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Tonoharu: Part One Softcover - comics review
By Leroy Douresseaux

Oct 7, 2014 - 10:22

Publisher(s): Top Shelf Productions
Writer(s): Lars Martinson
Penciller(s): Lars Martinson
ISBN: 978-0-9801023-6-9
$14.95 U.S., 128pp, B&W, paperback

Tonoharu: Book One paperback edition cover

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Tonoharu: Part One is an original graphic novel from cartoonist Lars Martinson.  It was originally published in 2008 by Pliant Press (and distributed by Top Shelf Productions) as a hardcover, original graphic novel.  Although Tonoharu is a planned four-volume series, only Tonoharu: Part Two (2010) has been released since the first volume.  Now, a paperback edition of Tonoharu: Part One is being released in early October 2014.

Tonoharu is the story of Daniel “Dan” Wells, a young American working in rural Japan.   This graphic novel series is inspired by Martinson's experiences in 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 LOWDOWN:  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.

POSSIBLE AUDIENCE:  Readers looking for the graphic novel as modern fiction will want to try Tonoharu: Part One.

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