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.)
In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312’s futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change — a belief that is very comforting to those who don’t or can’t imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn’t demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.
Last December, I published my review of Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s astoundingly great book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware — without realizing that the book’s release had been delayed because the published decided to do some very fancy and cool stuff with the printing process.
It’s been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition — updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions — the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done outstanding work packing a fully capable desktop computer into a package the size of a deck cards—especially one that only costs $35. But if you already have a working laptop, why should you care? Oh, how much you have to learn. Besides operating well as a compact digital media hub, […]
Custom coffee vessels are the perfect piece of office flair, but it’s just a matter of time before your VOTE FOR PEDRO mug will start to lose its relevant wit. Why not have a new one every day, with whatever silly nonsense you want sticking off the sides? You can save big on your novelty […]
The Lightning port has thus far resisted the cruel fate that befell the headphone jack, and despite rumors that it may be disappearing come iPhone 8, for the present and foreseeable future, Lightning cables are a hot commodity for iPhone users. As such, we must make do in this strange time in which long, glorified […]