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Thursday, 15 June 2017

New D&Q: Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong!


D&Q's latest title, Uncomfortably Happily by South Korean comic artist Yeon-Sik Hong, just came out on Tuesday! Originally published in two volumes in 2012, D&Q's English translation (by Hellen Jo) collects both in an almost 600-page omnibus.


The story is a semi-autobiographical account of the author (a journeyman comic illustrator who hates his hack-artist day job) and his partner's attempt to move out of crowded, bustling Seoul to a remote mountain village where they could live immersed in natural beauty and supposedly free from distractions: ''A place without traffic noise, where the night is as dark as possible, secluded yet spacious, with actual room to walk...''



In the country, however,they find themselves still assailed by the same struggles with deadlines, procrastination, and inspiration, while also tackling new problems, like growing their own food and installing a charcoal stove to keep warm in Winter.


Filled with lovingly intimate details of everyday life, Uncomfortably Happily is suffused with aspects of Korean culture, including attentive depictions of food and cooking and frequent references to popular songs, which his characters are often singing to themselves, when not bursting into zany musical numbers narrating their daily adventures.


Over the course of the story, solitude, harsh conditions, money worries, littering tourists, and creative struggles often test the protagonists' relationship. During these highly relatable trials, however, we watch their slow evolution, as the short-tempered, easily distracted, constantly procrastinating Hong comes to a greater awareness of his own shortcomings while also learning to appreciate his wife's talents -- she begins to succeed as an illustrator and children's book author -- meanwhile, he begins to find more creative satisfaction in his personal work.


In the end, noisy neighbours and encroaching development bring an end to the characters' wilderness sojourn, but they leave as different people than when they arrived. It's a sweet story that finds all kinds of inventive ways to capture the texture of real life: Hong's drawing style is expressively cartoony when it comes to his characters and lushly realistic in its depictions of the Korean countryside (and city). Critically-acclaimed and award-winning in Korea, Uncomfortably Happily seems destined to become a contemporary classic.

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