Taking Stock of 2008

The view from the fourth floor balcony of the F Building, Shikoku Daigaku

I posted a recap of 2007 in an entry published a year ago, and figured I’d make it an annual thing. So here’s my recap of 2008, along with an obligatory New Year’s resolution.


2008 was a mixed bag.

The positive aspects of the past year were by-and-large me reaping what I sowed in 2007. I procured funds to self-publish Tonoharu: Part One in 2007, and saw the first printing sell out last summer. It’s received coverage in mainstream publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly, among others, and all-in-all has been a promising start to my cartooning ambitions.

I also successfully applied for a Monbukagakusho Scholarship in 2007, and beginning in April of 2008 I began a two-year post-grad program at Shikoku University in Japan, studying East-Asian Calligraphy. That experience has been really great so far, and will be the subject of a few blog entries sometime this new year.

Rotten luck was the cause of most of the negative aspects of 2008. The stock market tanked (perhaps you heard), and that, along with me breaking my ankle without health insurance, made the year very costly. I won’t say exactly how much I lost, but in general terms, it was a good year’s worth of living expenses. That would be a big deal for anyone, but since my financial future is particularly shaky (cartooning is hardly a cash cow), it’s all the more important for me to have money to fall back on. So losing a huge chunk like that was a big hit. Thank god I got the before-mentioned scholarship (it includes a living stipend), or I’d be in pretty dire straights right now.

It’s weird to think that if I had kept all my savings under my mattress and sat in my house twiddling my thumbs for all of 2007, I’d be in better financial shape than I am now. All the countless hours I invested in the creation and production of Tonoharu: Part One didn’t earn me enough money to compensate for the losses incurred by me slipping on some ice, and by some Wall Street assholes making some bad housing loans.

Granted, the time I invested in Tonoharu reaped benefits beyond the bottom line. And the broken ankle and stock market were freak occurrences outside of my control, so I shouldn’t beat myself up over them. I know.

But there was one negative aspect of 2008 that was within my power to affect, and it’s an area I’d like to see improvement in. Which leads us to my New Year’s resolution: I want to manage my time better and be more productive in 2009.

I certainly wasn’t a complete slouch in 2008, but I still procrastinated waaay too much. I was also fairly complacent, content to I reap what I sowed in 2007. In 2009, I’ll need to start “sowing” again, for when my scholarship ends in March 2010.

I can actually be really diligent and focused under the right circumstances. I can put in eight to ten hours a day on my work (not counting breaks & meals), no problem.

But my concentration is like a soufflé; all it takes is the smallest disturbance and it comes crashing down. If there’s some e-mail I have to answer, or an assignment I have to do, or a class I have to go to in an hour, I tend to get hung up on those things, and it disrupts my ability to concentrate on the task at hand. This leads to procrastination, which means even more work / obligations pile up. It’s a vicious circle, and could spell big trouble for me down the road.

If I’m even to have the remotest chance of making a living wage as a cartoonist, I have to learn to sustain focus and prioritize on the fly, to effortlessly switch gears between the business / marketing / artistic aspects of the profession. My slow progress on Tonoharu: Part Two is troubling, because I can’t make a living as a cartoonist if I don’t have comics available for sale!

I’ve seen this book recommended more than a few times:

So I’ve decided to give it a shot. I recently finished reading it, and have just started to implement its methods. It’s still too early to draw any firm conclusions yet, but I think it will be helpful.

There are a couple of things that author David Allen asserts that really stood out for me:

To be productive, it’s important to clear your mind of distractions. To do this, Allen recommends collecting everything that’s nagging at you (on paper or on a computer, or wherever; the point is to collect it somewhere physical, outside of your brain). Also important is to regularly  act on / review / update what you’ve collected, so you come to trust your system enough to truly keep distractions off your mind.

He also writes that it’s important to consistently define the next actionable step in any project you want to move forward. You can’t “do” a project, but you can do individual steps that will bring a project closer to completion. Those individual steps are often as simple as e-mailing someone or doing half-an-hour of work, but unless you define those steps, it’s easy to let a project stagnate.

In many ways, this piece of advice is similar to the proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, but it’s a sentiment that bears repeating. There are several projects I have that I haven’t done anything with recently (like “market my comics” or “become fluent in Japanese”), and I think my failure to define specific actions is largely to blame. I hope to do better in 2009.


I guess I’ll bring it to a close here. Happy New Year, everyone! Continue checking back to larsmartinson.com every Friday for more narcissistic ramblings and mildly amusing photos of craaaazy Japanese stuff! Haw haw haw!

  • SteveM

    I read David Allen’s book too, but got really busy just before I implemented anything (about 6 months ago) I hope to get to it some day. . . hope you have better luck with it then I have had so far. Oh well, that’s what New Years are for – new starts.

    There was an article in Wired (Jan 2009) on a freelancer that reviewed 3 books – one was Allen’s book, the others were Never Check e-mail in the Morning by Julie Morgenstern and Timothy Ferriss’ The 4 Hour work week. I haven’t read those, but since you are sort of freelance I thought they might be of interest. Of course reading books on time management could be another form of procrastination, just like replying to blogs. . .

  • Rui

    Omg it’s the first time I ever see someone using the expression ‘dire straights’ for real ! You rock man :P

    Good luck and Happy New Year :)

    PS : btw, what are your favorite mangas ? Any influences (You must have some, since you’re a cartoonist)

  • Lars Martinson

    You know, for a cartoonist who lives in Japan and who can kind of / sort of speak & read Japanese, I actually don’t read too much manga. I’d like to read more, but I never seem to have the time (and since my Japanese is by no means perfect, it takes a while to get through one). In fact, I read more manga (in translation) when I was in high school in the US than I do now. : – /

    I don’t know how much they influence my work, but two of my favorite mangas are Doraemon and Sazae-san. They’re not really what you think of when you think of “typical” manga, but they’re great IMHO.


  • Jordan

    As a writer the best thing I can suggest is identify times when you can say, “next week I can complete a page a day.” Thats 7 pages in a week.

    So for me, I can usually complete panel/thumbnail, and writing all in one day. But keep in mind that is just a page and I only do it when my schedule permits AND I don’t really draw.

    Your style is a tad more complex then my incredibly rough pencils, so don’t really beat yourself up.

  • Ryan

    That first tip is an intriguing idea. Maybe something I’ll have to try. I guess in the past I’ve noticed that if I make a list of tasks of want to accomplish within a certain time period, it does take a certain weight off my mind – that is to say, I can relax a bit more because I’m free to stop trying to actively remember the things on the list. Come to think of it, I may already use this more than I at first realized. It’s a good principle.