Anthony Bourdain is the coolest guy on the planet. He travels, he eats, and he tells Andrew Zimmern to shut up. He looks like what a good brandy tastes like. He’s what I imagine that bad-ass guy from the neighborhood grew up to be instead of peaking in high school and having a kid way too early. So, in keeping with being so damn cool, Bourdain has just released his second comic series through Dark Horse, entitled Hungry Ghosts. Playing on the old Japanese Samurai tradition of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, translated as A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales, the comic collects a series of one-shot horror stories each featuring some sort of dish. If you have read any of Bourdain’s other works, it should come as no surprise that the comic would revolve around food, but with a clever sprinkling of Japanese lore and Lovecraftian weirdness, Hungry Ghosts dishes out some real scares (and unintentional laughs) as well!
Perhaps in throwback to older horror collections, Hungry Ghosts opens up with a traditional horror host, this one being a female yurei by the name of Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu. She serves as the introduction to a larger story featuring a Russian billionaire with a taste for expensive food. Finding himself in need of entertainment after a night of luxurious foods, he asks his guests if they would be interested in playing a game of Kaidan. Every guest is asked to tell a story until one hundred scary stories are told and one hundred candles are extinguished. He informs them that, according to legend, on completion of all one hundred stories, the evil spirits in the stories will rise up and possess anyone who is in the room. This leads into the first two of several horror stories to be featured in the comic series. The first one revolves around a restaurant owner who would not feed a homeless man and the dire consequences of turning him away. The second one is about a woman whose rescue from drowning comes with a heavy price but little do her rescuers know that it’s themselves who will be paying it.
I really liked Hungry Ghosts and I think part of the reason is that Bourdain ended up sharing writing duties with Joel Rose, who is an editor at DC Comics. I’ve read both fiction and non-fiction by Bourdain and his writing tends to get a bit sidelined, so it’s nice to see his ideas get reined in by someone from the professional sector. I also adore that the two writers chose to write about Japanese horror, a personal passion of mine, which follows a cultural trend set by Bourdains previous comic, Get Jiro. The man loves his Japanese culture and with each work, he allows himself to get more and more into the lore, especially with Hungry Ghosts. The Kaidan game, the yurei hostess, and the monster at the end of the first story are all characters from traditional Japanese horror and he handles each icon with utmost respect. I’m genuinely excited to read the rest of the stories and see how he handles other horror legends or if he even goes a bit more modern and starts diving into urban legends!
That being said, the second story is not actually based on Japanese horror and instead goes for a Weird Tales vibe, which somehow ends up being hilarious. I don’t want to give the story away but there’s a human lobster involved and men’s testicles getting clipped off. It was probably supposed to be actually scary, but it came off more absurd than anything else though I still dug it. The art duties are shared by Alberto Ponticelli, who illustrates both the prelude and the first story, and Vanessa Del Ray, who illustrates the second one. Both do a wonderful job of bringing their tales to life and share similar, scratchy styles that work well with the horror stories. While the illustrations fit the narrative, it would’ve been more interesting to see the Japanese tale mirror the ukiyo-e print style that made the original tales so gruesome or even commission a Japanese manga artist to put their take on it. Still, it definitely didn’t suffer in quality for it and was a great read from beginning to end.
Pick up your copy now!