(Lars Martinson) You just kind of lay it out there on the piece of paper and if it looks good, great, if it fails then it’s over and done with. There’s no going back and correcting it. Ideally, when you ink a comic book, it should have that same sense of immediacy to it. I recently got back from a 2-year stint studying Japanese calligraphy as part of a research scholarship funded by the Japanese government. I think one of the things that really makes East Asian calligraphy unique is how it strikes a balance between this sense of liveliness, this sort of vitality, and a stability. You can look at the characters and they feel very stable, but at the same time there’s this incredible sense of movement to it. Each of the individual lines is this kind of dynamic stroke. But at the same time of course, you want this sense of life and movement and energy to it, and so for me kind of looking at some of these fundamentals that I learned from East Asian calligraphy, it was very easy for me to apply those to my comics. My work has become not only more consistent, but also has more kind of a sense of energy to it. I’ve been drawing comics since I was 16, and actually, Japanese comics played a really significant role right from the get-go. I’ve actually spent about half of the last decade living in Japan; first as a English teacher in southern Japan, and secondly as a calligraphy research scholar. Tonoharu is a planned 4-volume graphic novel I’m working on about a young American college graduate who moves to Japan and lives in rural Japan and teaches at a junior high school. It’s a work of fiction, but it was heavily influenced by my own experience doing a similar sort of thing. For writing Tonoharu, I kind of start with something that’s somewhat similar to a screenplay where you just show the dialogue that the characters are saying, and eventually I move into something like this, where it’s just chicken scratchings. I mean, it’s just to get some sort of visual sense of what I’m looking at for the stories themselves, and as I say, very kind of loose, sort of crude drawings. Generally speaking, I have 4 panels per page, and I draw each panel on its own sheet of paper like this. I scan that into a computer, shrink it down, add the words, add the color. With Tonoharu, I’m trying to give a sense of what it’s like to live abroad for an extended period of time, and that’s obviously a very kind of complicated scenario that has many different aspects to it as you kind of get used to the culture. I draw my comics in 3 main steps; the first is penciling, and then inking with a brush and then finally inking with a dip pen. Right now, I’m penciling the panel, and that’s basically as you might expect… going over with a pencil trying to define the space, get a sense of what I want to include and what I want to exclude in terms of the composition of the shot. For this particular scene, the main character has returned home from a trip to Kyoto. This is the part where I ink with a brush; that’s taking all those pencil lines where they have this sort of fuzzy energy to them and trying to sort of distill those down to a single kind of dynamic stroke for each one. The character is what matters most, so I tried to have just as few strokes as possible for the characters themselves so that they would sort of pop out more. I’m just trying to establish the city of Kyoto in this series of scenes, and so this is one that tries to communicate a busy marketplace. For the smaller lines, I use what’s called a dip pen, which you just dip in ink like that, and it’s great because it gives you this kind of fine control over the lines so you can do these parallel lines that would be very difficult to do with the brush. But at the same time, an advantage that it has is you can go from thick to thin. So you can get lines that are maybe a little more interesting. Foreign travel has had a really profound effect both on my work and I’d say my life in general. I’ve tried in Tonoharu to kind of express that experience, to show what it’s like to go to a country where you may not know the language, you don’t know the customs, and what does that mean– how does that affect your perception of the world and your understanding? I decided to go with a very limited color palette. As an independent cartoonist you can’t really afford to do full color throughout, but also I think I was very heavily influenced by Hokusai, which is a Japanese artist who lived in the 19th century. He did that very famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa, woodblock print. I think Lars plays a really important role in independent comics, not just here in Minnesota, but also across the country. He’s really doing a good job marketing his book. That’s one thing that sets him apart from a lot of self-publishers. (Lars) So I have another 2 volumes of Tonoharu that I’d like to finish up, and after that I’d really like to write kind of a lay person friendly introduction to East Asian calligraphy as a comic book because I think it’s a really interesting art form that really deserves this kind of user-friendly introduction that doesn’t really exist in the English language at present.