My Dream (Day) Job


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!

Update: “Tonoharu: Part Three” still coming out this year, I’m still alive

tono3covers2Pictured: Advance copies of Tonoharu: Part Three

The last blog entry I wrote prior to this one concluded with me writing “expect more frequent blog updates in the future”.

That entry was written almost nine months ago.

So yeah, it’d be an understatement to say that I’ve been truly awful at updating this blog. This is particularly bad considering the third and final book of Tonoharu is releasing in just a few short weeks. But oh well. Only thing to do now is try to be better about it from here on out.

So rather than vaguely promise “more frequent” blog entries, lemme be a bit more concrete. I’m going to post a new blog entry every Monday morning until at least the end of the year, and hopefully beyond that. Some of these entries will be substantial, others might just be a link to a YouTube video or something. But there will, in the very least, be something.

I’ll save details for future entries, but to just briefly recap on what’s happened in the past nine months:

Tonoharu: Part Three will be released in November of this year.
The books have already been printed and bound, and at the time of this writing are on the boat over from South Korea. I might have copies available for sale through my website as early as October. Will update on the blog when I know more. (Really!)

I’ve moved back to the United States as of a couple weeks ago.
People who read the blog back when I actually updated it may recall I was living in Kyoto last time I wrote. My work contract has concluded, and so I’m back in the States (for now). I’ll write more about my feelings about this and what I plan to do from here on out in future blog entries. (I swear!)

I’ve started post-Tonoharu artistic work, and have 95% completed a short test project.
Having worked on the same series for so dang long, I was anxious to try something completely different. So different in fact that I felt like it was a good idea to try out a short test project or two before I tackle anything significant. I’ve already almost finished one of these test projects, and hope to release it by the end of the year. Again, future blog updates will cover this in complete detail. (No kidding!)

My apologies to anyone who came to this blog over the past few months looking for new entries; I’m sure the vast majority of people gave up long ago, but like I say, there will be frequent updates for the next few months or so.

Anyway, see you back next Monday!

“Tonoharu: Part Three” FINAL Progress Report


As the “99%” on the progress bar above indicates, there is still a tiny teeny bit of work left before I can call Tonoharu: Part Three unequivocally, 100% complete. I should be able to complete what remains over the course of an afternoon. The only reason I haven’t done so already is because it involves details I need from my book printer, and I won’t have that information until right before I go to press.

But basically, Tonoharu: Part Three (and by extension, the entire Tonoharu story) is now DONE.

As you might imagine, reaching this milestone has put me in a contemplative mood.

I can’t remember exactly when I started Tonoharu (which is telling in and of itself), but I believe it was late 2003. This means I’ve been working on it for like TWELVE YEARS. I took breaks here and there due to illness, injury, and burnout, but those breaks were few and far between. Even accounting for those hiatuses, I think it’d be conservative to estimate that I put a good decade of almost daily work into Tonoharu.

So after all that, how does it feel to be done with it? In a word, weird.

It’d be like if someone came up to you and said, “Okay, you’ve been brushing your teeth for years and years now… congratulations! You have now completed the task of toothbrushing. You don’t have to do it anymore.”

Brushing your teeth is just something you do everyday, forever. It’s not a task that you complete. I’ve been working on Tonoharu for so long, it’s started to feel like that. A part of the daily routine. To think that I’ve completed this thing that I’ve devoted more than half of my adult life to is hard to wrap my brain around.

As such, I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll write a more detailed postmortem about Tonoharu in a few months, after I have a bit more perspective.

But for now, I’ll reaffirm that we’re still totally on track to meet the previously announced October 2016 release date for Tonoharu: Part Three. (I wrote about why I set the release date so far out in this blog entry, if you’re curious.)

With the release of the book now less than a year away, I’m hoping to start ramping up my marketing efforts again. So expect more frequent* blog updates in the future as well.

*(Admittedly, it’d be hard to update less frequently, but…)

My Experience at the Kaigai Manga Festival

photo (3)
Pictured: The Fast Track to Bankruptcy 

On November 23rd, I had a table at the Kaigai Manga Festival in Tokyo. How it went depends on how you look at it. On one hand, I had the best sales I’ve ever had. On the other hand, it was my least profitable show ever.

To understand why, I should explain how comic book conventions have gone for me historically. Over time, there’s been a trend towards higher sales. I attribute this to better table presentation and sales technique, and to being more selective about which shows I go to.

That said, it’s important to put this “upward trend” into perspective. My work hardly has universal appeal, I only have three different things to sell, and I haven’t put out anything new since 2008. For even my best show, I’ve never made more than a few hundred dollars in sales.

That’s fine, but only if expenses are low as well. Up until now, I’ve only done shows in Minnesota, my home state. With no plane tickets or hotels to pay for, my expenses have just been for the table rental itself, which is negligible in the scheme of things.

Which leads me back to the Kaigai Manga Festival, the first show I’ve ever actually had expenses for.

I currently live in Kyoto, so I didn’t have international plane tickets to pay for or anything. But getting from Kyoto to Tokyo and back is actually pretty expensive, especially if you’re unwilling to take an excruciating, eight hour night bus. In order to get there and back comfortably in a single day, I had to buy two full price Shinkansen tickets. (You can get discounted Shinkansen tickets, but not for early in the morning or late at night, which is what I needed.) These travel expenses ate into my record sales to the extent that financially, the show was basically a wash.

But before you think I’m down on the experience or regret doing it, I’d like to briefly talk about what was, previously, my least profitable show ever. That being the first show I ever did, SpringCon, back in 2010.

The show is very super hero-centric, so not exactly my crowd. I only had two things to sell. My table looked awful. My “sales technique” amounted to sitting hunched over my drawing pad, ignoring anyone who walked by unless they addressed me first. I honestly can’t remember how many books I sold, but I do remember figuring out I couldn’t even pay myself minimum wage for the time I spent there. At the time, I was disheartened.

But as I eventually discovered, same day book sales aren’t the only reason to do conventions. The show allowed me to reconnect with members of the Minnesota cartooning scene after a long absence. These connections were gratifying in there own right, and also eventually landed me a few paying gigs.

At the Kaigai Manga Festival, I met a representative for a major Japanese book store chain who felt my work might be a good fit for their English book section. Time will tell if that pans out, but if it does, that could result in sales over the next few years that wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t been at the show.

I also met a lot of great members of the cartooning community, like Victor Edison and Deb Aoki among others. For someone who has devoted their life to comics, I’m embarrassingly out of touch with the current comics scene, so it’s good to get a chance to reconnect with it a little bit.

If the travel expenses weren’t an issue, I’d definitely go to Kaigai Manga Festival next year. It’s well run and as I said, resulted in my best sales ever. If you’re a cartoonist who lives in the Tokyo area, I’d recommend it.

As it stands, with the travel expenses being what they are, I’m still deciding if I’m going to participate next year. It might be worth doing if I combined it with a mini-vacation to Tokyo or something. We’ll see.

That said, sales were encouraging enough that I’ve decided to try a similar show in Osaka next May. I can get to Osaka for one-tenth the cost of getting to Tokyo, so if I manage to pull off similar sales, it’d be well worth it. More details on that in the months to come!

Come see me in Tokyo on November 23rd!


Mark your calendars! I’ll have a table at the International Manga Festival in Tokyo later this month! This will be the only show I’ll be doing for a long while, so if you’re in the area, stop on by and say hello!

International Manga Festival
Website / Facebook

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014, 11am to 4pm

TOKYO BIG SIGHT (Tokyo International Exhibition Center), East 4 Hall
Address: 3-11-1 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0063
Access Info: English / Japanese

¥1000 per person (This fee also gains you admission to the Comitia Comic Expo.)