When city life gets to be a bit too much, you can always just move out to the country, right?
Even if you’re not somebody who has a lot of extra money stashed away, maybe you can afford that sort of scenario – in fact, economies being what they are, maybe it’s even more affordable than your life in the city.
Especially if your job's location doesn’t thwart your move – because, say, you make money as a manga artist, and your publisher and editors don’t really care where you send your required quota of comic panels from, just as long as you can meet the goddamn deadlines, what’s your problem, you laggard? – then it makes perfect sense to take your wife (an artist and writer in her own right) and your small crowd of cats and get the hell out of Seoul.
The Korean mangaka Yeon-sik Hong did just that in 2005, when he was in his early 30s, and his thick doorstop of a graphic novel, Uncomfortably Happily, recounts the daily adventures and quotidian doldrums, the struggles and triumphs, he and his wife experienced over a year’s worth of rural mountainside living. It’s drawn manga-style, of course, with the characters depicted in varying degrees of cartoonish depending on their emotional states, with the surrounding environment (and the buildings and vehicles that complicate the landscape) more realistically rendered.
Yes: South Korea is where this novel, first published to great acclaim in 2012, is set.
But the United States and Canada is mostly where this new Drawn & Quarterly edition of the novel is being reviewed – and where, the idea is, it will now be successfully marketed.
Any success will depend on several factors, as ever. Not least of which is the potential for reader affinity with the material.
Well, you know what they say about discrete cultures? About how the similarities can be more powerful than the differences?
There’s not an American I’ve ever met – not in my circle of hopeful creative-types struggling to earn professional wages with their talents and skills while nurturing dreams of producing more personal work, striving to keep the sometimes incongruous gears of wedded bliss meshing smoothly, battling against what can seem like the indomitable fuck-you forces of modern life and one’s own inner demons – there’s not a single damned yankee who could read this detail-rich narrative of Hong's without going, “Whoa, I totally get that! That situation, those feelings – I’ve had to deal with that kind of shit a lot! Oh, hell yes, that’s exactly what it’s like!”
Even if you haven’t had to specifically contend with a stream of doltish backpackers tossing trash as they traipse through your front yard, or rig up a coal-burning space heater in the middle of your one-room cottage so’s not to freeze to death during the winter, or argue with an editor who keeps rejecting your work until dozens of seemingly arbitrary changes are made, yeah.
Even if the small dog you adopt isn't equal parts adorable and maddening, yeah.
And one of the reasons this works so well, this sort of commiseration (and occasional joyous celebration), is that the translation was done by Los Angeles-based comics savant Hellen Jo. No problem with vernacular or idiom here: Even when the subject matter is region-specific or culturally arcane, Jo’s got the characters speaking as Americanly as the typical crowd jockeying for iced cappuccinos in a Des Moines Starbucks.
So it’s all, you know, super relatable.
And, finally, this is a D&Q production – so of course Uncomfortably Happily is also a well-made literary object whose paperbound presence will improve the quality of whatever library you’ve got the good sense to gather.