Joel Rose & Anthony Bourdain Tell Weird Scary Stories in Hungry Ghosts

You may not know Joel Rose by name, but he's had a major impact in the comics and publishing world. Noir comic fans may know him from La Pacifica and his editorial work with Paradox Press in the mid-‘90s, while newer readers have discovered Rose through his more recent material with culinary superstar Anthony Bourdain. Their first collaboration, 2012's Get Jiro, is a raucous tale about a sushi chef gone rogue in a dystopian future. Beyond his work in the comic book industry, Rose’s pen is respected in a number of other fields including fiction and nonfiction prose, journalism and TV.

CBR chatted with the veteran writer about his and Bourdain’s new series and the inaugural title from Dark Horse Comics' Berger Books imprint, Hungry Ghosts, and ended up covering so much more. It doesn’t take much coaxing to get Rose to share a bunch of great stories. Given the tales and anecdotes he recounted, instead of formatting this article as a traditional Q&A, CBR has arranged his answers by the subject they focus on.

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Hungry Ghosts is a four-issue anthology series scheduled to debut in January, with art from Vanesa Del Rey, Leo Manco, Alberto Ponticelli, Paul Pope and Mateus Santolouco and more. To preface our interview with Rose, Anthony Bourdain was kind enough to give us his perspective on Hungry Ghosts: “I’ve long been obsessed with Japanese prints and stories from the Edo period, particularly the more violent and lurid ones. Joel and I have had this idea for a while. Once Karen Berger brought us together, getting the great artists we needed was fast and easy. She knows the best and they respect her for obvious reasons.”

Hungry Ghosts #1 cover by Paul Pope.

On seminal magazine Between C & D:

Joel Rose: I had this little magazine called Between C & D. I had bought a computer just when personal computers were coming on the market. I bought an Epson QX-10 to do a book. I [had] stumbled into a book contract and I bought this computer. It was a beautiful little computer. I realized it was like a printing press. It sounded like a printing press because it was dot matrix and it came out on that fan fold paper with the sprockets. The paper that I had, had sort of a sheen to it. My daughter and I used to draw with her markers on that paper. I loved doing it.

Where I lived was a pretty rough neighborhood. They were selling dope in glassine envelopes. Everything was happening in the East Village in those days, and there was a lot of writers around. So, I got some writers together and we published these stories. I did them on the dot matrix paper. Just one run through. And then I individually drew the cover on each one and put them in those ziplock plastic bags. I brought them to St. Mark’s book store, an Eastside book store. I only lived a few blocks away but by the time I got home, they were on the phone and saying, “We need more. We’re sold out.” So, I went into major production of these stupid things. It was just one after another after another. Drawing the covers by hand. They were beautiful. Before I knew it the Museum of Modern Art, and The Guggenheim, and The Whitney were all collecting them. It became like a big thing. It was in the New York Times, it was on MTV, it was all over the place.

On meeting Anthony Bourdain:

I got a mock up of a comic book in the mail. The drawings weren’t that good but the writing was good. So, I just wrote a note. Next thing I know, this guy turns up on my doorstep. He was working in Little Italy, I think…or the South Village. He was in the area to score dope, and he stopped by my place because the magazine’s address was right on it. He just rang my bell. He came upstairs and it was Bourdain. He wasn’t Bourdain then, he was just some line cook. But we hit it off. I grew up in the restaurant business and he was slogging through the restaurant business. He and I have been friends ever since. That was like 1982 or ’83. I really encouraged his writing. I published his first story, Chef’s Night Out.

Years later he sent me an email from Tokyo. It was the first time he was there. He was standing in his hotel room looking out over Tokyo and he had been to the fish market that morning, and he was just riffing. He just wanted to share it with me. It was so evocative and funny. I brought it into my wife, who was an editor and a publisher at Random House, and I said, "You have got to read this." We had just had a kid. She was sitting on the living room floor in our apartment breastfeeding this newborn infant and she wanted no part of it. I made her read and she said, “Do you think he’s has any other stories in him?” And I said, “He definitely does.” She suggested he write a book, and that became Kitchen Confidential.

EXCLUSIVE: Interior art from Hungry Ghosts #1 by Vanesa Del Rey.

On being hired as a DC Comics editor:

I had a screenplay I wrote with with Amos Poe, the no wave director. It was called La Pacifica. Preview Magazine had said it was the “best unproduced screenplay” in Hollywood, which if definitely was not. But I got a call from Andy Helfer at DC and he was launching this line of mystery [graphic] novels that eventually was A History of Violence and Road To Perdition and Green Candles… stuff like that. He said he wanted to buy La Pacifica and he asked me if I wanted to write the comic script for it, which I had never done before. But I did it and I really liked it. Then, he just offered me a job right there. He said, “Why don’t you edit all these mystery [graphic] novels we have coming out?”

So, I actually went to DC [Comics]. I loved comics when I was growing up but I never even dreamed about working in comics. I went there and it was like… oh my god, you have no idea! It was a floor of Superman, a floor of Batman… The Superman [floor] had Superman smashing through the brick wall above the receptionist’s desk. The Batman floor was Gotham. MAD Magazine was downstairs. So, it was like a dream.

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