Joel Rose Blood and Sushi
In the 2012 smash hit graphic novel, “Get Jiro!”, society has devolved into a warzone governed by the restaurant industry as cutthroat chefs vie for power. Together again to deliver the story before the story, Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw), and Joel Rose (The Blackest Bird, Kill Kill Faster Faster), team up with new artist, Alé Garza to take us back to Jiro’s homeland and explore his dark, twisted past in “Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi.”
The decision to make Blood and Sushi a prequel was made just as the rest of the character’s adventures are designed: quickly, and lightheartedly. “We were in San Diego for comic con in 2012, when the first one came out,” says co-writer, Joel Rose. “This one journalist said to us, ‘Wow, why don’t you guys do a prequel?’ And we just went, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a great idea!’ And that was it.” With a different chapter comes a different tone, as Blood and Sushi focuses on Jiro’s origin—heavily entrenched in the Yakuza syndicate—giving the story an altogether new personality unlike anything seen in the first installment of the series.
“Well, the first one was food porn,” says Rose. Being that Blood and Sushi is a prequel set in Tokyo, the restaurant themed post-apocalyptic setting featured in the first book had not yet reached the shores of Japan—but signs of its imminent arrival loom around the corner. “In this book, it’s just starting,” says Rose. “This takes place obviously before the first book, so things have not progressed in Japan the way they have in America. You get glimpses of pollution right in the beginning. There’s the one panel where they find this radiated fish monster, and that sort of sets the tone for the whole thing.”
In regards to the grittiness of the new book in comparison to the original, Rose attributes the new tone to what inspired it. “We were just playing with the Yakuza story,” Rose continues. “And Tony [Bourdain] and I are big fans of those Yakuza movies, so that’s where we were going with it…I wanted to pay homage to the movies that I love.”
A seasoned veteran of the publishing and comics industries, Rose described the dynamic between all the storytellers as an extremely fun and unified effort to return to Jiro: “Tony and I have a really great time doing this, and he likens it to jazz, and I guess it is. We riff together and there’s just no pressure. It’s fun. Just pure fun.” Rose and Bourdain share a relationship that goes back three decades, as Rose was the first person to publish Bourdain’s work. “We just have a really good dynamic,” commented Rose. “We chose the artist together. And we sort of tried to keep him in the arena we wanted to play. In our writing, I do the heavy lifting—we work out the plot, the story, characters, all that, together. Then, putting it down on paper is me.” Although he does the structuring, Rose relies heavily on Bourdain as the story develops. “You know, when you’re writing and you hit a rough patch, and you’re like ‘Gah, I gotta think about this.’ With me, I don’t have to think about it, because I’ll just say to Tony, ‘Hey, I’m stuck here, I need this scene,’…and he gets back to me in like twenty minutes.”
Rose experienced a breath of fresh air when, much to his surprise, the first draft of Blood and Sushi was also the final draft. “That’s all I did, was one draft. I don’t think there were ten words changed in the whole thing. So I was a little taken aback when it went to the artist as it stood…Any time we needed to feed the artist visuals, I’d write him one sentence basically in an email. And again, I thought it would be the start of a dialogue, but that was it and the next thing I know, I was getting back full colors and it was fantastic.”
Although the team hit no bumps along the way, they did make concentrated efforts to stay true to the Japanese culture they would be dropping their readers into. “We definitely did our homework about knives, and language, and customs and everything. Just trying to make the voice of the piece authentic.” In order to reach that level of authenticity, Rose had set out a rigorous homework schedule of the best kind. “I watched fifty Yakuza movies, easy. It was great. Many of them not for the first time or even the second time. Tony’s been to Japan a number of times, I’ve been to Japan. We have friends and acquaintances who’ve been there and know food…so I just talked to a lot of people and when we did stumble and couldn’t find a specific answer, we’d reach out to someone else. Somebody would know somebody who knew Yakuza slang.”
Graphic novels are an exciting venture for Rose, who comments on the stark differences in process from writing a novel: “When I go to write fiction it’s like ‘Ah!’ The weight of it is just enormous. But with [comics] I don’t give a fuck. I’m just being paid to have fun and create something beautiful. It’s crazy to see it go from mockups to pencils, and then inks to colors.”
When asked about the possibility of a sequel, Rose was quick to confirm, “Oh we’re going through it right now. We’re definitely talking with DC…and we’re thinking about having it take place in New York. We’ve been through tons of interviews and another journalist the other day says, ‘Hey there’s a sushi chef in New York being harassed by the board of health…and Tony said, ‘Yeah, that’s the new evil’ so that was it. We decided we should do that book.” Rose and Bourdain plan to choose a different artist for the following book, with the belief that each new installment should retain its own unique artistic personality.
Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi is an exciting new adventure in the Jiro series filled with exciting new characters—of whom, when asked which character he most closely identifies with, Rose happily answered, “The old master.”
by Anthony Picerno
photo credit: Rocco Rinaldi-Rose