The graphic novel A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguchi follows a young man named Hamaguchi, who is working for a fabric printing factory in 1966. He is unsettled there; he wants to design his own fabric but is thwarted by the boss, and needs to find more creative employment. Hamaguchi heads to Tokyo and becomes an assistant at a magazine that publishes manga, then a new art form. So begins his journey as an artist.
The story offers quiet realism. Black and white illustrations are beautifully drawn and the characters take on a life of their own. Quiet and thoughtful, Hamaguchi struggles to find his place in the world. Suddenly he’s thrust into an urban setting with quirky “artist types” who work odd hours and drink too much. Taniguchi captures them visually, each drawn expression conveying abundant emotion. The story is gentle but at the same time compelling. You want to know more about Hamaguchi’s life and his art. You want to see him succeed.
The work also offers a look into the history of manga and a bit of Japanese culture. These are nicely woven into the story and become a backdrop for the tale without becoming overwhelming. Regular graphic novel readers will be interested to see more from this artist, but even those who only casually approach the genre will enjoy an engrossing biographical story about an extremely likeable character. A Zoo in Winter is a terrific graphic novel, destined to become a classic.