Who would pass up an opportunity to start up a whole new life totally out of your element? Lars Martinson followed his wanderlust which led him to Japan. From 2003 to 2006, Martinson answered the call to teach English in Japan. You may know someone who has tried this. The ads usually say, "no experience necessary." You may also have seen the ads inviting you to join a crew on a fishing vessel. Don't do that one. Lucky for us, Martinson chose Japan and to create the graphic novel series, "Tonoharu."
Part One is about the isolation and uncertainty of a new arrival. Part Two is about Dan Wells, our meek and hyper sensitive hero, finally finding love, or at least a meaningful connection. What is great about Dan's story is that he really shouldn't have to fly half way around the world to gain some affection. This story of boy meets girl should have played itself out back in the America. But Dan is especially sensitive and a woman's touch is not something he can easily accept. He's a classic goofball, in the best literary sense, someone who would wear down the patience of a typical casual lover. So, off to Japan with him.
The payoff for Dan turns out to be well worth a young lifetime's tortured wait. She couldn't possibly have all the answers but maybe Dan discovers what he needs is what makes sense. Keiko Mori, a sweet and unassuming coworker, sure seems to make sense. But first, Dan must pine away for awhile for Constance, who is clearly not interested and involved with John, a jerk. Then, Dan gets mixed up with another expat, Steve, who drags him around clubs and keeps asking him for money. Finally, after an office party from hell, the "Forget the Year" party, Keiko and Dan get down to business. Both acknowledge a pleasurable connection but now its time for the twists and turns of a budding relationship, the second guessing, the missed connections.
Martinson handles the bittersweet lovers journey with lots of heart. The story's simplicity is part of its charm. Like a Hemingway story, it moves from point to point gathering momentum as it moves along with expat observations, the curious ways of the natives and always, the girl, maybe out of reach, who could make it all better.
The look of this book is inspiring. While it is pared down in some ways, it is also energized by meticulous crosshatching that resembles woodblock prints. Panels mostly follow a regular four panel grid with word balloons similarly placed in routine fashion. This actually frees up Martinson to play with some subtle transitions in scenes and mimics the steady pacing of the story. Overall, it is a beautiful book and something you can easily start at Part Two and make your way back to Part One.
You can pick up "Tonoharu, Part Two" at your local comics shop, bookstore or order it through Lars Martinson's Web site. This book is published by Pliant Press, it is a 160 page hardcover, $20, and is distributed by Top Shelf Productions.