A Zoo in Winter

By Jiro Taniguchi
232 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I appreciate talented creators who have a wide range of styles, and Jiro Taniguchi definitely falls into that category. From the nail-biting tense mystery of Summit of the Gods, to the quiet and contemplative Walking Man, each new Taniguchi project is slightly different than the previous. A Zoo in Winter is his latest book to be translated into English, and it’s a loosely autobiographical book about Taniguchi’s early life and how he became a manga artist. It’s more A Drifting Life than Bakuman, and it makes me already hoping for a sequel.

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Summit of the Gods Vol. 1

Based on a book by Baku Yumemakura
Art and adaptation by Jiro Taniguchi
328 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I love that Jiro Taniguchi’s projects vary wildly from one to the next. One day it’s a story about a businessman who is transported back to his childhood (A Distant Neighborhood), the next it’s about someone who goes on long, almost entirely silent walks through his town (The Walking Man). Summit of the Gods is yet another jump for Taniguchi’s works translated into English; an adaptation of Baku Yumemakura’s novel about the world of mountain climbing. In many ways, I think it’s my favorite of Taniguchi’s works yet, because for the first time I found myself actually holding my breath while reading one of his comics.

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Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators

By Guillaume Bouzard, Byun Ki-Hyun, Catel, Chaemin, Choi Kyu-Sok, Igort, Lee Doo-Ho, Lee Hee-Jae, Park Heung-Yong, Mathieu Sapin, Hervé Tanquerelle, and Vanyda
224 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

Last year, I got a chance to read Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators and ended up finding it what I was hoping for—my own journey from one end of Japan to the other, told through a group of talented French and Japanese comic creators. This year, a companion volume, Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators, was released and I was hoping for much of the same. What I found, though, was a rather different book and not at all what I was expecting this time around.

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Years of the Elephant

By Willy Linthout
168 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I have to admit that I’ve been sitting on a copy of Years of the Elephant for almost five months now, having read it but not diving into writing a review. As strange as it sounds, it had to do with a sense of respect that I had for the book. Based on Willy Linthout’s own experiences after the sudden death of his son, Years of the Elephant felt like a book that couldn’t be rushed into, couldn’t be taken lightly. After a while, I began to also recognize that some of my delay in writing a review of Years of the Elephant was a small bit of avoidance. And that, more than anything else, felt extremely apt when talking about this book.

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Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

By Moyoko Anno, Aurélia Aurita, Frédéric Boilet, Étienne Davodeau, Nicolas de Crécy, Emmanuel Guibert, Kazuichi Hanawa, Daisuke Igarashi, Little Fish, Taiyo Matsumoto, Fabrice Neaud, Benoît Peeters, David Prudhomme, François Schuiten, Joann Sfar, Kan Takahama, Jiro Taniguchi
256 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I was delighted to recently pick up a copy of Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators; published several years ago, I’d heard nothing but praise for this collection of short stories by both Japanese and European comic creators, each set in a different location within Japan. It’s an ambitious, far-reaching project, with half of the creators flying over to Japan in order to learn about their assigned spot and then trying to convey its charms to the reader. What I found, though, was that some creators who I’d expected great things from didn’t quite hit the mark, while others surprised me with their strong contributions.

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A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1

By Jiro Taniguchi
200 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

When I think of Jiro Taniguchi books, it’s quiet stories like the aimless strolls of The Walking Man, or the day-in-the-Meiji-period vignettes of The Times of Botchan. As a result, getting an advance copy of his book A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 made me joke that perhaps it was a sequel to The Walking Man where the main character got seriously lost on a walk. And at first, A Distant Neighborhood seems like it’s just going to be another quiet story about a man absorbed in his childhood memories. Once the book takes a distinct turn, though, Taniguchi finds a way to keep that aspect around while upping the proverbial ante in a fun way.

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My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill

Written by Jean Regnaud
Art by Émile Bravo
128 pages, color
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

One thing I’ve always been impressed by is when a book can really depict what it’s like to be a child. So often, authors write children as nothing more than very short adults, using the same mental patterns and words that the author would use as well. So while that’s not the only thing that immediately struck me with Jean Regnaud and Émile Bravo’s My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, the fact that Regnaud (and translators Vanessa Champion and Elizabeth Tierman) nailed it so perfect is alone reason to celebrate.

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Walking Man

By Jiro Taniguchi
160 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

A few months ago, I finally replaced a book of mine that had gone mysteriously "missing." I say it that way because I am pretty sure I lent it to someone else who then conveniently never returned it. Normally this drives me mad, but when the book is Jiro Taniguchi’s The Walking Man I almost have to understand. After all, when a book this wonderfully good yet simple crosses your path, it’s hard to not instantly fall in love with it. If nothing else, the fact that I ended up buying a new copy says that this is the kind of book that I’ll enjoy re-reading again and again, doesn’t it?

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Disappearance Diary

By Hideo Azuma
200 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

At some point in time, I think everyone’s wanted to "get away from it all" and just escape. It’s a pretty normal urge—even if most people don’t actually follow through on it. Maybe that’s why I was almost instantly attracted to the idea of Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, an autobiographical story of how a manga artist suddenly snapped and decided to become a homeless man. The reality of his situation? Perhaps not what you would expect.

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Doing Time

By Kazuichi Hanawa
240 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

When I heard about Doing Time I got really excited. The idea of comic creator Kazuichi Hanawa going to prison for three years (over an illegal private gun collection) and then creating a comic about his experience sounded really intriguing. After seeing sensationalized accounts in the media like HBO’s Oz, or the comic book series Hard Time, this promised to show what the real deal was, at least in Japan. Well, the truth is now out there thanks to Doing Time and let it be known: prison is boring.

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