It’s mid-April and yet it still feels like winter by me. But you don’t have to worry about that because in the world of webcomics, weather is a lie and it’s always sunny somewhere. It’s easy to find “Happiness” in a “Chanta” but only if it’s what the “Dr. Frost” ordered.
All this and a decent amount of dark comedy in this issue of The Webcomics Weekly.
Schedule: Sundays, biweekly
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
There is a wanderlust adventure mode to “Chanta” that is rather effective, it mixes surprisingly well with the limited point of view writer artist Loulose gives the reader by entering these opening strips on the protagonist, Geraldine. There’s a lyricisim to the way they handle environments in this strip with just large splashes of pastel color and some sketchy line work to add dimension. Limited rendering gives the coloring on this book a flat but effective color palette. And then that lyricism and beauty come smashing into the plot of the strip and it feels if not “off” like a dark comedy you didn’t expect to read.
The opening strip perfectly captures this at once lyrical and artistic minded expression with Geraldine floating below the ocean surface thinking about the letter she wrote to her Mother about leaving the Islands and going to the Mainland. Her reasons wander through her mind as she floats, with a little bit of intercutting to Mother finding the letter – or an imagined version of that event. And then you see where Geraldine was before she was in the ocean, a larger commercial steam cruiser that’s going down like the Titanic. Those people you saw a few panels earlier aren’t people, they’re bodies. It just gives everything a dark tinge that is not remarked upon at all in the surface text of the comic. Maybe it will be drawn out subtextually, but in this batch of episodes Loulose otherwise excellent expression and cartooning show no sign of unpacking that trauma. A similar sudden tonal shift occurs in the fourth strip wherein we learn what the titular Chanta are and things get very violent and very wet, very fast. As a reader these sudden shifts are mostly effective; it’s just the apparent disconnect they have on the main character’s emotional and mental state.
Geraldine knows less than Jon Snow. Which isn’t a bad thing for this kind of adventure narrative, it justifies exposition extremely well. But that lack of knowledge also gave me the impression she’s also a little too dim to understand the insane events she’s going through.
As perhaps disconnected Geraldine’s emotional state and characterization is from, the larger aesthetics of the strip, “Chanta” is still worth looking at. It has a sort of minimalist Nick Dragotta in “East of West” aesthetic that is enticing. This all in one science fiction look leads to a lot of plainly interesting riffs on understandable objects. It isn’t super detailed line work but there is a unified design that makes everything fit even if it is so outlandish.
“Chanta” is the kind of webcomic I like to come across. It’s not totally refined but there’s an energy to it that has promise.
‘A Fox Hole’ (9) – (13)
By Jongbeom Lee
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
The end of ‘A Fox Hole’ is bittersweet. On the one hand, the central conflict of the YSP’s tactics and Manny’s embroilment is resolved but on the other, Frost was forced into a morally suspect situation and we ended the arc no closer to reaching Seonghyun Moon. It’s a rollercoaster of a few episodes as Lee parallels Manny’s experiences in “crunch” with the deprogramming efforts of Frost. I gotta say, Lee made both of these hard to watch.
Manny’s was a fairly straightforward sinking feeling kind of difficult. Once I saw he was being shut in an isolated room and Lee gave us the first taste of the headlines, it was clear this was the brainwashing technique they used. It’s also a really good way of making the “brainwashing” not feel handwavy or pseudoscientific. It’s not that people are being overwritten but that a specific idea is being reinforced when one is vulnerable and worn down, and thus susceptible to larger shifts in thinking. In Manny’s case, the rage he feels isn’t manufactured – it’s real but it’s simply been manipulated into being the driving motivator of all other decisions.Continued below
On Frost’s end, the deprogramming is intense and brutal. It’s, as Frost describes, essentially reverse-brainwashing, putting the person into a position of extreme stress and systematically breaking down their current belief system. Normally in a detective show, these scenes are triumphant moments ala what we saw in ‘Student of a Genius’ but here, it’s distasteful. We’re shown how the cops are making jokes, celebrating the rough treatment of this man. Again, in a run-of-the-mill cop show, this is the norm and meant to be a surrogate for the audience’s feelings. Here that’s not the case.
Lee keeps these moments in focus to contrast them with Seonga & Frost’s attitudes and actions, which are far more sympathetic to the person being deprogrammed. Detective Chun makes this even more explicit when he mentions how his father, Professor Chun, hated when Frost would do these kinds of sessions. It’s decisions like these that keep me reading “Dr. Frost.” The empathy and care Lee puts into his writing and art is excellent and anchors the series as it continues to grow bigger and scarier.
Written by Jin Cheol-soo and Park Si-hyun
Art by Jung Seok-hyun
Reviewed by Mel Lake
No one seems terribly happy in “Happiness,” the new action-slash-horror Webtoon Original that updates Sundays. This is understandable, considering that a new plague has appeared to infect humanity in addition to COVID-19, and this one is horrific in a totally new way. Explaining vampirism as an infection isn’t a new concept but it’s one I tend to like when it’s done well, so I’m curious to see it get the Webtoon treatment.
We start “Happiness” by flashing back to the two main characters meeting in high school. Ihyeon is sitting on the roof, despondent and possibly about to jump, when his classmate, Saebom talks him through his unhappiness. Just as things seem like they’re about to turn around, Saebom pushes him off the roof, onto the mattress conveniently waiting below. Ihyeon’s reaction to this is to ask her out, which, well, I guess that could happen? I’d think falling off a building would be more traumatic than that, but in the episodes that follow, the two characters remain consistent. Ihyeon goes with the flow, whereas Saebom seems like a bit of a sociopath who is willing to act when others are paralyzed with fear.
Other than the dynamic between the main two, the action in “Happiness” is concerned with a trainee who is bitten by a man who has murdered his flatmate in cold blood by biting him. The trainee, you guessed it, turns into a bloodthirsty maniac himself, and when confronted by Saebom, scratches her. Saebom is isolated, and in episode five we see her confined in a facility where those interred bang their heads against the wall, in the first main symptom of this mysterious vampiric illness.
The artwork in “Happiness” is excellent, with clean lines and gorgeous character work. The backgrounds are filled in to an extent that you don’t always see, and it lends this comic a professional air. The character’s faces are distinct, and their actions are consistent, if sometimes baffling. My only complaint with “Happiness” is that the pacing in these early episodes is a bit too slow. The action focuses a great deal on how the police and military are reacting to a possible new pandemic. This might lend an air of realism to the story but it’s also just a bit boring to read. Once the vampires really get going, I’m hoping that Saebom will end up as a badass vampire hunter, because she seems poised to be excellent at it.
It’s a little too early to tell if “Happiness” will distinguish itself from other vampire comics and other plague comics. In the meantime, the artwork and character designs are great to look at.