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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

10 Fascinating Facts About Anthony Bourdain’s Comic Book World

Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Call it foodie fury with a Tarantino twist. DC Comics imprint Vertigo recently released the rollicking, sword and sushi tale Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi, the prequel to The New York Times bestseller Get Jiro!, penned by novelist/screenwriter Joel Rose and chef/globe-trotting TV host Anthony Bourdain. Yes, Bourdain is not only a comic book author, but a major collector since childhood. What is even more interesting is that it is old-school horror, humor, and underground comix that rocked his world.

mental_floss recently chowed down with Bourdain and Rose at New York City’s Sake Bar Hagi to discuss their inspiration and collaboration on Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi, which focuses on the titular young yakuza who, contrary to the wishes of his kingpin father and psychopathic younger brother, is quietly training to become a master sushi chef. In other words, he is learning slicing and dicing of a different sort.


Back when Rose edited the literary quarterly Between C & D on New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1980s, Bourdain “sent me some comics that he had drawn and written and we’ve been good friends ever since,” says Rose, who later co-wrote the three-volume La Pacifica graphic mystery novel for DC along with editing and contributing to various crime-related titles there. “Then we had this idea to do something together in a genre that we love.” In this case, they both love Japanese yakuza movies.


“We had Thanksgiving at my house and got to talking,” recalls Rose. “We thought it would be fun and just pursued it. I had these connections at Vertigo, and we just worked up [into it]. He wrote a few pages, and I looked at them and turned them into a short proposal.”

“Let’s make it really violent, really foodie,” insisted Bourdain for the original book. “Let’s get the food right.”

“It also had a lot of his vibrancy and humor,” notes Rose. “Whoever we gave it to, nobody was turning it down.”


“It’s an aspirational book,” says Bourdain of the prequel. “His frustrations and the things that appall, anger, and frustrate him are the things that appall, anger, and frustrate me.”


When one considers that Jiro has beheaded people, it makes sense that he could contemplate and shift into the art of cooking. Either way, the cutting of meat is involved.

“If there was an unfortunate incident here [in the sake bar], and we were called upon to dismember a body into its constituent parts, I would probably be a good guy to have around,” quips Bourdain. “If inclined to help you out with this problem, I would certainly know what to do and pretty god damn quickly.”


During one memorable scene in the prequel, Ichigo discusses the origins of the Japanese dish shabu-shabu before offing someone at dinner. It’s a smart way to introduce food chatter into the story by telling his intended victim what he will not be able to enjoy in the future.


The famed chef was a comic collector as a child, and he embraced a wide range of titles beyond superheroes. He loved ‘50s titles from EC, both horror and humor (MAD), for starters. “The [‘60s] undergrounds when they came in were really game-changing for me because they were just so obscene and violent, and I responded very positively to that,” says Bourdain. “You know, early [work by] R. Crumb and levels of violence that were not permissible in over-the-counter stuff.”

Bourdain was a child in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, after extreme violence had been excised from the comic book world following a slew of deliciously twisted comics titles in the first half of the ‘50s created an uproar and led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. “If you saw a few drops of blood, especially red blood, in a comic it was a big thing,” he says of his childhood years.


“One of my first notes was, ‘Whatever we do, I want arterial spray. A lot of blood,’” recalls Bourdain. “My constant refrain was ‘more blood, more blood, make sure there’s more blood.’”

“Anytime anybody asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ It was always, ‘Arterial spray,’” confirms Rose. “Every answer.”


“When the first book came out, we were interviewed for a television thing,” recalls Rose. “The journalist said, ‘Wow, I’d really like to know what happened before to get Jiro to this place. What about a prequel?’ It was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’”


Oishinbo is a Japanese series about characters in search of a perfect meal,” explains Bourdain. (Specifically, as The New Yorker describes, “Two rival Japanese newspapers compete to create a menu that will capture the essence of the country’s cuisine.”) “It’s a huge body of work [over 100 volumes] that is an incredibly detailed exploration of Japanese traditional cuisine. It is f**king awesome and was a huge inspiration for this series. I learned more from that series of manga than 30 years of eating Japanese food. They explain how they make miso and how sake is made. It’s a really detailed account of where food comes from, how it should be prepared, and what’s involved. It’s super nerdy and detail-oriented and just riveting.”


“I collect Terry and the Pirates in hardcover,” reveals the chef. “I have every single Spirit story that Will Eisner did in one form or another. [Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist] Jim Steranko, his classic work. The Neal Adam Batmans turned [the series] around and made it dark and awesome again. Classic EC, early MADs. Harvey Kurtzman. And the Bay Area undergrounds—R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez—were huge, powerful influences on the way I saw the world."

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When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.


In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.


The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.


Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.


Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.


Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.


Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.


Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.


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