Twin Cities cartoonist Lars Martinson draws awkward interaction better than just about anyone. For him, life and love can be nervous, ego-crushing affairs. Starting with his 2008 graphic novel, "Tonoharu: Part One," Martinson has explored these travails with a character named Dan Wells, an American teaching English in Japan. Martinson knows the territory; Dan's misadventures in the village of Tonoharu are semi-autobiographical.
In his new hardcover comic, "Tonoharu: Part Two," Martinson continues Dan's story. The shy American is feeling less isolated after finding a bedmate. Yet he still lusts after Constance, an ex-pat who won't return his puppy love. The predicament is the norm for Dan. (Of course, life in Japan since March 11 is now anything but normal.)
At times, the story can slow to a crawl. But as an artist, Martinson could make C-SPAN seem exciting. He draws Tonoharu's inhabitants with cartoonish facial features. Everything else, however, is rendered in hyper-detailed reality. The Japanese architecture, from the pagodas to the neon, is perfectly imagined. He adds depth and texture to the mise-en-scène by employing hundreds, if not thousands, of pen strokes per page. It must have been an exhausting process.
Many comic books are the size of magazines. "Tonoharu's" dimensions are small -- no bigger than your average novel. It's a calculated choice. The compactness extenuates the story's intimacy. The economical writing, the penwork and its small size propel "Tonoharu" toward the author's overall goal: beautiful unease.