by Jiro Taniguchi
published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; $16.99 US
Although manga, The Walking Man is published in a form more typical to collections of art comics, with jacket flaps and thick, crisply white paper. That suits its subject matter well, positioning it to an audience who can appreciate a series of reflective encounters beautifully illustrated. (Also suited to that audience, it’s been flipped, so that it reads left-to-right.)
Each chapter covers one of the man’s walks, showing us what he sees. In the first, he’s just moved into a new house, and he introduces himself to the neighborhood, meeting a birdwatcher and adopting a dog who becomes his companion on his journeys. Others take him to the town post office or the library or skinny-dipping or home just as it begins to snow.
It’s an appreciation of the everyday that’s still somewhat unusual in comics, made fresh through the setting of the Japanese suburb, realistic yet foreign. The art style is almost European in its fine line and copious detail. (The man looks to me, a reader of too many superhero comics, rather like Clark Kent with his horn-rimmed glasses and one lock of hair on his forehead. It gave the stories an odd little frisson of contrast, especially when he helps an old lady or interacts with children.)
The full-page image of the man in the crook of a tree, looking out over housetops after rescuing a child’s toy, is the very picture of relaxation. Silent contemplation is the mood of both the protagonist and the reader, leading to a new perception of surroundings. I recommend savoring the chapters over a period of time to better let the moods take full effect. Overall, the book provides a welcome feeling of peace to a world where few take the time to enjoy themselves the way the walking man does.