Lars Martinson: 100 Creatives
Number 75: Lars Martinson
Years spent living in MN: I was born in Saint Peter in 1977, and have lived in Minnesota my whole life, except for a year in Michigan, three years in North Dakota, and about seven years abroad.
Although Lars Martinson is a local artist, he is also a well traveled one. In addition to visiting over 15 different countries, he has lived in Japan, Norway, and Thailand. During his time in Japan, Martinson spent several years teaching English through the JET program. It was here that he began working on a graphic novel inspired by his experiences. The resulting works, Tonoharu: Part 1 and Tonoharu: Part 2 follow junior high school teacher Dan Wells as he attempts to make a life for himself in the rural village of Fukuoka-ken, Japan. Along the way he has a few dating mishaps, meets some eccentric Europeans, and struggles with the loneliness that language barriers can cause. With each page the reader journeys through a series of stories that not only explore cultural differences with sweet humor, but also touch on basic human truths.
Name three things that are inspiring your work right now:
1. East Asian calligraphy (the world's most sophisticated inking tradition; every cartoonist should study it).
2. 19th century book engravings (The inspiration for the heavy cross-hatching in my books).
3. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. (I don't agree with everything he puts forth, but McKee has some interesting things to say about the underlying structures of stories.)
Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original black-and-white comics)
2. Appleseed and Outlanders (Japanese sci-fi comics released in the U.S. in the late '80s)
3. Early Betty Boop cartoons. They're incredible folks; YouTube 'em!
What was your last big project?
I just released my second book, Tonoharu: Part Two, this winter. It took about three years of dedicated work, but I'm really pleased with how it turned out.
What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar?
I'll be giving presentations about my work/Japanese calligraphy at the U of M on January 28, and at MCAD on February 1. Both events are free and open to the public.
Creative/career high point (so far)?
A big one for me happened just a few weeks ago, when I sat on a panel at the Miami Book Fair. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I presented at the same fair as Salman Rushdie and George W. Bush.
They flew me out, put me up in a fancy hotel... and then there was this rooftop party overlooking downtown Miami with free booze and tasty grub. As a cartoonist I'm not really used to such lavish treatment, so it was really great.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
It's definitely the financial aspect. It's really hard to make money as an independent cartoonist. My first book was subsidized by a grant from the Xeric Foundation, but the second doesn't have that safety net.
Right now I make some money off my books. But it's not a living wage, so I need to supplement my income with freelance work. My financial situation isn't unusual in the world of independent comics. Most of my heroes, people I consider to be at the very top of the field, have to do outside work to make ends meet. I was really bummed out when I first learned this. It'd be like if you were an aspiring filmmaker, and you found out that Martin Scorsese had to direct infomercials on the weekends to pay his electric bill.
How has the local scene changed since you began your career?
The Twin Cities have developed into an incredibly vibrant cartooning community. There's a tremendous amount of talent, yet the scene remains unpretentious and supportive. The new book Superheroes, Strip Artists & Talking Animals: Minnesota's Contemporary Cartoonists by Britt Aamodt is a good introduction.
Of all the places you have visited in your travels, which one surprised you the most? Why?
That would have to be India. I was only there for a week so I'll admit my impressions of the country are pretty superficial, but if I had to describe India in a word, it'd be "overwhelming." I was in Malaysia right before I went to India, and I wrote more in my travel journal after my first day in India than I did in the whole week and a half that I was in Malaysia.
Who is your favorite superhero? Villain? Sidekick?
I was never really into superhero comics even as a kid, so I don't really have a favorite superhero or villain. My favorite sidekick would be Kedamono, a silent, masked wolf from the Japanese CG cartoon Popee the Performer (another good YouTube search).
Do you have a suggestion for someone whose work we should be checking out? Feel free to leave your top picks in the comments.
Past creatives, so far:
81. Joseph Scrimshaw
80. Adam Turman
79. Raul Osorio
78. Kristin Berwald
77. Rudy Fig
76. Laura Fulk
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