The Road to Breaking Even

Note to self: in future, don’t try to illustrate accounting terms. It just looks weird and ominous. 

Coincidentally, this weekly Monday entry is going up on the last day of October. Since November is the official release month of Tonoharu: Part Three (i.e. the month when it will start popping up on store shelves and on Amazon) I thought now would be a good time to report on Tonoharu: Part Three’s financial prospects. (The perfect Halloween topic, right? I know it scares me anyway!)

As some people may not know, Tonoharu: Part Three, and all the volumes that preceded it, are self-published. I work with the good people at Top Shelf Productions / IDW to get the book distributed across America and around the world, but when it comes to paying the book printer and stuff like that, that’s all on me.

Since “the buck stops here”, I can give you a fairly accurate estimate of how much that costs. Once all the dust settles, accounting for pre-press expenses, printing, shipping, advertising, sending out review copies, and other miscellaneous expenses, I anticipate the cost of publishing Tonoharu: Part Three to be around $9000, give or take.

So…yeah. Fancy hardcover books with two-color interior pages don’t come cheap. And that’s just the actual money I paid to other people/companies. That’s not accounting for the massive personal time investment I devoted to drawing/designing/promoting the book.

But let’s just ignore the time and effort I put into creating and publishing Tonoharu. That’s pretty hard to put a dollar amount on, and I enjoyed doing it (for the most part), so let’s just say that it was my hobby or something. I’m comfortable saying Tonoharu: Part Three will have broken even if I recoup the $9000 in actual expenses.

So how likely is that? Well, obviously it’s still way too early to say, but I’m cautiously optimistic for a couple of reasons.

The first is based on historical data. I’ve somehow managed to turn a profit on Tonoharu every year since Part One was first released back in 2008.

Now, I don’t want to put on airs or overstate things. When I say I “turned a profit”, I’m once again writing off all the countless hours I spent on Tonoharu. If I had worked a minimum wage job instead of doing Tonoharu, I’m pretty sure I would’ve come out ahead (financially speaking). So again, I’m classifying the time I spent on Tonoharu as a quasi-hobby. I’m defining profit strictly as bringing in more money than I spent.

And even then, my yearly profits have never been massive or anything, and have only drifted downwards as the years have gone by without a new release. (Last year in particular was only just barely, technically “profitable”.)

But still! I’m actually kind of humbled that people kept buying Tonoharu, especially considering how little I’ve done to market it the past few years. And with the third volume finally upon us, and the new marketing push that goes along with it, I’m confident that the sagging sales will pick up, not only for Tonoharu: Part Three, but for the first two books as well.

I won’t have a good sense of how Tonoharu: Part Three fared until I get that first royalty check from the distributor months from now. After all, that’s where the vast majority of my sales will come from. But they aren’t the only source of sales, which leads to the second reason I’m cautiously optimistic about Tonoharu: Part Three’s prospects.

In addition to sales made though my distributor, I also personally sell books at conventions and through this website. These direct sales make up just a fraction of total sales, but I earn a lot more per book sold, so they have the potential to be a relatively significant source of revenue.

And while distributor sales won’t kick off until next month, direct sales have already begun. Since I first started offering preorders on Tonoharu: Part Three, I’ve brought in around $1500. So actually, I’m already 1/6th of the way to breaking even! Not too shabby, considering the book hasn’t even “officially” come out yet.

Obviously, my ultimate goal isn’t to “just” break even, it’s to actually turn a profit (an audacious goal, I know). But breaking even would definitely be a nice start, and I’m well on my way to that milestone.

No matter what happens from here on out, I just want to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who bought Tonoharu: Part Three through this website, and to anyone that buys it on Amazon or at a bookstore.

For a little indie cartoonist like me, each sale is pretty significant, and goes a long way to determining what I do in the future. If sales of Part One had been poor, Parts Two and Three would never have materialized. And now that the Tonoharu series is complete, sales of Tonoharu books will help fund future art projects (and pay for extravagances like rent and food). So yeah! Thanks to friends, family, and fans for all your support over the years. It means a lot.

I expect to reveal details about future projects before the end of the year, but for now, back to Tonoharu marketing!

Speaking of which, I’ll be posting a 12 minute YouTube video that I made about Tonoharu pretty soon, maybe even next week. I spent a long time on it and am pretty proud of it, so check back for that! (Or subscribe to my long dormant YouTube channel if you want to know right when it goes up!)

Here’s hoping for a successful launch!

Tonoharu 3 Book Launch / Lars Welcome Back Party!


Since moving back to the Twin Cities from Kyoto, I’ve been meaning to reconnect with old friends (as well as make new ones). With the release of my graphic novel Tonoharu: Part Three finally upon us, I figured this would be a perfect chance to kill two birds with one stone!
So friends, family, and fans alike, please join me to celebrate both my triumphant(?) return to Minnesota and the release of Tonoharu: Part Three, the final volume in a series more than a decade in the making!
I’ll have copies of all the Tonoharu books on hand for anyone that wants to check them out. The venue lets you bring your own food so I’ll also bring some snacks to share; feel free to bring something if you want (but don’t feel obligated to).

: Informal gathering to celebrate Tonoharu: Part Three‘s release!
WHEREBauhaus Brew Labs, 1315 Tyler St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413, U.S.A.  [ Google Maps ]
WHENThursday, November 3rd, 2016, from 5pm to 8:30pm

Facebook Event Page:

Hope to see you there!

“Tonoharu: Part Three” Review on Comics Bulletin!


“Like all great graphic novels – and this is a great graphic novel – Tonoharu encompasses many truths, delivering a book that moves the reader to profound meditations about the walls we build, the geographies we live in, and the transient vicissitudes of life.” —Jason Sacks, Comics Bulletin

Read the full review here!

My thanks to Comic Bulletin and Jason Sacks for the thoughtful review!

Two weeks ago I wrote this blog entry, promising a followup in my “next” blog entry. With all the book shipments and such I didn’t have time to write it yet, but I hope to do so for next Monday’s entry. Stay tuned!

Tonoharu: Part Three—SIGNED COPIES NOW ON SALE!!

Great news! Copies of Tonoharu: Part Three are en route to me, and are scheduled to arrive early this week!! (The week of October 9th~October 15th.)  As such, I should be able to start mailing out orders in just a matter of days!

Since I now have confirmation that I’m just days away from having copies, I’ve decided to start accepting orders. You can pre-order Tonoharu: Part Three (as well as any of the other Tonoharu books) by following this link:

Get those orders in now. Thanks!

State-of-the-Art Ephemera


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!


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!