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.)
At $11, the Proctor Silex K2070YA 1-Liter Electric Kettle was the cheapest model I could find on Amazon that didn’t look like it would result in electrocution or an explosion of boiling water. I’ve spent three months with it. It’s OK. In fact, it’s showing no sign at all of problems. It boils water fast. […]
Mainstays Single Burner is a portable electric coil hotplate you can buy for $9 at Walmart (and Amazon). It has a 1m two-prong cord, an adjustable power control (temperatures are not marked) and rubber feet. I tested it with a steel stock pot with 8 quarts of water. After turning up the heat I watched […]
The Logitech MK270 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse set was just twelve dollars and fifty cents! It’s sometimes $16.99 or even a bit more, but that’s still pretty damned cheap. I expected it to be about as bad as the Amazon Basics Keyboard, which is the same price, but wired, and you don’t get a mouse. […]
The Ticwatch 2 Active Smartwatch is a simpler take on an active wearable that raised over $2m dollars on Kickstarter and is currently offered in the Boing Boing Store.Somewhere in between the single-day battery life and platform-specificity of the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, there exists the Ticwatch. Instead of trying to shoehorn another […]
Loot Crate is a subscription service that delivers a box of curated pop culture goods to your doorstep. To sample their geeky wares, you can order a single mystery box exclusively from the Boing Boing Store.Each month Loot Crate sends you 6-7 unique items and apparel, including collectibles, books, and t-shirts. Pulling inspiration from all […]
Yes, yes there is. The ultraportable Twisty Glass Mini boasts all of the simplicity of its forebear, while fitting just a little bit better in your pocket.The Mini is perfect for casual smokers, and anyone who doesn’t have the patience or fine motor skill for rolling papers. This piece keeps the convenient design of its older […]