American Cartoonist finds inspiration in Japan, but not in its comics


Among comic fans, mention of Japan instantly brings to mind a very specific art style. A staple of Japanese comics (or “manga”), it features hyper-expressive characters with neon hair and huge sparkling eyes. Manga has become increasingly popular around the world, and has influenced the work of many non-Japanese artists.

One might expect American cartoonist Lars Martinson to be among them. He has lived in Japan for more than four years, and it is the setting of his graphic novel Tonoharu. But despite Japan’s prominent role in Martinson’s life, the influence of Japanese comics is noticeably absent from his work.

“I’m not much of a fan of the manga art style.” Martinson said. “It tends to be a little too flashy, and distracts from the story rather than compliments it. For my own work, I wanted something more subtle.”

Martinson’s Tonoharu tells the story of an American who moves to rural Japan to teach English. With its leisurely pace, somber art style, and weighty themes of isolation and cultural identity, Tonoharu is not what one generally expects from a Japan-centric comic.

But it seems to have struck a chord. The first printing sold out less than four months after its publication date, and the book has garnered coverage from mainstream publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly. Not that Martinson has had much of an opportunity to brag about these accomplishments.

“I was in Japan when Tonoharu was released, and none of my friends here have heard of the American newspapers and magazines that covered it.” Martinson said. “They were more impressed when a local school paper did a little blurb about me.”

More information about Tonoharu can be found on Martinson’s blog at:

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