A Minnesota Cartoonist’s Life in Japan

Imagine living in a rural area where you’re unable to communicate with those around you, trying to do a job that you are in no way trained to do.

From 2003 to 2006, cartoonist Lars Martinson did just that. Lars participated in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (or “JET”) Program, which seeks to foster international understanding at primary and secondary schools in Japan.

Lars worked as an assistant English teacher in a small town in southern Japan. As the only JET Program participant in his area, he taught a total of 1800 students ranging in age from six to sixteen, seeing each class just once a month. With an educational background in graphic design, Lars had no previous teaching experience before going to Japan.

“Preparing different lessons for such a wide age group was a real nightmare at first. It took about a year before I felt like I had any idea of what I was doing.” Lars said. “But despite those early struggles, it really was a wonderful experience, and one of the most meaningful periods of my life.”

Lars decided early on that the experience would serve as an interesting basis for a comic book, and began work on a four-part graphic novel entitled Tonoharu.

“I’ve often found it difficult to describe my experience in Japan to those who have never been there,¬†because there’s no common frame of reference.” said Lars, “I hope that the interplay of words and pictures in Tonoharu can more effectively convey the joys and frustrations of living abroad.”

This fall Lars received a $10,000 grant to publish Tonoharu: Part One from the Xeric Foundation, an organization founded by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird.

“When I was a kid I spent a small fortune on Ninja Turtle merchandise” said Lars with a laugh, “Never did I imagine I’d actually see a return on that investment.”

The first part of Tonoharu is available now. For further details, visit Lars’ website at http://larsmartinson.com

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