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.)
Wranglerstar found the cheapest survival toolkit on Amazon, then took it into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. There’s a shovel, a saw, a magnetic LED flashlight with a tactical hitty thing and a USB outlet for charging gadgets, a pocket chainsaw, and a bag— all for $30. It’s not awful, but the price didn’t […]
Emil Ferris’s graphic novel debut My Favorite Thing is Monsters may just be the best graphic novel of 2017, and is certainly the best debut I’ve read in the genre, and it virtually defies summarizing: Karen is a young girl in a rough Chicago neighborhood is obsessed with monsters and synthesia, is outcast among her friends, is queer, is torn apart by the assassination of Martin Luther King, by her mother’s terminal illness, by the murder of the upstairs neighbor, a beautiful and broken Holocaust survivor, by her love for her Vietnam-draft-eligible brother and her love of fine art.
Harvey Kurtzman is a hero of satire, the guy who convinced Bill Gaines’s mother to bankroll a comic book called MAD, then doubled down by turning MAD into a magazine — only to jump ship five issues later after a bizarre fight with the Gaineses, finding refuge with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner who gave him […]
Despite the upfront cost, electric toothbrushes are much better at removing plaque than those freebies from the dentist’s office. For those who struggle to fill the American Dental Association’s recommended two minutes of brushing time, or anyone with limited dexterity, a sonic toothbrush can give your oral care routine a boost.To keep your chops healthy […]
Learning a new language will give your resume an upgrade, sure, but it will also provide a huge cognitive boost for mental tasks outside of translation and conversation. Bilingual brains have been shown to be better at handling multiple concurrent tasks, and gaining fluency in a new tongue is an amazing way to improve memory, […]
If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, consider replacing your pillows before dropping hundreds on a new mattress. You can give your tired neck a break with a 2-pack of memory foam pillows, available now in the Boing Boing Store.Each of these pillows is stuffed with cooling polyurethane foam that molds to your […]