Collective Consciousness Hungry Ghosts #1

by stephengervais on January 31, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Collective Consciousness, our weekly article where the staff takes one comic and puts it under the microscope. This allows us, and you, faithful reader, to get a good idea of how the comic fares against a variety of opinions. This week we're taking a look at the debut issue under the Berger Books imprint of Dark Horse Comics, Hungry Ghosts #1.
Dark Horse solicit: “On a dark, haunted night, a Russian oligarch dares a circle of international chefs to play the samurai game of 100 Candles-where each storyteller spins a terrifying tale of ghosts, demons and unspeakable beings-and prays to survive the challenge. Inspired by the Japanese Edo period game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, Hungry Ghosts reimagines the classic stories of yokai, yorei, and obake, all tainted with the common thread of food.”
“First course: With bad consequence, a ramen chef refuses to help a beggar, and a band of pirates get more (and less) than they were bargaining for after their encounter with a drowning woman turns ghastly.”
Written by: Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
Art by: Alberto Ponticelli and Vanessa Del Ray
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

I have always been a big fan of the horror anthology ever since I first discovered, on TV mind you, Are you Afraid of the Dark? Since then, I love picking up some of horror titles just to have some fun. Not knowing anything about this title going into this review, I was pleasantly surprised and frankly annoyed that I hadn't heard of it until this week. 
I really enjoy the premise of this book, centering the stories around food and having the chefs be the storytellers, and the stories themselves are cool retelling (from what I gather) of old Japanese tales. All in all, this is definitely a series to keep an eye on for any horror fans. 
I think the target audience here is Anthony Bourdain fans who don't read a lot of comics. The scariest thing about Hungry Ghosts, to me, is that neophyte comics readers might breeze through it and assume that most of the other titles waiting on their FLCS shelves are equally shabby.
Do not let the anthology format excuse the woeful lack of characterization in both the individual yarns and the frame story. Do not let the way the male authors stick the second story into the mouth of a female storyteller excuse the "female sexuality is terrifying boogety boogety" message. Do not overlook the fact that all of the storytellers speak with the same clipped, dull voice. It's beige prose through and through, and that's poison for telling spooky stories.
The art is the high point of the presentation and it's not all that high. I doubt this is Alberto Ponticelli's finest work - there are some outright "are these pages really in order?" failures of storytelling flow - and I know Vanesa del Rey has done better. Her greasy, abyssal inks strive to redeem this book, but they can't overcome the weakness of the scripting.
"Done better" is a useful touchstone for this book. Everything you might be looking for here has been done better in other places. Mr. Bourdain's prose books are leagues better at delivering a gritty real-world kitchen feel. Lafcadio Hearn is leagues better at spooky Japanese folklore (at least co-author Joel Rose is upfront about cribbing from Hearn in his afterward). And if you're looking for a goofy, creepy, fascinating food comic, you'll find Layman & Guillory's Chew leagues better than this crass, thrice-warmed-over mess.
Anthony Bourdain is not a name I expected to see in one my comics this week, especially not with the launch of Berger Books. I am glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Bourdain’s first comic. The book is expectedly food-themed but surprisingly, it’s a horror book. While it might not be too scary, it does a great job at creating a real sense of tense and suspense. The story revolved around fascinating Japanese myths and traditions. Kaidan tradition is cleverly used as the framing device and allows various characters to take turns telling the most frightening stories then know. The first one really takes the hungry ghost title to heart and the second one is a more amusing tale involving pirates. The problem is that neither of the stories is particularly scary. They both feel like they are just starting when they suddenly end. The history behind these tales and the Kaidan is easily the most interesting aspect and it’s thoroughly researched. The look into Japanese horror is enough to keep me hooked and I’ll give next month’s issue a shot. 

Being an old comic head and living through the Vertigo glory days you can imagine I was more than a little excited when Dark Horse Comics announced a new line of books under the imprint of Berger Books. Karen Berger helped create the amazing Vertigo line in the 90s and served as Executive Editor until 2013. Alright, that’s it for my mini history lesson. Please Google Karen for the full story. Now onto my review!
First off I enjoyed the issue. I am a fan of horror comics, I love folklore and legends, and I do enjoy watching Bourdain’s TV shows.  I did find the two stories somewhat rushed but it was a debut issue that had to set up the characters and the scene in which the tales were being told. The first story was somewhat predictable and didn’t have a great build-up to its final scenes. Again, that is dues to the limited space of a single issue. With a few more pages, the end could have been much more dramatic and shocking. The second story made me feel somewhat uncomfortable and I was not expecting that ending at all. Both good traits for a horror story.
Both artists do a fantastic job throughout the issue. The images and colours set an eerie mood and capture the tone set by the writers. Lastly, I have mention the fantastic cover by Paul Pope. Such a treat to get some new Pope artwork!
All in all a good debut issue filled with lots of potential now that the premise has been established giving the creators more room to dedicate to the creepy tales.

There we go folks, another new comic book day group review from the dedicated CTG team. This issue has generated some real like it or hate it views. For those who liked it they all felt it there was some room for improvement. For a debut issue it shows lots of potential and they will be picking up the second issue to see how it all unfolds. For those who did not like it they hope that people who do not normally read comics but are attracted by Bourdain’s name, don’t take this as an example of good comic book storytelling. It is quite the divide indeed! What do you think? Let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter feed. See you next week.

Our Score:


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