So many candles, so many skulls and that’s only on page one. ‘Hungry Ghosts’ is a series of tales in comic book form that utilizes chefs or forms of cooking in the narratives. Celebrated chef and world traveler Anthony Bourdain, together with Vanesa Del Rey, Joel Rose and Alberto Ponticelli present stories inspired from Japanese folklore. Somewhere in upstate New York, a wealthy Russian wins a dinner made by great chefs from around the world. As they speculate about his fortune, they are summoned by the man himself. From there things go pear-shaped in a deliciously scary way.
‘Kaidan,’ or the game of nerves is the setup to the first tale. A challenge that called malevolent spirits and essentially, invited them to crossover and possess the one who told the tale. It’s a daring game, but those who played it centuries ago knew when to stop. With this group of jaded chefs, there’s no telling if they have any amount of self-preservation. If those culinary artists had any sense they would have declined, but as their host begins his story, they feel compelled to stay. ‘The Starving Skeletons’ deals with a man whose decision to turn a man away haunts him. He’s followed by this choice without a chance at redemption. Food and drink is everything. There is no part of our lives where it is not marked by a great meal or a good cup of coffee or tea. To deny someone, to not help them stave off starvation is the type of karmic act that gets you dragged to a nether-realm. Then ‘The Pirates’ showcases more candles, a mirror and another ghostly tale. Double entendres abound as a lady chef tells her story. A ship full of men save a woman from drowning, then demand payment of a sexual nature for all of them. As the next panel shows the entire crew, amidst one lone woman, you almost feel sorry for the pirates. Tall, redheaded and practical this woman makes a declaration that momentarily stuns her audience. Then she takes the captain as her first victim. Her hunger is insatiable as she envelops each pirate in a satisfyingly emasculating way. In awash of blood the woman transforms and you get an appreciation of it from the comic’s artwork. The woman’s true form and cackle are alarmingly comforting.
Towards the end of what is to be a four part comic book series there’s a bit of history from Joel Rose on the origins of Kaidan, where samurais would tell ghost tales that may have cost them their souls. They centered around the erotic and of course food. More adaptation than original storytelling ‘Hungry Ghosts’ gives a tidbit into Japanese speculative fiction that makes you want to delve into these supernatural tales.