American Cartoonist finds Inspiration in Traditional Japanese Art

In 1833, the great Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai wrote about his artistic development. Although seventy-three years old at the time, his ambitions were far-reaching; he predicted that by the time he was 110, his artistic skills would be so great that “every line will surely have a life of its own.”

Hokusai may have been overly optimistic about his own lifespan (he died at the age of 89), but in the opinion of Minnesota cartoonist Lars Martinson, he achieved the level of mastery to which he aspired. And Lars would like nothing more than to follow in his footsteps, albeit in a medium that didn’t even exist in Hokusai’s time: comic books.

“Comics have a lot in common with Hokusai’s work.” Lars said. “The economy of line that is a staple of comics was pioneered in the ink drawings of Japan.”

But while Lars sees similarities between the two art forms, he feels that the evolution of comics has, in many ways, been a step backwards.

“Only very rarely do comics approach the elegance and vitality found in traditional Japanese line art.” Lars said, “Cartoonists could learn a lot by studying masters like Hokusai. In the words of [Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist] Art Spiegelman, ‘The Future of Comics is in the Past.’”

Begining in April 2008, Lars’ interest in traditional Japanese art led him to its source. He was been granted a two-year research scholarship from the Japanese Government to study at Shikoku University. Lars’ research focuses specifically on calligraphy.

“Calligraphy is a great place to start, because it is line art at its most basic form. I have no doubt that this study will serve as a great foundation for my development as a cartoonist.” Lars said.

Lars’ first graphic novel, Tonoharu: Part One, is available now. For further details, visit Lars’ website at

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