Yeon-Sik Hong is tired of living in the city and dealing with the noise, pollution, and the demands from his editors. So he and his wife, Sohmi Lee, find a small house atop a rural mountain and move to the country for the quiet life. And so begins their memoir of a time and a place unlike anything they’ve ever known before. With their dogs, cats… and chickens… and tourists. And…. well it turns out that living in the country isn’t as quiet or peaceful as they thought it would be. They face problems with money, other people, failing health, but more importantly Yeon-Sik is forced to face some of his own personal demons.

Reading Uncomfortably Happily is like starting out on a trip with someone you love. There’s a lot of work up front to get packed and get ready, but once you’re past that, it’s smooth sailing. Well, until you make a wrong turn. Or the place you’re going to is closed. Or the weather turns bad. Or… well all of those little things rear their head and make a journey less comfortable than what we imagine it’ll be. And that’s what this book is like.

You start with the cover image, where the couple looking happy and everything is great. But that’s deceptive, as Yeon-Sik shows every detail of what he and his wife go through with leaving the city and their journey of living in the country. Yeon-Sik doesn’t show us just the big “traumatic” moments, like where the dog kills off the chickens a couple at a time or the problems he has with his health, which are rather significant. He shows us the little bumps in the road as well. And that’s what makes this story: the little moments along the way. The paying of the bills, making trips into the city, almost freezing to death, and everything in between. It’s these moments that help the reader understand where the author is coming from, because who among us hasn’t felt those small bumps in the road that feel like a mountain when they happen? More important, though, Yeon-Sik is forced to face some of his own problems and realize that maybe he caused some of them himself. Yeon-Sik realizes that a lot of his health problems were brought about because he couldn’t give up control—control of being the breadwinner, control over time frames, control over life. As a result his health begins to fail and he is constantly sick and under the weather, even to the point where he can’t work. It’s only when his wife, an artist in her own right, begins to earn money, begins to take charge, that he realizes he has to give some, too. It makes a compelling story, bumps and all.

Yeon-Sik’s artwork seems to be heavily influenced by Japanese creator Osamu Tezuka’s legacy, but at the same time Yeon-Sik is forging his own style. The people are highly stylized, with simple shapes and features, and this even extends to some of the animals, such as the dog that, in some scenes, is dancing on two feet. A great deal of attention is often paid to their expressions, particularly the eminata –the droplets of sweat, radiating lines for stress, etc. Yeon-Sik though never goes full on chibi or manga style, it’s his own blend of what he finds works, which at times does create some issues. He’s not always consistent with the way the animals are portrayed and while it’s done to indicate different transitions—the dog being attacked, the chickens being dead—it might leave some readers wondering if it’s still the same character as before. The full body view of the two main characters, Yeon-Sik and Sohmi, are also not always consistently drawn, sometimes lapsing into a gingerbread shape. It doesn’t affect the reading of the story, it’s just a very odd juxtaposition sometimes. Yeon-Sik also follows the example of Tezuka for the backgrounds, as they are often more detailed than the characters which can be enjoyable to look at during the course of the book.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read to see how someone else lives and to better understand what it’s like in another country. But more importantly, it helps the reader see how alike things are despite our differences. Recommended for fans of Buddha by Tezuka and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Uncomfortably Happily
by Yeon-Sik Hong
ISBN: 9781770462601
Drawn and Quarterly, 2017

  • Dani Shuping

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Dani Shuping is currently a wandering librarian looking for a home. She has been involved in libraries for over nine years and and has had an interest in graphic novels since before that time. Dani began the graphic novel collection at Mercer, works with an English professor from time to time on a class on graphic novels, and just recently started a graphic novel book discussion group. She love attendings comic conventions, especially the smaller ones when they can, and one day may just have a comic of their own. Dani can be found at ashuping.net and goes by the user name ashuping where ever they can, such as on Twitter: @ashuping.

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