Manga artist back in the frame after Japan disasters

Manga artist Jiro Taniguchi working at his desk.

TOKYO - The graphic scenes of real life destruction wreaked by last year's tsunami left manga artist Jiro Taniguchi wondering what the point of his art form was.

The 64-year-old was sitting at his desk on March 11 last year when Japan was changed forever by the huge earthquake and the enormous tsunami it sent hurtling into the coast.

Like many in Japan, he was captivated by the pictures of devastation that were played out on television over the coming days and weeks, in a tragedy that killed more than 19,000 people and sparked a nuclear crisis at Fukushima.

"I immediately questioned what I should do in this tragic period. I thought about quitting, not knowing how drawing manga could still be useful," he told AFP as he sat in his Tokyo studio, surrounded by towering stacks of books.

"I had deadlines that I had to meet for work that I was doing at the time, so I kept going, but for months I wondered what to do."

Taniguchi's exquisitely detailed line drawings set his work apart from much of what is known of manga in the West.

Each panel is painstakingly hand-drawn by a man who refuses to learn the modern tricks of his craft.

"I do not use a computer because I don't know how, I don't have that skill," says Taniguchi, who relies on paper, pencils, a pen and a craft knife to create his images.

His subject matter also stands 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 "Arukuhito", published in English as "The Walking Man", the protagonist is occupied less by any specific action as by 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 intricately constructed landscapes populated by vaguely cartoonish characters have drawn comparisons in the West with some of the better-known European comic heroes, such as Tintin.

This seeming familiarity has given him a big following in France, where this week he was invited to a literary fair in Paris.

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

"I was very surprised to meet European children who had read my manga...Japanese school children do not read me."

A year on from the tsunami, and Taniguchi is back at work, inspired by the way that his compatriots dealt with the privations and the hardships of the tragedy.

"Seeing the images on television, I was struck by this nightmarish vision and could not work. I wondered if it could be real.

"But the nuclear accident and events that followed made me learn a lot about how the Japanese react" in times of difficulty, he said.

It was this determination that inspired Taniguchi to carry on.

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

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