State-of-the-Art Ephemera

hancock

Imagine calculating your monthly expenses on an abacus, and then turning around and entering that data into your smartphone. The workflow for my graphic novel Tonoharu was kind of like that.

First I’d draw the line art using tools straight out of the 19th century. Each panel was roughed out on paper with a pencil, eraser, and ruler, and then inked with a brush and a dip pen.


The dip pen—perfect for inking comics (or signing the Declaration of Independence).

After that I’d scan the artwork into my computer. All of the coloring, typesetting and page layout was done digitally, using cutting edge computer hardware and software that had been released just a matter of months before.

I could have ditched my analogue drawing tools and gone completely digital. Even back in 2003 when I first started Tonoharu, you could get a computer monitor that you draw on directly with a stylus, roughly simulating the experience of drawing on paper. That would have streamlined the process (no more scanning in each and every panel), and allowed for quicker, on-the-fly edits.

But honestly, I never really even considered going that route.

Inertia was a factor to be sure. I’d drawn by hand my entire life, so I was reluctant to completely uproot my artistic process. Price was another factor; tablet/monitor hybrids were (and still are) a pretty significant expense.

But probably the biggest reason I dismissed digital art creation was because I thought that it would compromise the quality of the work. And to be fair, I think even the most advanced pen displays are still inferior to physical tools in a number of ways.

Real brushes and dip pens bend and flex, really giving you a sense of the line as it gets thicker and thinner. A stylus/monitor can’t provide that sort of tactile feedback.

When you draw on a monitor, there’s a piece of glass separating the stylus from the pixels. So you’re not drawing directly on the surface the way you are on a piece of paper. In addition to that, the plastic stylus tip moving across the glass feels slippery.


Pictured: Where the stylus is touching the glass (red arrow) and where the line is showing up (green arrow)

And finally, there’s sometimes a bit of lag from when you move a stylus across the monitor to when the line actually shows up. This is especially pronounced when you’re drawing quickly or using a large digital brush.

All these factors make digital drawing feel more floaty and less precise than drawing the old fashioned way. So for years, I snubbed my nose at the very idea of digital art creation.

While I still acknowledge digital’s shortcomings, I’ve since done a complete 180 on the subject. I’m now fairly convinced I’ll be working exclusively digitally for all of my artistic projects from here on out.

I’ll explain where this change of heart came from in my next blog entry. Stay tuned!

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Finally, this week’s obligatory Tonoharu: Part Three shipping update:
First off, a recap of the thrilling saga of me waiting for copies of Tonoharu: Part Three to arrive:
Two weeks ago, copies of Tonoharu: Part Three were traveling by rail to my distributor.
Last week, they arrived at the distributor, but hadn’t been logged into their computer system yet.

Now on to this week’s episode:
Six days ago the shipment of Tonoharu: Part Three was logged into the distributor’s computer system. I requested some of those copies be sent to me, and prepaid for the shipping. The order has officially been placed.

And…that’s all I know for now.

My contact at the distributor says the warehouse should let him know when they’re shipped, but I kind of got the sense that maybe they’re not always the best at conveying even that. And apparently getting tracking numbers is rarer still.

So maybe the books have already shipped and I’ll get them later today. Or maybe they won’t ship for another week or two. :-/

I’ll update this entry if I hear anything new. Otherwise I’ll have a new blog entry up next Monday as usual!

“Tonoharu: Part Three” Media Flyer

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Marketing flyer for Tonoharu: Part Three.

First off, exciting news! The main shipment of Tonoharu: Part Three arrived at the distributor late last week!

Apparently it takes “a few days” for books to be processed and put into the distributor’s computer system. After that happens, they’ll send some copies to me via UPS Ground, which will take another few days.

So when will I have copies available for sale through my website? I don’t know exactly, but I’d imagine I’ll get them sometime next week or the week after…? Not long now, in any event. I’ll keep you posted!

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With the release just around the corner, I’ve begun preparations for the MASSIVE MARKETING PUSH I intend to give the third and final volume of Tonoharu. A big part of that is sending out review copies to media people. In addition to the book itself, I send out a promotional flyer to try to pique reviewers’ interest.

As I’ve done for past Tonoharu marketing materials, I’ve gone for a classy, “Oscar bait” type design for the flyer.

I was careful to make sure that the design folded neatly in half, with the top half having a strong visual hook and the bottom half having all the important information about the book. This perfectly fits the size of the book:
mediaflyer2

For the actual ad copy, I decided to emphasize Tonoharu’s absurdly long development and ill-advised scope:

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The LONG-AWAITED CONCLUSION to a Trilogy MORE THAN A DECADE in the MAKING
Tonoharu is a graphic novel trilogy about a young American who moves to rural Japan to work as an English teacher.
Featuring more than two hundred distinct locations meticulously crosshatched in a style reminiscent of 19th century etchings, the scope of Tonoharu’s depiction of modern Japan is unprecedented in the world of Western comics. The series was thirteen years in the making, with almost half of that time devoted to realizing its highly-anticipated final volume.
Tonoharu: Part Three expands on the themes introduced in the first two books, exploring the sense of isolation inherent to living abroad, the unique relationships that form in expat communities, and the challenges in connecting with the locals.
Tonoharu comes to a stunning conclusion in this unique portrait of the joys and frustrations of living in Japan.
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So there you have it! If you just can’t get enough of my sweet design work, you can click here for a full-sized version of the flyer. (446kb PDF file).

See ya next Monday!

“Tonoharu” Media Page

header2The main shipment of copies of Tonoharu: Part Three is currently in the US, traveling by rail. They should arrive to the distributor this week, and then the distributor will send some of them to me. So I’m hoping to get my hands on them some time late this month or in early October (knock on wood).

Once I have a bunch of copies on hand, I hope to start contacting media people in earnest to try to drum up interest. I still haven’t decided what my e-mail “pitch” is going to look like, but I figure it should be short and sweet, and conclude with a web link they can go to in case they want more information. I want that link to be a “one stop shop” for info about Tonoharu, including what it is, links to sample artwork, and stuff like that.

So that’s been my project this week. Here’s the page I’ve cobbled together:
http://larsmartinson.com/tonoharu

The Tonoharu media page is a work in progress, so if you have any comments or criticisms, I’m all ears!

Also! If anyone knows of any websites/blogs/magazines/newspapers/reporters/etc., etc., that they think would be interested in Tonoharu, please let me know! It’d be very useful.

Okay, that’ll be it for this week. See you next Monday!

Attention Strangers: Please Give Me Your Money.

salesmanlarsPictured: a face you can trust

According to this New York Times article, the average American knows 600 people.

Let’s say for the purpose of argument that the New York Times figure is accurate, and that my social network is “average”. Let’s also say that 10% of those 600 people buy my books. (I’m guessing that’s a pretty optimistic estimate if anything, but again, just for the purpose of argument.)

So that’s 60 sales I would make from people that I know personally.

Needless to say, I have to sell a lot more books than that to make publishing them economically viable. That means the majority of my sales need to come from complete and total strangers who have no emotional investment in me or my personal success or failure.

I guess that’s obvious if you think about it, but I find it’s helpful to keep in mind when I’m thinking about the best way to promote my work.

Take these two facts which I might use for promotional purposes:
1) I was covered in the Wall Street Journal.
2) My graphic novel Tonoharu has been translated into French and Spanish.

If I’m talking to my mom, or a friend, or even an acquaintance, those two facts by themselves would probably be of (at least mild) interest.

But if it’s someone that’s never met me, this “news” suddenly becomes a lot less interesting:
1) [A complete stranger] was covered in the Wall Street Journal.
2) [Some book you’ve never heard of] has been translated into French and Spanish.

Like, who cares? Lots of people you don’t know are covered in the WSJ. Lots of books you’ve never heard of are translated into other languages. If you don’t have any connection to me, these facts (by themselves) are unlikely to be of any interest.

If my promotional materials read like a family newsletter detailing my middling achievements, it’s unlikely to interest anyone who doesn’t know me personally. And since my potential audience is mostly comprised of strangers, it’s important to find creative ways to capture their attention. Every promotional effort needs some kind of hook.

Which brings me to the YouTube book trailer I’m working on to coincide with Tonoharu: Part Three’s release this November.

Now, I could title the video Official Book Trailer for Tonoharu: Part Three and show a montage of artwork over a royalty-free soundtrack. That would be a perfectly acceptable route… but also a route that would be unlikely to get many views outside of friends and family.

Because again, if I put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know or care about me or my work, that video may as well be called: Official Book Trailer for [some book you’ve never heard of]. Probably not something they click on (or even see a link for in the first place for that matter).

So instead, I’ve decided to take a completely different approach. So different that it’s not really even a book trailer anymore (at least not in the traditional sense).

The video is centered around why Tonoharu took so absurdly long to complete, and the lessons I learned that I intend to apply to future artistic projects. I’ll probably call it something click-bait-y like:
4 Time Management Tips (from someone who spent 13 years on a graphic novel).

I dunno, maybe it still won’t get many views, but I figure it’s a lot more intriguing than generic book trailer #8736472. It’s been a lot more fun to work on, in any event. Anyway, I’m about 25% done with it, and will link to it once it’s done.

Okay, I’ve been rambling on about marketing for long enough. See you next Monday!

“Tonoharu: Part Three” Art Preview Summer 2016

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Full-size version of this picture available at the link below!

As promised, this week I wanted to put up something Tonoharu: Part Three related. When I checked back on previous blog entries, I realized that the only art preview I did went up almost two years ago; yeesh! So I figured it was high time to put up another one.

To save my poor old website the bandwidth, I’ll just post the artwork on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152685207948913.1073741831.594318912&type=1&l=bc22253804

That album also includes the images I put up in 2014, so check that out if you missed it the first time.

I’ll post one more art preview around the time the book is released in November. I saved the best for last, so check back!

Next Monday’s entry will also be Tonoharu related (I think). See you then!

My Dream (Day) Job

classroom

Ten years ago at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party my mom gave a speech. Grandma had been a teacher, so Mom rattled off a list of children and grandchildren that were also educators. I jolted a bit when I heard my own name among them. It actually confused me for a quick second. What’s she talking about? I’m not a teacher, I thought.

But of course I was. I had just wrapped up a three year stint teaching English in Japan. In the decade since, I’ve added another five years to that tally. The eight years I’ve spent teaching eclipses all the other jobs I’ve had by a pretty significant margin, both in terms of time spent and money earned. But in spite of all that, it still feels a little weird to call myself a teacher. I think this has a lot to do with the capacity in which I was employed.

For both of my teaching gigs I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (or an “ALT”) through “JET” (a work exchange program run by the Japanese government). To become a JET ALT, you just need to be from an English speaking country and have a bachelor’s degree in anything; no prior teaching experience or certification is required. Due to the lack of formal teaching training, JET ALTs are required to teach with a Japanese teacher who they assist (in theory at least). Opportunities for advancement are nil, and you can only do the JET Program for a maximum of five years. It is, by design, not something you can easily parlay into a career.

Ironically, ALTs with a background in education were often the most frustrated with the job. An ALT’s role in the classroom varies greatly, but is often extremely limited. It isn’t at all unusual to be put in charge of a five minute warmup game, maybe spending a few minutes doing a pronunciation exercise, and then spend the rest of the class standing awkwardly off to the side while the “real” teacher explained grammar points in Japanese. Outside of class, there was often even less to do, especially during summer vacation or midterms.

So I can understand why the job would leave people dissatisfied. But personally, while teaching isn’t my calling, I begrudgingly enjoy it in spite of myself. I never really looked forward to going to Monday morning, but I didn’t dread it either. Once I got to work, the day usually flew by. And the thing that drove a lot of ALTs crazy, all the free time, was fine with me. After I finished lesson plans, I’d just study Japanese or work on comic scripts or something.

So I can’t say working as an ALT is my dream job. But it just might be my dream day job. I took it seriously for what it was, taught whatever classes I had that day, and then went home and forgot about it. The steady paycheck, low stress, and lack of overtime let me devote my evenings and weekends to my true passion, comics. I could see myself being content working as an ALT indefinitely (which I’m sure would shock the me of ten years ago).

My tenure as a JET ALT is over and I’m back in the States for now, but within the next year or two, I hope to make it back to Japan to work as an ALT again. I don’t know how viable this is, but I’d really love to find a decent part-time ALT position. I think that would be the perfect balance between steady income and having enough time to devote to my art.

As I understand it, landing a decent ALT position outside of the JET Program is no easy task. Even with my eight years of experience I don’t think I’d necessarily be a shoo-in. So I hope to get some teaching certification and look for other ways to help improve my employability in the coming months.

Which brings me to my ulterior motive for writing this blog entry. If anyone out there has any insight about landing a decent ALT job outside of the JET Program, I’d be all ears! I’m particularly interested in in what kind of teaching certification/program I should look into, as that’s the next step for me in the short term. This blog has been inactive for so long maybe there’s not anyone reading with experience in this area, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Thanks!

Next Monday’s blog entry will be about Tonoharu: Part Three. Stay tuned!