Joel Rose on Hungry Ghosts, Working with Anthony Bourdain and the Most Disturbing Story
When you think of the name Anthony Bourdain, you think of cooking, travel and seeing parts of the world normally not featured on television. But Bourdain is also known to like comic books and he has a new one coming up from Dark Horse that he's co-written with Joel Rose called Hungry Ghosts about a group of chefs playing a game of Hyakumonogtari Kaidankai.
"If I were going to play a Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (100 candles) game, I would choose to tell the story of Kiyohime. The Kiyohime is about a spurned young woman who turns into a serpent and kills the man who spurned her."—Anthony Bourdain
I got to chat with Rose about the new series, working with Bourdain and the most disturbing story of the bunch.
DAN WICKLINE: Anthony Bourdain is known for cooking and traveling to exotic locales. Hungry Ghosts combines those two things along with ancient Japanese tales of horror. I know you worked together in the past on Get Jiro!, which also has chef and food themes. How did Hungry Ghosts come about?
JOEL ROSE: It was Tony's idea, pure and simple. I think we were at a Comic Con or it might have been at a bookstore in Brooklyn. Paul Pope was moderating a panel, and Tony mentioned these ghost stories and this Japanese samurai game, and we were off.
DW: This series is a horror anthology that uses the "Kaidan" story as a framing device. For those who may not know, what is Kaidan? Can you explain the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai or 100 Candles game, and how does it play into the series?
JR: The game is from the Edo Period, seventeenth century Japan. A group of samurai would gather to socialize and scare the pants off each other. A room was darkened, 100 candles lit. And then the samurai would start to tell tales, one after the other, of ghosts and goblins; yokei, yurei, obake, devourers of human flesh, magical creatures that enter the body, shapeshifters, female ghosts abused in life and powerless, returned strong and powerful to seek their revenge (curiously, rarely on their actual wrong-acting tormentor.) After each tale told, the samurai would glance in a mirror provided in the room to make sure that he himself had not been invaded by one of these horrible creatures. Then he would blow out one candle. In this order, each would follow suit, and with the increasing darkness came the escalation of sheer terror. It is on this premise Tony and I built Hungry Ghosts.
DW: In the first issue, Alberto Ponticelli drew the framing story and the "Starving Skeleton" while Vanessa Del Rey worked on "The Pirates." Subsequent issues will feature art from a variety of artists. Did you assign specific stories to the different artists? If so, how did you determine what artist would draw each story?
JR: Karen Berger, Tony, and I determined the artists' stories. We mapped out the stories we were going to tell and then tried to suit artists we loved and admired (and in some cases, never heard of) to each. Who'd we get? Alberto Ponticelli, Vanesa del Rey, Mateus Santollouco, Leonardo Manco. Sebastian Cabrol, Paul Pope, Irene Koh, Francesco Francavilla. Karen was instrumental in fitting artists to the stories. Her wealth of knowledge, and her sense of direction in the sense of where we were looking to go with Hungry Ghosts was instrumental. As I knew it would be, having worked with Karen a number of times before, including my years at DC and Get Jiro!
JR: This was one of the funnest projects ever. If we could do 100 stories, if we could 200 stories, I'm all in. It's really up to readers and comic book aficionados and neophytes, too. It's no question the art's up to it. We'll see if the stories are as well. We've set the tales in varied places in the world and we'd love to bring in other cultures and other kinds of ghost stories, but at this point have we planned out one hundred? No.
DW: Hungry Ghosts is a co-written project between you and Bourdain. How does the collaboration work between you two? Does he give you the rough stories and you expand, or is it more of a back-and-forth between the two of you
JR: Tony and I are old friends. We've worked together many times through the years. We work back and forth and all around. First comes the idea, and those have been his. Get Jiro! was his. And so was Hungry Ghosts. Once we get to work, we try to nail down the story as best we can. I have a different background than Tony, have worked in TV and the movies, and I sort of knock out the structures. Any time I hit a snag I email him and say how about this? and he gets back to me with these crazy riffs and I fill them all in, and we're off again until we hit the next obstacle. It's a nice way to work.
DW: Hungry Ghosts is a horror anthology, is there a particular story coming up that really affected you? That really made your skin crawl more than the others? If so, can you give us a hint of what that story is and when we might see it?
JR: Ha! Ha! Oh boy, there's a few. But there's one. Originally it was called: "Small, Anus Ball" but Tony objected to that so we changed it to "Deep". It's drawn by Sebastian Cabrol and tells the story of this creature called a kappa, which has aspects of a turtle. Kappas are drawn to a certain delicacy, a tiny ball, purportedly a secret thing hidden away you know where. What Kappas like to do is crawl up the unsuspecting victim's butt and … you get the picture. It's not that nice kappas do. Probably as you can imagine. Anyway, it's a special story.
JR: Great storytelling is great storytelling. I read that what separates us more than anything else from every other species is our ability to tell each other stories. For me (I'm a novelist), the ability to work with storytellers with a completely different vocabulary than my own, a completely different and remote methodology, has been rewarding to the nth degree on every level. Artists push me, and what comes back on paper is only a gift. The beauty of comic books, the art, the design, the structure, the words on the page, the work is compelling. For those who've never experienced, the strength of remarkable telling, the fantastic, unusual, stunning talents working, if you don't know them, run to your local shop. Not only for Hungry Ghosts #1 but for so, so much more.
Hungry Ghosts #1 goes on sale this Wedesday, January 31st.
Writer: Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose Artist: Alberto Ponticelli, Vanesa Del Rey Colorist: Jose Villarrubia Cover Artist: Paul Pope
On a dark, haunted night, a Russian oligarch dares a circle of international chefs to play the samurai game of 100 Candles–where each storyteller spins a terrifying tale of ghosts, demons and unspeakable beings–and prays to survive the challenge.
Inspired by the Japanese Edo period game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, Hungry Ghosts reimagines the classic stories of yokai, yorei, and obake, all tainted with the common thread of food.
First course: With bad consequence, a ramen chef refuses to help a beggar, and a band of pirates get more (and less) than they were bargaining for after their encounter with a drowning woman turns ghastly.
Hungry Ghosts is cooked up by the infamous author and chef, Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential, Emmy-Award winning TV star of Parts Unknown) and acclaimed novelist Joel Rose (Kill, Kill, Faster, Faster, back again from their New York Times #1 best seller, Get Jiro!). Joining them this issue are stellar artists Alberto Ponticelli and Vanesa Del Rey, with amazing color by Jose Villarrubia, and a drop-dead cover by Paul Pope