Gentle manga legend let work speak for itself

Jiro Taniguchi in Paris in 2015. He was the creator of more than 40 manga, including The Walking Man.
Jiro Taniguchi in Paris in 2015. He was the creator of more than 40 manga, including The Walking Man.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Jiro Taniguchi, a legend of Japan's art of manga, died in Tokyo last Saturday at the age of 69, his publisher in France, Casterman, announced.

Taniguchi attracted an international following with works such as The Walking Man, The Summit Of The Gods and The Magic Mountain, hailed for exquisite line drawing and intricately constructed landscapes.

Critics praised his gentle subject matters, which stand in stark contrast to the usual fare of high school romance or sometimes violent pornography consumed by some of Japan's manga fans.

In works such as The Walking Man, the protagonist is occupied less by any specific action as with a fascination with aspects of everyday life - the things he finds, the scenes he sees and the people he meets on his strolls through suburban neighbourhoods.

Taniguchi's detailed landscapes populated by vaguely cartoonish characters drew comparisons in the West with some of the better- known European comic heroes, such as Tintin.

Born in 1947 to a modest family in the city of Tottori, 100km northwest of the old imperial capital Kyoto, Taniguchi had his first cartoon published in 1970.

He became especially popular in France, one of the biggest markets for graphic art, and in 2015, the annual cartoon festival in the French city of Angouleme held a retrospective of his work.

Taniguchi was "extraordinarily kind and gentle", Casterman said.

"The humanism that imbued all his work is familiar to his readers, but the man himself was much less well-known, naturally reserved in character and more inclined to let his work speak on his behalf."

His panels were painstakingly hand-drawn, using paper, pen and a craft knife.

"I do not use a computer because I don't know how, I don't have that skill," he told Agence France- Presse in an interview in Tokyo in 2012.

"I don't know why I am also known outside of Japan. Perhaps it is because my work is similar to Western comics, which I've followed for 30 years and have influenced my subconscious."

He was deeply affected by Japan's devastating 2011 tsunami and nuclear accident at Fukushima and even considered abandoning his work as useless in the face of such destruction.

But he said he drew inspiration from how his fellow Japanese dealt with the aftermath of the disaster and carried on.

"I continued, thanks to my readers, thanks to the voice of the survivors that made me realise they still wanted to read my work," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Gentle manga legend let work speak for itself'. Print Edition | Subscribe