Uncomfortably Happily: A Graphical Sneak Peek into One Couple’s Life

Photo Courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly

Photo Courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly

By Ahalya Mandana

There are some books that really surprise you with their honesty. Uncomfortably Happily, by Yeon-Sik Hong is one of them. The author takes you along a journey, as he and his wife try to deal with a new house, being broke, an exasperating boss, and multiple pets.

Yeon-Sik Hong, the main character, is a young comic book artist in Seoul, and city life has started to get on his nerves – the never-ending noise, pollution, and ridiculously high rents. His wife, Sohmi Lee, who is also an artist, has begun house-hunting for places away from the city, and after being initially disappointed with places that are far away from Seoul but somehow still as expensive, she hears about a house with huge garden in a town called Pocheon. At first, it sounds like a terrific deal, being away from the city, with a house all to themselves – but it’s also the only house on top of a mountain. Hong and Lee are charmed by the house, and despite the fact that they will be totally isolated, they decide to move in.

A new house means new problems. Hong and Lee struggle with heating up their house as it gets cold, and Hong’s salary somehow never seems enough. To add to his problems, he isn’t happy with his work, and finds his boss too demanding. Not getting a chance to create his own characters and tell his own stories, he feels frustrated all the time and nothing seems to be going his way.

The most striking part of the book is the way that the relationship between Hong and Lee is portrayed. The banter between Hong and his wife is realistic, non-sappy, and often delightfully sarcastic. The fact that both of them are artists leads to a very realistic ‘creative-friction’. Hong, who’s almost always unhappy with his own work, always seems to feel like Lee’s art isn’t very developed. He criticizes her work often, and offers helpful ‘advice’ on how to change things. Lee doesn’t work full-time, and most of the art that she works on, is her own. It’s clear that she’s enjoying what she’s doing, while Hong can’t stand his job. One of the best moments in the book is when Hong finds out that his wife has won the grand prize for a competition that she had entered. He feels proud, of course, but it also dawns on him that maybe he was wrong about Lee’s work all along.

The artwork, in black and white, does full justice to the story. In real life, Hong worked at a Manga studio for several years, and it’s evident that he’s very comfortable with extremely detailed drawings. Some scenes are really well-illustrated – there are a few in which the protagonist has multiple versions of himself, in conversation with each other. He originally wrote this book in Korean, and it was later translated into English by Hellen Jo, an American cartoonist. The original Korean edition was really popular and received the Manhwa Today award - and the translation is just as good. Uncomfortably Happily is a very entertaining read, with two very relatable characters, and how they discover a slower, quieter, and possibly more fulfilling way of life.

 

ArtSteven Norwalk