Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: TONOHARU: Part One


CARTOONIST: Lars Martinson – @larsmartinson
ISBN:  978-0-9801023-6-9; paperback (October 7, 2014)
128pp, 2-color, $14.95 U.S.

On and off since 2003, cartoonist Lars Martinson has been living and working in Japan.  Those experiences inspired his comic book project, Tonoharu.

Tonoharu: Part One is an original graphic novel written and drawn by Martinson and originally published in 2008 by Pliant Press (and distributed by Top Shelf Productions) as a hardcover book.  Although Tonoharu is a planned four-volume series, only Tonoharu: Part Two (2010) has been released since the first volume.  A softcover edition of Tonoharu: Part One was just recently published.

Tonoharu is the story of Daniel “Dan” Wells, a young American working in rural Japan.  The story focuses on Well's daily life and routine, which is largely dull and unimaginative, because Wells has not embraced his new home, nor has he even mastered the Japanese language.

A recent college graduate, Dan moves to rural Japan to work as an assistant English teacher.  There are other “foreigners” in the village of Tōnoharu, where Dan lives and works at the local school, but he has a difficult time connecting with them.  He eventually meets Constance, a young American woman he likes very much, but she teaches in another town and seems to already have a boyfriend.

The visual structure that Martinson creates merges style, rhythm, form, and design.  It is both visually appealing and revealing of plot, setting, and mood.  This allows Martinson to portray the story of Dan as one of a young man boxed in or perhaps boxing himself in after he moves to an alien environment.

Tonoharu is a tale of a stranger in a strange land, and Martinson lets the reader into that new world.  That is how we understand Dan’s dilemma.  He is lost and alone, imprisoned and isolated, mostly of his own doing.  Martinson presents a very open narrative which allows the reader to share Dan’s experience, which, in turn, allows me to interpret Dan's story in my own way.

Allowing the readers to grapple with Dan Wells on their own terms is what makes Tonoharu: Part One both interesting and appealing.  I hope this series continues.  This paperback release of Tonoharu: Part One includes an “Afterword,” written by Martinson in Spring 2014, in which he says that he is still a “couple of years” from finishing Tonoharu.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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