It’s mid-April and yet it still feels like winter. But you don’t have to worry about that because in the world of webcomics, the weather is a lie and it’s always sunny somewhere. It’s easy to find “happiness” in a “Chanta” but only if that’s what “Dr. Frost” ordered.
All that and a fair amount of dark comedy in this issue of The Webcomics Weekly.
Schedule: Sunday, bi-weekly
Reviewed by Michael Mazzzacane
There is an adventurous adventure mode in “Chanta” which is quite effective, it blends surprisingly well with the limited point of view that writer artist Loulose gives the reader by entering these opening strips on the protagonist, Geraldine . There’s a lyricisim to the way they handle the environments in this strip with just big pops of pastel color and a few sketchy lines to add dimension. The limited rendering gives the coloring of this book a flat but effective color palette. And then that lyricism and beauty collides with the plot of the strip and it feels “off” like a dark comedy you never expected to read.
The opening tape perfectly captures this lyrical yet artistic expression with Geraldine floating beneath the surface of the ocean thinking about the letter she wrote to her mother to leave the islands and go to the mainland. Her reasons wander through her mind as she floats around, with some intercutting with Mother finding the letter – or an imagined version of this event. And then you see where Geraldine was before she was in the ocean, a bigger commercial steam cruiser that sinks like the Titanic. Those people you saw a few panels earlier aren’t people, they’re bodies. It just gives everything a dark tint that isn’t noticed at all in the surface text of the comic. Maybe it’ll be stretched subtextually, but in this batch of episodes, the otherwise great-speaking and cartoonish Loulose shows no signs of unpacking that trauma. A similar sudden tonal shift occurs in the fourth strip where we learn what the titular Chanta are and things get very violent and very wet, very quickly. As a reader, these sudden changes are mostly effective; it’s just the seeming 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 story, it justifies the exposition extremely well. But this lack of knowledge also made me feel like she’s also a bit too weak to understand the insane events she’s going through.
As Geraldine’s emotional state and characterization may be disconnected, the larger aesthetic of the strip, “Chanta” is still worth watching. It has a sort of minimalist Nick Dragotta in an “East of West” aesthetic that is alluring. This all-in-one sci-fi look leads to a lot of just plain interesting riffs on understandable objects. It’s not super detailed line work, but there’s a unified design that makes everything fit together even though it’s so weird.
“Chanta” is the kind of webcomic I like to meet. It’s not totally refined but there is an energy that is promising.
“A Fox Hole” (9) – (13)
By Jongbeom Lee
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
The ending of “A Fox Hole” is bittersweet. On the one hand, the central conflict between YSP tactics and Manny’s tangle is resolved, but on the other, Frost has been forced into a morally suspect situation and we’ve ended the arc no closer to reaching Seonghyun Moon. It’s a rollercoaster of a few episodes as Lee parallels Manny’s “crunch” experiences with Frost’s deprogramming efforts. I have to say Lee made both of them hard to watch.
Manny was a fairly straightforward, somewhat difficult castaway. Once I saw he was locked in an isolated room and Lee gave us a taste of the headlines, it was clear this was the brainwashing technique they were using. It’s also a great way to make the “brainwashing” not feel manual or pseudoscientific. It’s not that people are crushed, but that a specific idea is reinforced when one is vulnerable and worn out, and therefore susceptible to greater shifts in thought. In Manny’s case, the rage he feels is not fabricated – it is real but has simply been manipulated to drive all other decisions.
On Frost’s side, the deprogramming is intense and brutal. As Frost describes it, it is essentially reverse brainwashing, placing the person in a position of extreme stress and systematically breaking down their current belief system. Normally in a detective series, these scenes are triumphant moments in the manner of what we saw in ‘The pupil of a genius’ but here, it is in bad taste. We are shown how the cops make jokes, celebrating the brutal treatment of this man. Again, in a run-of-the-mill crime show, that’s the norm and it’s meant to be a substitute for the feelings of the audience. Here, this is not the case.
Lee keeps these moments in focus to contrast them with Seonga & Frost’s attitudes and actions, which are much more sympathetic to the deprogrammed person. Detective Chun makes it even more explicit when he mentions how much his father, Professor Chun, hated when Frost did these kinds of seances. It’s decisions like these that make me read “Dr. Freeze.” The empathy and care that Lee puts into his writing and art is excellent and anchors the series as it continues to grow and get scarier.
Updates on Sundays
Written by Jin Cheol-soo and Park Si-hyun
Drawing by Jung Seok-hyun
Reviewed by Mel Lake
Nobody seems very happy in “Happiness,” the new action-slash-horror Webtoon Original that updates Sundays. This is understandable, given that a new plague has emerged to infect humanity in addition to COVID-19, and this one is horrific in a whole new way. Explaining vampirism as an infection isn’t a new concept, but it’s a concept I love when done right, so I’m curious to see it get the webtoon treatment.
We start “Bonheur” in flashback on the two main characters met in high school. Ihyeon is sitting on the roof, crestfallen and possibly about to jump, when his classmate, Saebom, tells him about his misfortune. Just when things seem about to change, Saebom pushes him off the roof, onto the mattress waiting conveniently below. Ihyeon’s reaction to this is to ask her out, which, well, I guess that could happen? I think falling from a building would be more traumatic than that, but in the episodes that follow, the two characters stay consistent. Ihyeon goes with the flow, while Saebom seems like a bit of a sociopath who’s ready to take action when others are paralyzed with fear.
Besides the dynamic between the two main ones, the action in “Happiness” concerns an intern who gets bitten by a man who coldly murdered his roommate by biting him. The trainee, you guessed it, turns into a bloodthirsty maniac himself and, when confronted by Saebom, claws him. Saebom is isolated, and in episode five she is seen confined to a facility where buried people bang their heads against the wall, in the first main symptom of this mysterious vampiric disease.
The illustrations for “Happiness” are excellent, with clean lines and beautiful character work. The backgrounds are filled in to an extent that you don’t always see, and it makes this comic look professional. The characters’ faces are distinct and their actions are consistent, if confusing at times. My only complaint with “Happiness” is that the pacing of these early episodes is a bit too slow. Much of the action focuses on how the police and military respond to a possible new pandemic. It can give an air of realism to the story, but it’s also a bit boring to read. Once the vampires really get going, I hope Saebom ends up being a badass vampire hunter, because she seems poised to be great at it.
It’s a little too early to tell if “Happiness” will stand out from other vampire comics and other plague comics. In the meantime, the illustrations and character designs are pleasing to the eye.