In what would be an impressive debut for any new author, young cartoonist Christine Mari Inzer’s first published graphic novel sports blurbs from comics stars Jeff Smith (Bone), Lucy Knisley (Relish), and manga expert Frederick L. Schodt (Manga! Manga!). What’s even more impressive is that Inzer is a 17-year-old high school senior and her book, Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan, was self-published last fall.
How did a high school student convince acclaimed comics professionals to blurb her self-published book? She sent them all a PDF of the book and, well, just asked. To her surprise and delight, nine of the 17 comics artists and authors asked delivered.
Blurbers include Eisner award-winning cartoonist Hope Larson, who described Halfway Home as, “A charming and impressive debut. Christine Inzer is one to watch.” The book is also blurbed by a terrific list of Japanese culture experts that include authors Robert Whiting (You Gotta Have Wa), Hiroko Yoda (Ninja Attack!), Kate Williamson (A Year in Japan), Sam Baldwin (For Fukui’s Sake: Two Years in Rural Japan) and Matthew Amster-Burton (Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo). Amster-Burton called Halfway Home a “beautifully illustrated memoir.”
All this began in the summer of 2013, when fifteen-year-old Christine Mari Inzer traveled alone to Japan to rekindle her interest in her mother’s culture—her mother is Japanese and her father is American—illustrating her travels along the way. Leaving her parents and siblings for eight weeks, Inzer stayed with her mother’s parents in Kashiwa, a small city outside of Tokyo. She also traveled to attractions like the Zen temple Ryōan-ji in Kyoto and the Asakusa district in Tokyo. The resulting graphic memoir shares moments of vulnerability, appreciation for family, culture shock, and adaptation, creating a humorous and contemplative travelogue beyond her years.
Inzer discovered cartooning in middle school when she read Hope Larson’s Chiggers and has been drawing ever since. “I’ve never taken any real art classes so I’m largely self-taught,” she said, “although I did a comics workshop at RISD the summer before 8th grade.” The book is a hybrid of comics, illustrations, photos and prose—representing a fresh, non-traditional comics interpretation of her travels. She does use some comic tricks to engage the reader, though, like a series of panels of her feeding ‘The Deer in Nara’ where one of the deer approaches from outside the panel, nudging its way to her (and our) attention.
Inzer self-published e-book and POD print editions of the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace and used Ingram Spark for bookstore distribution.
Since publishing the book in November 2014, Halfway Home has been getting buzz nationally and internationally. Inzer said the book has sold hundreds of copies online. At Barrett Bookstore in Darien, Conn., where her family lives, she sold out every copy at her book signing. The book has been featured in Chopsticks NY and has even reached international audiences, appearing on the shelves in the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Tokyo, Japan.
As she finishes up her senior year of high school, Inzer plans to focus on International Relations and Japanese in college before committing to another comics project. “I know that I'll never stop being a comic artist. I would love to publish another book someday, especially since I’ve learned so much from this first experience.”