This hefty graphic novel by the Korean cartoonist Yeon-Sik Hong is one of the simplest stories I’ve read this year. It has no real suspense or plot, no grand reveal. Based on Hong’s own experience moving with his wife Sohmi from Seoul to the countryside, Uncomfortably Happily is a candid, engrossing tale of two comic artists looking for comfort in solitude and minimalist living, even as the twin shadows of poverty and stress loom.
While they are thrilled to leave the smog and noisy crowds behind, the couple relocate largely out of financial necessity; on page after page, the irritable Hong agonizes over his meager paychecks and unfulfilled creative dreams. Uncomfortably Happily, which is plainly but engagingly drawn, spends as much time, though, on the daily indignities and triumphs of living in the mountains. Divided into seasons, the book reflects the duo's newfound connection to the patterns and whims of nature: In the winter, the couple experiment with burning coal to save money. In the spring, they begin the tricky work of loosening the soil and planting sesame, lettuce, and mugwort. They fret over trespassers, chores, and commuting to the city. They adopt a dog, buy some chickens, and clean up the mess when the dog kills the chickens. Sometimes, they treat themselves to grilled meat for dinner or go for a swim.
I appreciated the book’s contemplative, and realist, mode, and its unromantic look at oft-romanticized lifestyles: that of the country-dweller and that of the artist. Beyond that, I just found it therapeutic to follow the quietly charming Hong and Sohmi week to week, not doing much more than making do.