Before he became a world-renowned journalist, Anthony Bourdain reportedly wanted a career as a comic book artist.
Bourdain passed away on Friday morning and was found dead by suicide in his hotel room in France. In the days since, social media has been dominated by conversations about mental health and suicide prevention, as well as Bourdain's personal legacy.
While Bourdain spent decades as the beloved host of travel and food shows for The Travel Channel and CNN, he had his eyes on comic books earlier in his life. Beginning in 2012, he co-wrote two graphic novels called Get Jiro for Vertigo, and an anthology horror series called Hungry Ghosts.
"I was a fan before I started working with Tony," Berger said. "He was doing No Reservations, and I had found out about him because he had done an episode with [comics writer] Harvey Pekar, when he had gone down to Cleveland."
Berger said that she admired Bourdain's passion for real people and ground-level perspectives. She recalled specific times on TV where he went out of his way to find working class haunts or even eat at homeless shelters, saying that's what intrigued her about him. She called him a renegade, he was a rebel," and added that she loved his 'f— you' attitude."
Joel Rose, Bourdain's co-writer in comics, was the one who informed Berger that Bourdain wanted to get into comics, she said. Rose described Bourdain as a "huge comics fan," and Berger seemed to see that as well.
"As a comics fan, he was really, I think, happy to be visiting DC Comics," she remembered. "Really nice, easy to talk to, and really excited about doing a graphic novel. It was pretty simple, actually."
As for Bourdain's level of fandom, Berger said he had deep roots in the medium. She also explained how she learned through working with him that Bourdain had wanted to be a comic book artist from a very young age.
"His comics love goes back to the undergrounds: Huge R. Crumb fan, huge EC Comics fan," she said. "Tony originally wanted to be a comic artist. He's told stories when he was on our panel at New York Comic Con when we launched Berger Books."
On Berger's panel, Bourdain even confessed that he'd tried to get into the industry, but a publisher had told him as a young man that he simply wasn't good enough. She recalled Bourdain saying that "he wanted to be an artist first, but his art wasn't really good enough. He talked about how he went to some small comic show in the '70s and he showed his work to [underground publisher] Denis Kitchen, who basically told him his art wasn't very good."
Around the same time, she says, Rose gave Bourdain's work a closer look. He replied to Bourdain's samples, saying that the art wasn't publishable but his writing was "pretty good." The two became friends, ultimately leading to their collaboration with Berger a few years ago.
"Comics are my first love," Bourdain reportedly said at that Comic Con panel.
"He always had a bristle at that the celebrity chef stuff," Berger remembered. "He wanted to be known as a writer as long as I knew him. He was a writer, first and foremost."
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).