Review: Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-sik Hong

 
 

Review: Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-sik Hong

Making its North American debut this month is cartoonist Yeon-sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily, an award-winning work that is deceptively simple both in its drawings and narrative. But what Hong has done is quite remarkable: he’s told “a short, short history of a couple” as well as showcase the marvelous divisions that co-exist in South Korean life, revealing a country – and a couple – that are at once traditional and groundbreaking.  

The story is this: Hong and his wife want to escape the chaos of Seoul for the tranquility of the country, thinking the fresh air and quiet will allow both artists to be more productive. But renting a house on a rural mountainside brings with it a series of new challenges. While Hong’s wife finishes two new original books and achieves wild success, Hong struggles with financial concerns and crippling self-doubt. Instead of meeting his deadlines, he procrastinates by throwing himself into household chores, such as stocking a coal stove and clearing land for a garden. They fight about money. Hong feels guilty against his wife’s buoying enthusiasm.

Page by page, the story becomes more nuanced thanks to Hong’s rich illustrations, which depict not only the couple’s adventures during their nearly two years in the country, but also Hong’s internal struggles. Anxiety manifests as fire, as multiple selves, as imagined acts of violence, but then Hong sees a beautiful field of snow, or his wife making a silly face, and all at once the feeling shifts.

Uncomfortably Happily, then, is much more than the story of a city couple moving to the country. It carefully explores the thin divides between men and women, success and failure, the pensive and the playful, resulting in a book that is as complex and wonderful as building a home with the person you love.