It took me a long time to get around to reading Tonoharu: Part One
, Lars Martinson's graphic novel about a young American who gets a job as an English teaching assistant in a small Japanese town. I'm so glad I did, though, because its incredibly good. It reads like an autobiography. Martinson actually did work in Japan as an English teacher, so I'm sure parts of the story are based on his experiences.*
Published in 2008, and a winner of the prestigious Xeric Award, Tonoharu is a story of isolation, frustration, and mystery, with just the right amount of black humor to keep it from being depressing. Dan Wells, the main character, is a recent college graduate who gets a job at a junior high school in the town of Tonoharu. The teachers and staff at the school are mostly standoffish, and because his contract requires him to stay on campus all day even when he has nothing to do, the resulting boredom combined with the language and cultural barrier are at times almost unbearable. The few foreigners that Dan gets to know are too weird to connect with in a meaningful way. And an American girl he meets and becomes smitten with seems to want to have as little to do with him as possible.
As time goes on, Dan establishes something of a social network (including an affair with a female teacher at his school who visits his apartment to have sex with him), and he is introduced to a baffling family of seemingly wealthy Europeans living in an old Buddhist temple.
This book is just the first part in a series of forthcoming graphic novels about Tonoharu. Martinson kindly sent me an uncorrected proof of Tonoharu: Part Two, which I devoured immediately. It's coming out in December. He told me he's half way finished with the third book. It's slow going, because of the exquisite cross hatching he uses, but the overall effect is stunning.
I can't recommend Tonoharu highly enough.
Buy Tonoharu: Book One on Amazon
Sample panels after the jump.
*In 1987 I worked as an English teacher in Tokyo for four or five months, and this story dredged a few memories. In Martinson's book, the main character isn't given much guidance by his employers in preparing to teach his students. Similarly, the English school I worked at would not give me a textbook or lesson plan, and when I asked if I could buy the text book, they told me they had no copies to sell me. I was expected to teach the lessons in the book without knowing what they were! It was really weird and uncomfortable to be standing in front of 20 tuition-paying people hoping to learn English and me having no idea what to do. I ended up quitting soon after. They owners of the school were furious at me. Go figure. (I ended up getting a job at an English conversation coffee house which was so much fun I would have done it for free.)
A flashlight review that begins with the promise “I’m about to hike through a remote canyon to an abandoned mine, and I gotta tell you there’s a storm raging outside” should end on an interesting note, and this one does. [via] Disturbing, strange sounds. That’s exactly what I caught on video while filming and documenting […]
Last summer, Warren Ellis serialized a novel, “Normal,” as a series of four novellas; today, they’re collected in a single, short book that mainlines a month’s worth of terrifying futuristic fiction in one go.
Victoria Jamieson’s 2015 graphic novel Roller Girl won the prestigious Newberry Honor Award and it’s easy to see why: Jamieson’s story of a young teen’s interest in roller derby is the perfect vehicle to explore the difficult and even traumatic way that girls’ friendships change as they become teenagers, while never losing sight of the core story, about personal excellence, teamwork, and hard-hitting, girl-positive roller derby.
The Pocket Tripod PRO had massive Kickstarter success in 2013, raising almost $85,000 in a single month. But this isn’t just another case of pre-release product hype. This ingenious little device folds out from a credit-card-shaped plastic slab into a sturdy stand with a surprisingly wide range of motion. In portrait orientation, your phone slides […]
Loot Crate is a totally different kind of subscription service that mails subscribers monthly boxes filled with curated geek, pop culture, and gamer paraphernalia. Its cult following awaits a box every month filled with everything from bobble heads to T-shirts to special edition collectibles. But nothing gets Loot Crate fans as excited as the limited […]
The ARMOR-X Mini Flexible Phone Tripod is a smartphone tripod that is designed with flexible legs to rest on virtually any type of surface. Other tripods have proved useless unless I conveniently have a flat surface in front of me, which is why this particular tripod was appealing enough to try out. The ARMOR-X is compact and easy […]