A Matter of Scale: “Tonoharu: Part One” Paperback Design Notes

tono1thumbsPictured: Images of Tonoharu’s covers at a fraction of their actual size.

The new paperback edition of Tonoharu: Part One sports a completely redesigned cover. One of the main reasons for the overhaul was to fix an issue I had with the original design.

I designed the hardcover in early 2007, so more than seven years ago (wow). This was before the iPhone and Kindle were introduced. MySpace was still the leading social network. I was still in the demographic that marketers care about (ah, 18-34 year olds, how I miss your privileged company).

But in terms of design considerations, the most significant difference is this: in 2007, the vast majority of books were purchased from brick-and-mortar stores, whereas now most are purchased online.

The original Tonoharu hardcover was designed to evoke ordinate nineteenth century etchings. Its strength lies in all the neat little microscopic details waiting to be discovered and lost in. Its weakness is that it’s static and symmetrical, and composed entirely of washed out colors. It lacks dynamism and doesn’t really “pop”.

In short, it’s a design that only works if you can inspect an actual physical copy of the book before you buy it.

Even in 2007, this was less than ideal. But now, most buyers don’t see the actual cover until a book is shipped to them. Prior to that, all they ever see is a “thumbnail” (a postage stamp-sized reproduction) on a computer screen.

The thumbnail presentation obliterates Tonoharu’s hardcover’s one strength. At this reduced size, all of the fancy details turn into mud, leaving just a tombstone-shaped blob.

Tonoharu: Part One detail compared to Amazon.com thumbnail (Click to Enlarge)

So with the new design, I wanted something that would still have a presence even when displayed at a fraction of its actual size. I went with bright primary colors, a san-serif font, and an art-deco inspired design. I also cut down on the ornamentation to give it a more streamlined look.

At the same time I didn’t want it to be too sparse, so I created an intricate background pattern that weaves into the dotted lines that run through the design.

But for all the changes, the new design does harken back to the original design. I brought back the sun motif and illustrations from the hardcover, and used the same serif font for the back cover.

Being a perfectionist, I could tweak the design forever, but for the most part I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I think it strikes the right balance between reducing well and still having some neat details.

I’m curious, dear readers, which version of the cover do you prefer?

“Tonoharu: Part One” Paperback Proofs!

I got the proofs for the paperback of Tonoharu: Part One from my book printer last week. Click here to take a look:


There are a few small nitpicky things I’d like to see fixed, but for the most part I’m really happy with how they turned out.

I’ve sent my notes back to them, and expect they’ll start producing the books in June sometime. Exciting!

Interview with me at Tofugu!


Read it here:

This interview actually went up like four months ago. I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, but somehow never got around to updating my website to link to it. Whoops!

Next Monday I’ll be writing about my thought process for the new Tonoharu: Part One paperback cover design. Stay tuned!

Where I See Myself in Five Years (Summer 2014 Edition)


As I wrote last Monday, I’ve decided to resurrect weekly updates to this blog until at least this fall. With a self-imposed burden of 20+ entries to write, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to fill them. Since I haven’t regularly updated the blog in well over a year, I figured a “what I’ve been up to” entry would make for a good start.

So I reread the last update entry I did back in early 2013, and mulled over what’s changed since then. But despite the fact it’s been more than sixteen months, I don’t really have all that much to report. The Tonoharu: Part One paperback is coming down the pipeline, but that’s really the only significant piece of news I got. Otherwise I’ve been following the course outlined in the last update blog entry: trying to bulk up my savings, and chipping away at Tonoharu: Part Three.

So instead of writing about the recent past, I’ve decided to look in the opposite direction. The stock interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” seemed like a good jumping off point, so without further ado here are five significant changes I expect to see in the next five years:

1) I will quit my day job.
I’m currently wrapping up my third year as an English teacher in Japan. I’ve signed up for a fourth year, and will probably also do a fifth. But five years is the maximum tenure that my program allows. For better or for worse, come August 2016 I’ll be out of a job. But actually, I’m sort of looking forward to it because…

2) I’ll be an artist full time (for a while, at least).
This is the main reason I’ve saving so diligently for the past couple years. I want to have the flexibility to be able to devote myself to my art (once again) without worrying about a day job.
By the time my teaching stint comes to an end, I should have enough saved up to get by without income for two years. My plan is to only do art-related stuff for the first twelve months of that. In addition to actual cartooning, this would include marketing/art grant applications/convention appearances and other “business-y” things like that, but no unrelated day jobs.
After that, I’ll see where I’m at and decide where I want to go from there. No matter what, by the end of the second year I want to be bringing in at least as much as I spend. There’s a good chance that will require me to start working a day job again, which is fine. My hope, though, is that I can make ends meet working no more than half time. Full time employment just doesn’t give me enough free time for my artistic pursuits. With the the right combination of frugality and supplementary art income, I hope that I’ll never need to work a full time day job again. (Knock on wood!)

3) I will finally finish off and release the last part of Tonoharu.
I’ll be writing a detailed progress report for Tonoharu: Part Three in the near future, so I’ll save the particulars for that. But suffice it to say the next five years will see Tonoharu’s completion and publication.

4) I will streamline my process for post-Tonoharu work.
I’ve been working on Tonoharu for ten years. TEN YEARS. And it’s still not done. (albeit at least now the end is in sight). Since I aspire to create more than, like, three or four stories before I die, I need to speed up my process drastically. Worst case scenario, I wouldn’t want to spend more than, say, two or three years on a single project. But ideally I’d like to finish something significant every year.
This will require me to completely revamp the way I work, but as I say, it has to happen. I have some ideas about what I can do to streamline things, but we’ll get into that in a future entry.

5) I’m going to try to find a better balance between life/work.
I have to admit, it was a little disheartening to realize that the last sixteen months didn’t have enough interesting news to fill up a measly little blog entry.
I’m reminded of the Lennon quote “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. I have a bad habit of getting tunnel vision when it comes to my goals. Saving money and devoting time to my comics are important of course, but so are a lot of other things. It’s not like my life is on pause while I’m saving up this little nest egg, it’s ticking by day by day.
Now, to be fair: it’s not like I haven’t left the house for the past sixteen months.The focus of this blog is on my artistic work, so I’m not going to write about spending time with friends or trying a new restaurant or whatever. Plus trying to manage both a full time day job in addition to my comics isn’t a walk in the park, so I should cut myself some slack. But at the same time, I’m going to try to be more mindful that frugality and efficiency aren’t everything, and that I should loosen the purse strings and stop and smell the roses sometimes.

For better or worse, I’ll be in a very different place in 2019 than I am now. I’m excited to see how things will pan out.

“Tonoharu: Part One” Paperback Coming this Fall!


Tonoharu: Part One has been sold out for a while now, so I’m happy to announce that a new paperback edition will be out in just a few months!

The book will feature a completely redesigned cover (click above image to enlarge) as well as a new afterword. The retail price will be $14.95. More details to follow.

To celebrate the new edition, I’ve decided to resurrect this long-dormant blog until at *least* the paperback comes out (or maybe even beyond that, we’ll see how it goes). I’m going to post something every Monday morning. Many of these entries will no doubt be filler (like YouTube videos or pictures of funny Japanese products or whatever), but I’ll also have a a bunch of “significant” entries like Tonoharu: Part Three updates/art samples and the like. So stay tuned!


2012 Year in Review

Pictured: The key to happiness (apparently).

At the end of July 2011, I started teaching English in Japan for the second time. The first time was from 2003 to 2006; this experience that served as a basis for my ongoing graphic novel Tonoharu. I enjoy teaching (for the most part), but that’s not why I returned to it

As documented on this blog, I spent a couple years drawing comics full time. This endeavor was fairly successful when looked at through a certain lens. It spawned two sold out printings, a decent amount of media coverage, and French and Spanish language editions of my work.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t as successful in financial terms. I managed to make *some* money off my work, but never the opulent heights of a sustainable living wage. As such, my savings slowly but surely dwindled as the months went by. Eventually they reached an uncomfortable low. I needed to regroup, refill the coffers a bit, and decide where I wanted to go from there. It was time to bite the bullet and get a day job again. Teaching wasn’t my calling or anything, but it’s a decent way to earn a living. So back to it I went.

The teaching program I’m in has yearly contracts that are renewable annually for up to five years. From the get-go, I figured I’d do at least two years; I didn’t see the point in uprooting my whole life and moving to the other side of the world for just twelve months. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what I’d do. I figured I’d see how the job treated me and decide based on that.

Flash forward to August 2012. I had just gotten back from a vacation in the US, and was starting my second year as a teacher.

At that point, I was feeling pretty lukewarm about my whole situation. I felt like I was just spinning my wheels, opting for a vague sense of security at the expense of what I really cared about. I had only just started my second year, and was already fantasizing about an escape plan once my contract was up.

But then in the weeks that followed, something changed. This change wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was profound enough to inspire me to not only to sign up for a third year, but to put me in a frame of mind that I’m seriously considering doing four or five. Continue reading