Having been spending a lot more time on Instagram, I’ve been seeing a lot of Instagram ads. Some—my favourite—are for excessively dishy dating sim games. Some—the most perplexing—are for bizarre and sexual-looking contraptions selling for minus four dollars on Wish. And some—the ones that have actually caused me to click through and sample that tasty
Having been spending a lot more time on Instagram, I’ve been seeing a lot of Instagram ads. Some—my favourite—are for excessively dishy dating sim games. Some—the most perplexing—are for bizarre and sexual-looking contraptions selling for minus four dollars on Wish. And some—the ones that have actually caused me to click through and sample that tasty product—are for comics. LINE Webtoon Instagram outreach: I’m a convert. You’ve done your job.
Cursed Princess Club by Lambcat
Cursed Princess Club has a cute little concept that’s elevated to the moon by an exceptional sense of comic timing and the relentless subversion of expectation. Gwendoline is the youngest princess of the Pastel Kingdom. Her two older sisters are beautiful fairytale dreamboats, as is her brother. Gwendoline looks like a goblin. Her pale green skin, pinched-off nose, pointed teeth and mouldy-looking hair (helpfully groomed by her precious pet possum) go entirely unnoticed by both Gwendoline and her family—they love her, and value her lovely nature, kindness, great cooking and familial piety. She’s a sweetheart and they don’t see beyond that.
And daughter three:
Unfortunately the Pastel Kingdom “needs” to strengthen its political bonds with the Plaid Kingdom (their kings are besties and they want to merge their families), and the three daughters of the Pastel King are slated to marry the three hot sons of the Plaid King. Never having been allowed to mix with boys before, the girls are overjoyed and everything goes wonderfully well… until it turns out that the youngest son mistook Gwendoline for an evil spirit haunting the family portrait he saw. Discovering that she’s “ugly,” Gwendoline runs into the palace forest in tears and meets, dun dun dun—! The Cursed Princess Club. For fairytale princesses who have had their fairytale curses partially broken. This comic is so freaking funny, honestly, and the misdirection is so clever—you think you know what’s coming, and it’s a pretty good joke, but then a different joke happens and it’s superior. Almost everything about this comic is so fresh.
The one element of Cursed Princess Club that causes me a minor pause is the way it reminds me that I grew up in a social context where gay people technically existed out there somewhere but also seemed not to, really. As of yet there’s no queer text, though there’s also a definite lack of textual homophobia. One of the early moments of expectation denial is the young prince being asked if he wants to marry Gwendoline’s terribly pretty brother, whom he mistook for her, and his reply is that he doesn’t want to marry a prince. But—it’s not a disgusted no, or a shocked no, it’s just a no. It doesn’t feel like a gay joke, just a part of the apparatus of the comedy of cliche avoidance that’s able to exist because this is a comic that doesn’t make gay jokes. While also not including gay characters, at least as yet. Similarly the Cursed Princess Club includes one Prince, Saffron, who dislikes the club name (the president won’t change it because she already had the t-shirts made). There aren’t really jokes about him being diminished by association with femininity, or trans jokes, just comedy and character flowing from the indignance that he, a prince, expresses because “princess club” is an incorrect fact.
Webtoons are designed to be scrolled through, so multiple panels on the horizontal line are unusual. It’s mostly one flat, wide panel per screen-height, with a couple of speech bubbles or captions above, below or both. In context this makes the chapters seem both faster to read and more naturally involving—you’re literally always on your way to the next part, so time becomes a much realer element of the experience than when it’s implicit between two panels right next to each other. Like running games, this style of comic leaves less space for lingering, so the simple illustration and vertically basic layout don’t feel sparse so much as appropriate and lean. It’s also a terrific vehicle for comedy, as you (at least, your thumbs) literally have to work for the punchline. So satisfying! When you can tell a laugh beat is coming you can hold it off if you want to, or scroll faster to munch it down. When you don’t know it’s coming then the scrolled nature makes the most of your ignorance, turning every “next panel” into a page turn-style reveal.
True Beauty by Yaongyi
True Beauty has been mentioned on the site before, but here’s a longer look. It’s a dramatically-driven story about the anxieties of augmented beauty. Jugyeong was a young teenager who loved horror comics, Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson, and did no personal grooming. When she lost a long-legged boy with the same taste in music to a cute, pretty girl, Jugyeong turned to a teen forum for reassurance. That came in the form of its opposite: “Sorry, people care a lot about looks” and an education in make-up. Early chapters cover her tentative steps into the world of facial aesthetics with heartbreaking (and funny) honesty: make-up is hard! Often you look kind of bad to begin with! Maybe you’re not starting in the right place for your face! But she perseveres, and eventually she learns how to do a full face that startles with its loveliness. Her high school debut with her new face goes well, and things go swimmingly for the next couple of years. Her friends never see her without make-up and the local convenience store clerk thinks she’s two different people when she’s in make-up and out, but Jugyeong is pretty happy with the deal she’s struck with herself.
True Beauty isn’t as funny as Cursed Princess Club, but it’s still pretty (haw!) hilarious. Yaongyi’s art is well-suited to their subject, pulling off the sense of porcelain perfection that the story tells us Jugyeong’s Instagram and personal presence present as well as making it subtextually obvious that there’s really nothing “wrong” with her real/private/naked face. True Beauty makes regular use of the meme macro format, referencing overblown reaction images where an older comic would have much cuter super-deformed insets. It’s both technically effective and creatively apt: a story about a girl showing a manufactured face thanks to beauty tutorials and often for social media utilising such an #online visual language is a very solid choice. It also offers for food for thought about the dual popularity of these gurning images and the placid expressions of Instagram Beauty. Two sides of a face-based coin! I mean literally coin, the currency of… something similar to or entwined with youth.
Things go off the rails for Jugyeong when she meets another beautiful boy. At school, he’s an ice prince, admired by all and unfriendly to pretty Jugyeong. After school he’s still gorgeous and unfriendly, but edges of shyness and interest begin to show when Jugyeong starts to discover him in the horror comics section of the local media shop as regularly as she visits herself (without make-up).
This kid, Suho, is the only one who can identify Jugyeong in both her guises, and once he puts two and two together he actually seems pretty interested in her. She doesn’t notice, too obsessed with protecting her secret. It’s an interestingly delicate depiction of an apparently demon-hearted rich boy-babe, making it far clearer than usual that his unfriendliness is less deliberate than the result of a complex and powerful interior life. I’ve only read thirteen chapters, but True Beauty looks like it’s headed through a really involved investigation of image, confidence, and what we appreciate about each other through a contemporary teenaged lens.
True Beauty is (rumoured to be?) getting a k-drama adaptation, and while it definitely contains the narrative nuance and character dimensions to captivate audiences through a different kind of screen I think it’d be a shame to lose the specifically net-based language of the comic.
Both of these comics are advertised on Instagram pretty regularly, at least for me. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence (or… my place in the algorithm?) that both are heavily invested in deconstructing beauty from the perspective of teenaged girls, but I do know that I’m immensely pleased that this is work being done in the comics format, and so muscularly. I tapped through to both of these comics on a vague sense of partial interest, and both of them snatched me right up. They’re tender, funny, vulnerable and hopeful, and they’re the future of the medium.1 comment