American comic creator Lars Martinson offers some useful tips on how to save time while creating a long form graphic novel in this video on his YouTube channel, after spending thirteen years completing his story, Tonoharu. The video reveals his process then offers advice on how to work faster and achieve more.
Born in Minnesota in 1977, Lars Martinson currently teaches English in Kameoka Japan, while drawing comics in the evening. Tonoharu tells the story of a young American who moves to rural Japan to work as an assistant English teacher. It is based, in part, on Lars own experience doing the same, from 2003 to 2006.
He was first introduced to comic books in the sixth grade, and has been drawing them ever since. “My subject matter and style have changed a lot since then (I mean, one would hope, right?),” he says, “but my devotion to the medium has remained constant.”
Travel has proven to be a life-defining passion for Lars, and has afforded him the opportunity to meet a princess, see a five-legged cow, and eat raw octopus eggs.
His interest in travel and comics intersected during the course of my stay in Japan from 2003 to 2006. He was employed as an assistant English teacher through the JET Program, an exchange program sponsored by the Japanese government.
“The experience had a profound effect on me, one that I thought would serve as an interesting basis for a story.
With that in mind, he began work on a graphic novel, called Tonoharu, at the beginning of his tenure on the JET Program, and continues to work on it today.
In the first volume, released in 2008 and published in soft cover by Top Shelf in 2014, Daniel Wells begins a new life as an assistant junior high school teacher in the rural Japanese village of Tonoharu. Isolated from those around him by cultural and language barriers, he leads a monastic existence, peppered only by his inept pursuit of the company of a fellow American who lives a couple towns over.
But contrary to appearances, Dan isn’t the only foreigner to call Tonoharu home. Across town, a group of wealthy European eccentrics are boarding in a one-time Buddhist temple, for reasons that remain obscure to their gossiping neighbours…
Contrary to the impression the first book might give, Lars is at pains to point out his experience of Japan has, and is, very positive.
“I’ve always been frustrated by how hard is it to relate my experiences in Japan to friends and family back home,” he told Michael Richey in 2014. “It’s sort of like when you try to describe a dream to someone. It’s fascinating to you because you experienced it firsthand, but it’s almost always tedious for the listener because they don’t have the same frame of reference. My inspiration to create Tonoharu came from a desire to bridge this gap; to describe the experience of living abroad in a visceral way.
“Most people who live abroad experience culture shock to some degree, and I’m certainly no exception,” he added. “I sometimes worry that I favored those negative moments a little too much in the first volume of Tonoharu, because many people who read it seem to assume I had an unequivocally horrible time in Japan, which certainly wasn’t the case at all.”
Part Two was published by Top Shelf in 2010. As the months go by, Dan Wells settles into his life as an assistant junior high school teacher in the rural Japanese village of Tonoharu. Isolated from those around him by language and cultural barriers, he leads a solitary existence, until the day an unrequited crush extends him a dinner invitation. What follows shakes up Dan’s quiet life and expands his social circle into unexpected quarters. But do these new associates exert an influence that is beneficial, or detrimental?
In Part Three, also published by Top Shelf, in 2016, we rejoin Dan several months into his tenure as an English teacher in the Japanese village of Tonoharu. As personal stresses push Dan to the breaking point, he decides to take an extended cross-country vacation to let off steam.
His time away grants him a fresh perspective on his troubles, but upon his return to Tonoharu, Dan discovers that dramatic change has occurred in his absence. Will this upheaval render his new-found epiphany moot?
With hundreds of beautiful, detailed illustrations that evoke 19th century line engravings, Tonoharu provides a nuanced portrayal of the joys and frustrations of living abroad…