fully arrived. Anthony Bourdain is famous for his cooking shows, books and submission-grappler wife. Will he add a good graphic novel to his list of successes?
Writers: Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
Artist: Langdon FOsse
Get Jiro takes place in a near future dystopia where all forms of entertainment have atrophied. All that’s left is food and the quest for the best. Chef’s are the new superstars and your life can be worth a reservation. Two chefs rule rival culinary schools like crime families, representing diametrically opposed philosophies. Like the classic political archetypes of right and left, one basks in the world of high-class haute cuisine, while the other leads a congregation focused on local and sustainable ingredients. Both sides encapsulate trends within the cooking and dining world that Bourdain enjoys poking fun at and the city quickly settles into it’s absurdity.
In a city like Los Angeles, (or maybe it’s a future version) we find Jiro carving out a name for himself on the outskirts. The centre of the city is ruled by the two dueling chefs, with restaurateurs pledging their allegiance to either of them for protection and the best produce. Only the true independents can be found on the edges of the city but a few, like Jiro, remain as islands dedicated to their culinary ethos. In a lot of ways Get Jiro is like a western or samurai flick, a lone man living by his code and taking a stand for what’s right (in the cooking world). As can be expected with such a comparison, Jiro gets caught up in turf wars and sous-chef gang fights, using his wits and talent with a chef’s knife to survive in a hyper-violent world lacking in dining etiquette.
At it’s heart, Get Jiro is a story about the things we love. This is a book full of subtle homages, from the food we enjoy the most to the comics we cherish. The creator’s love for food and cooking shines through in their descriptions of the art and it’s product. A fondness for comics shines through in little details like Jiro wearing a jacket obviously drawn in homage to Kaneda from Akira. Cute little details and visual jokes like that, or Jiro’s sneakers being molded like tabi socks, force you to pay attention to the entirety of the panels. Get Jiro can be a fast read, but paying attention to these details like background photographs allows readers to infer much more about the world and the intertwined life stories of the characters. These small details promise a deeper world, large and fully functional.
Langdon Foss provides a wonderful art style for the book, the clean clearness of each panel makes the book seem bright despite the dystopia. As mentioned, each panel packs in detail but never becomes muddled. There may be a lot of clutter on the streets and storefronts, but each panel is solidly laid out so it only serves to make the world feel lived in. Foss’ art will remind readers of Chris Burnham or the great Geoff Darrow, creating a boldly detailed world punctuated by impressive (albeit quick) action scenes.
The scripting is tight and flows well, giving us small moments with the characters that serve to define them, while the larger story walks along at a brisk pace. Little moments of deeper culinary knowledge come out just enough to let us know that this is a world the authors are familiar with. This isn’t a concept that the writers thought up one afternoon, but reflects what Bourdain lives and breathes. It’s also been put together extremely well, with the first half almost seamless, so you can see that time and effort was put into it’s construction. At no point does the book feel forced, retaining a fun vibe throughout.
If there’s any criticism for the book it’s that the pacing gets a bit uneven near the end. While things build up at a perfect pace, the finale seems just a little rushed. It’s only a minor quibble, but a few extra pages could have been nice for the flow of the ending. Otherwise, Get Jiro is a stand-out book and quite simply fun. It’s hard to tell exactly how much of the book is the responsibility of Bourdain and how much Rose, but reading through it it’s obvious that Anthony had a heavy hand in both plots and scripting. While we already knew Rose was talented, the book actually makes me hope that Bourdain returns to the medium and that this isn’t a one-off experiment, especially considering how foodie comics are slowly carving out its own distinct place.