Creating Tonoharu–#1: Laying The Groundwork

Pictured: Shingu Port, a fifteen minute walk from where I lived.

This is the first post in a series describing the creative process behind my graphic novel Tonoharu. This augural installment deals with the circumstances that allowed work on Tonoharu to begin.

In 2003 I started working as an Assistant Language Teacher (or “ALT”) through a program sponsored by the Japanese government. I knew from the start that it was only going to be a short term thing. There’s a three year cap on how long ALTs are allowed to stay, so it wasn’t something I could parlay into a career even if I wanted to.

But that was fine by me. Actually, I preferred it that way. I figured I’d enjoy working as an ALT, but teaching wasn’t really my calling; I wanted to be a graphic novelist. With an ironclad finish date attached to the ALT gig, I knew there’d be no temptation to stay on indefinitely, to choose financial security over the much less secure pursuit of my dream.

There were a number of reasons that I chose to work as an ALT as opposed to devoting myself to comics straightaway. Befitting a would-be educator, some of my reasons were altruistic. My life has found immeasurable benefit from interaction with people from other cultures, and I hoped that my presence would be similarly beneficial to my students. 

But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that personal gain was an important consideration as well. The salary was good (and tax exempt), and I had it on good authority that the job gave participants a great deal of free time during the day, time that could be spent working on comics.

So the question became, into what comic book project should I devote this wealth of free time? At first I only had the vaguest of notions, a half-finished list of attributes I’d like the comic to have. It wasn’t until I had been in Japan for a month or two that I had a clear sense of the direction I wanted to go in, and did the idea that would become Tonoharu really start to take shape.

I’ll cover that in Creating Tonoharu–#2: The Idea next Friday.

Creating Tonoharu–#1: Laying The Groundwork
Creating Tonoharu–#2: The Idea
Creating Tonoharu #3–Writing the Script
Creating Tonoharu #4–The Design (1/3)
Creating Tonoharu #5–The Design (2/3)
Creating Tonoharu #6–The Design (3/3)
Creating Tonoharu #7–The Drawing
Creating Tonoharu #8–Inking
Creating Tonoharu #9–Computer Stuff
Creating Tonoharu #10–Final Edits

  • Wendy

    Hey Lars–could you change the settings on your RSS feed so I can read your whole post in my reader? My new internet flakes out all the time, so sometimes I only get the first sentence of your post and then have to wait two hours (!) to get the rest of it.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Wendy:
    I’m pretty sure I fixed the problem, but not 100% sure–either way, it should start displaying the whole thing with the next post, so please let me know if it works or not when the next post goes up on Tuesday.

  • Katie

    Hi Lars,

    I just read Tonoharu and I felt like it mirrored my experience as an ALT almost uncomfortably (but in a good way). Did you start your work on Tonoharu when you were still in Japan? I can only imagine you had plenty of time to work on it.


  • Lars Martinson

    Yup, I started the script a few months after I arrived.

    I originally anticipated to have the whole thing finished by the time my tenure in the JET program was done; needless to say it’s taken just a bit longer… :-/