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Tonoharu, Vol. 1
posted April 21, 2008
Pliant Press, hardcover, 128 pages, May 2008, $19.95
0980102324 (ISBN10), 9780980102321 (ISBN13)
This is a promising first work. The intentionally cryptic and casual opening allows cartoonist Martinson the conceit of taking the character about whom audiences would probably say, "I wish the story were about him" and then actually making the Xeric-winning book about that character. Daniel Wells suffers from alienation so severe that it goes beyond not being able to relate to the people and fellow educator in the small village he ends up working as an American teacher, he fumbles his way through the most inept attempt at connecting with a young woman you'll see in comics this year. It's as if it were the first time he'd ever interacted with anyone of any sex. Martinson pulls back just short of suggesting that his lead is so out of touch he doesn't how to function as a human being with a job, which both strengthens the character by making him slightly outlandish but also endears him to those of us who have at one time or another felt that fundamentally inept.
Martinson tells his story using a firm four-panel grid, which he only manipulates a few times to establish a sense of place, if not broadened horizons. The prologue features a text/picture format that ends about two pages after it begins to grate. Martinson also fails to find continuity in his character designs; some of the figures are downright distracting in a way that picks at the reality his luxurious pacing and detail backgrounds help establish. Beyond those initial observations, there's little to be derived from what is a first book with more promised. Martin has certainly created a world worth exploring and a character whose quandary elicits a not-insignificant degree of sympathy. Taken one way, the story could flourish; taken another could mean a crash and burn. While the story itself will probably fail to spark the kind of passion other recent debuts in order to give readers a sense of investment based on showy applications of skill, I remain hopeful that things turn out well in the end.