Thursday, June 05, 2008

Graphic Novels: Tonoharu by Lars Martinson

I’ve come to an appreciation of the graphic novel relatively late. I’ve been a bit of a hold-out. And even though I’ve sometimes lauded the idea of the graphic novel, I don’t think it’s possible to get the searing transportation of soul that can be achieved with a really great “real” novel. I still don’t. The mechanics of both experiences are just so very different.

All of that said, Tonoharu by Minnesota-born cartoonist Lars Martinson, comes about as close as anything I’ve seen.

The book, released last month by Martinson’s own Pliant Press, is on its way to being one of those book business phenomena that people talk about in hushed tones: the self-publishing success story. The book has been featured in Publishers Weekly, mentioned in Entertainment Weekly (“the magazine with the GROSSEST initials in the publishing world,” says Martinson on his blog) and The Wall Street Journal.

Tonoharu is picking up steam and moving fast. And why? That’s easy to answer. I mean, sure: Martinson is doing all the right things. The production of the book is great, distribution is in place and strong, the PR has been properly handled: attention has been given to details. But aside from all of those things that are the very basics for self-publishing success at any level, Tonoharu is brilliant.

I’ll say it again: Tonoharu -- and I suspect Martinson himself, as well -- are brilliant. The cartoonist’s work is joyous and smart and tight. I could just look at it all day. He owns a pleasingly cynical sense of humor, one that cuts right through the material he’s chosen here. And it’s good material, and well considered and presented: the weird and perhaps unexpected alienation of a young American teaching English in rural Japan.

Tonoharu is the first book in a planned series of four. I suspect even that quartet will be just the beginning for this massively talented artist.

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