This column is about the webtoons that Webtoon want you to read so much they advertise them: those that appear as promoted Instagram adverts, those that appear on the Webtoon Instagram profile, and those that are promoted in-app. Matchmaker Hero was featured on the Webtoon Instagram, webtoonofficial, in early July: an animated promo image including the line “Matchmaker Hero is back,”signalling a presumable hiatus was presumably over, and a short blurb, with the title hashtag. (If you click on that tag, you see plenty of fan content.) The official Webtoon account also used a picture of the male lead in an Area 51 raid-themed meme post later in the month (he’s picture #11).
Hooky also appeared on this account in early August—a static promo image with the tagline “Hooky is back!”, again signalling that a presumable hiatus was presumably over. More impactfully, Hooky also appears as the first title offered in the Webtoon summer reading challenge. This challenge is to be among the first 10,000 readers to read seventy-five chapters of three specific comics—seventy five in total, you might assume, but it’s unclear. Hooky at least has two hundred and two chapters at time of writing—but neither of the other two designated titles (Unlucky is as Lucky Does and Love Advice from the Great Duke of Hell) have seventy-five chapters each published. So—seventy-five from any of them. Seventy-five chapters is about twenty-five American issues. Every time a chapter of one of the designated titles is finished (every time you reach the bottom of your scroll on that chapter), a graphic pop-up appears to count off your total and remind you of the challenge. If you complete this challenge, you get fifteen coins. What are coins?
“Coins are currency that’s exclusive to the WEBTOON app on Android and iOS. You can use Coins to unlock Fast Pass to read ahead and support your favorite Creators. The number of Coins you need to use for Fast Pass may vary depending on the WEBTOON series.”
Basically, an in-app Patreon-like virtual currency option.
Matchmaker Hero by Madeline Ince
Matchmaker Hero is an alien invasion high school caper, where a squirt-gun full of ketchup is as lethal as a death-gun full of bullets and “I’m secretly an alien tho” is at the core of every schoolboy crush suppression. Like most Webtoons I’ve read so far, it’s an absolute genre Frankenstein—the blessed accessibility of audience that Webtoon as an app provides enables, I think, a beautiful, self-gratification-fed creativity à la CLAMP and similar doujin-turned-pro groups to a much wider degree. Like many, it has a strong “Oh, I also like that anime!” feeling; if you prefer Space Dandy to Fruits Basket (or, if you like both) you’ll be happier here than with Fluffy Boyfriend (profiled last column).
Our hero, Richie, answers a personals ad for a boyfriend because his mother won’t stop ragging him for being dateless (as she spends another night alone, gaming). Being a good boy who loves his mum, he worries as much about her feelings about his absent father as about his, or whether or not he should have a girlfriend, or some friends, already. The blind date doesn’t go so well, but things take a turn when Mustachio arrives and claims Richie’s date Elle … as his mortal enemy (and maybe more~), due to her avowed protection of this planet, Earth. Elle tries to kill him for being an alien, but she can’t, because her pain threshold is very low. And that’s the real reason she advertised for a boyfriend: she wants somebody to be her meat shield in her dauntless campaign against the green-eyed menace.
It turns out the alien horde is already closer to Richie than he’d like, and that the emperor of aliens just wants to see his children fight Earth’s heroes. Several “Oh, do these characters have History? Do they have a future??” subplots are quickly introduced, keeping the high school central to the issue even as a whole galaxy of intrigue opens up and threatens to swallow Richie whole.
The comic makes great use of “hanging silent” moments (it really feels like it wants to be animated), and is beautifully coloured—golden hour, every hour, but that adds an emotional punch to all of Richie’s wistful problems. Does he like Elle? Does he care about an alien invasion? Should he care about what an alien identity would mean on earth? Why did his mother keep certain secrets about her past, and his dad? Does that other guy like Elle? Is he keeping a secret too? Why does he hate Richie? Does Elle hate Richie for his dislike of her friend? Richie doesn’t really want any of this to be his problem, but to be fair nothing else was happening in his life. There’s an inescapable American down to earthiness to the figure drawing, though they have vim and style strongly reminiscent of the platonic Sayo Yamamoto project, and plenty of energy for large gestures. There are some very clever absurdities, such as the below, that rely on a current vocabulary (if you weren’t familiar with the phrase “blew up my inbox,” the joke would not work) and in that way define the expected audience, but the writing prioritises connection with the older generation through humanely drawn parents and authority figures, and the younger characters’ relationships with them.
Hooky by Míriam Bonastre Tur
Hooky suffers a great deal for its poor translation. It’s a very pretty comic, a very attractively drawn one, with some very nice and enticing layouts and diagrammatic panel choices. It’s just as delightfully genre-sideways as my previous features—honestly, this is something that stands out for me as a draw of Webtoons. They feel more reliably creative than the average American format comic. This isn’t a fair comparison, because I’m looking at comics that have been curated to appeal—I’m looking at Webtoons that have been advertised somewhere I already naturally go (Instagram). In a comic shop or on a digital reader app for direct-distribution American monthlies, all I can do is pick something up at random, because American comic advertising is … quite bad! It’s a shame. But it’s to Webtoons’ great benefit.
In Hooky, a young brother and sister miss the bus to school. Unfortunately they were supposed to be boarding there for a year, and unfortunately they’ll be unable to catch up with the bus because it’s a magic bus, going to magic school, and will have already vanished (magically). So they improvise, and go to try to finagle a year’s worth of tuition out of their glamorous aunt.
The glamorous aunt turns out to be the wicked witch of Snow White’s tale, and these good little children overhear her telling a woodsman to go and fetch the heart of Snow White. They decide to help him do so, to prove they should be given better magical chores to do than cleaning up the library. Fun twist, right? Bloody-minded! Well, get ready for another, because when they heard “Take her heart” they didn’t think she meant “with a knife.” They give the woodsman a makeover and a pep talk and send him off to meet Snow White with flowers.
Various happenstance leads to the children fleeing the aunt’s house and taking residence at a town magician’s. He promises to teach them magic, but is always very busy. Meanwhile they make friends (him)/enemies (her) with a local urchin, look around this cute house, and remain unaware their deaths are being plotted due to the extreme political upheaval they accidentally created during their flight from auntie’s castle. Luckily they may have an ally on the inside, thanks to the newly-engaged woodsman…
It sounds like a very good comic, and it looks like a wonderful one. But the translated dialogue really is pretty rotten—and not all of the dialogue-free sequences are clear enough to follow easily, though each panel will be drawn attractively. (This latter quibble is fair enough, as this comic began when the cartoonist was nineteen—as a continuing student of illustration, this is something very likely to improve over the following two hundred chapters). Illustrationally, this comic is faultless in terms of ideas it’s transporting. But Míriam Bonastre is Spanish, and Hooky is presented in English—if there was a translator involved other than her herself, they were badly chosen. If Webtoon itself doesn’t provide proofreading, and it seems they don’t, I think that’s a mistake and a real letdown for the creators using its platform and making it its money. Hooky‘s lines are often badly garbled, stripping any sense of character from the voice and making the pages seem sterile. If you’ve ever desperation-read old manga fan-translations you’ll recognise the stilted and distant effect, how confusing it can be when someone says something nigh-opposite to their actual intended meaning, and how it gives scenes that would otherwise be pleasantly familiar (some of the character relationships, such as girl-witch Dani and ragamuffin Niko, play out very regularly) a tinge of unfortunate boredom. I like looking at this comic a great deal, and I like its unexpected twists and clever jokes, when they’re not being drowned out by tonal dissonance. But actually reading seventy-five chapters? That feels like work.
I’m clearly not vibing with the dominant response to this comic, though, because it seems to be a common favourite. It has its own fan wiki, which is as sweetly designed as the comic itself, and that wiki’s “What did you think of the most recent chapter” current poll responses are overwhelmingly “I love it!”
As of writing, the first chapter, which was released in April 2015, has fifty-nine thousand, six hundred and eleven Likes from readers. It’s possible that more recent chapters have better translations (a quick glance suggests this is so)—but when the start of something is the worst part, it’s very hard to get through to potential good. You just don’t know if it’s there. It looks like Hooky is drawing to a close in 2019. I hope that revised editions of these earlier chapters will be made available as a subsequent project. Miriam Bonastre is clearly a capable cartoonist, clearly effortful, clearly dedicated. I would like to see her work in its best light.