Tonoharu Part Two: Excellent graphic novel about an English teacher in Japan

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See my review of Tonoharu Part One

Tonoharu is Lars Martinson's 3-volume graphic novel about a young American who gets a job as an English teaching assistant in a small Japanese town. It's 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.

I'm happy to be able to show you the following exclusive excerpt from Tonoharu Part Two, which is now available. The preview is made up of two sections of the book: pages 31-35 and pages 49-56. Some pages in the middle have been omitted because they didn't relate to the year-end party scene.


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Lars Martison: Page 50, Panel 1 shows a Japanese teacher wearing a santa suit and a black man mask. This was based on something I witnessed at a year-end party, where a Japanese teacher wore a mask in the likeness of Bob Sapp, a popular K-1 fighter in Japan. Party stores in Japan sell masks in the likeness of popular celebrities, both Japanese and foreign; I'm sure there was no racist intent.

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Lars: Page 52 -- I wanted to use real Japanese pop song lyrics, but after doing a bit of research, I decided it wasn't worth the risk of getting sued, or the hassle of trying to secure the rights (especially since most readers wouldn't know the difference anyway). Maybe I'm paranoid, but a lawsuit is the last thing I need. So I created original "parody" lyrics based on the songs I wanted to use.

Page 52, Panel 2 was based on "UFO" by Pink Lady, and panel 3 is based on "Chase the Chance" by Namie Amuro. Both seemed like songs female Japanese teachers in their 30s might sing. For panel 4, I really wanted to use the theme from "Ghostbusters". I don't know why, it just somehow seemed like the perfect song for a reluctant Dan to solemnly sing. But again, I was afraid of getting sued, and a parody version in this case would have just been distracting. So I very reluctantly settled with the public domain song "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain."

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Lars: Page 53 -- I really wanted the sad song the teacher sings to be real (even though, again, most people wouldn't know the difference). It was really hard finding an appropriate song with lyrics that are in the public domain, but after much searching I finally did. [Ed. Note: YouTube took down the video that Lars linked to.]

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Buy Tonoharu on Amazon: Part One | Part Two

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