Insta Made Me Read It is a column zoned in on the webtoons that get repped by the official Instagram account of Line Webtoon. I think it’s interesting and telling which titles get real support from the platform, and what that tells us about the target audience for this tremendously successful comics app. Random Chat was given a partially-animated feature on the thirteenth of July—this column is currently suffering from a small amount of lag—which introduced it as a new title and made the basics clear. From that, Random Chat was clearly about teens, phones, and social nerves. From a quick fandom Google, it seems that Random Chat is already established with Korean audiences (it’s been running since 2017) and this “new” release is specifically in English.
The Croaking also received the benefit of an animated promo on the Webtoonofficial Instagram, this time in late August. It’s animation is much mellower than Random Chat’s—there are two main styles Webtoonofficial uses for these. One is a fast-paced zooming/image splitting effect in montage, and the other is the addition of minor motion to one static shot. The Croaking seems to have taken a six-week hiatus from the third week of June to the last of July 2019, having been launched in December 2018. The creator, echorise, doesn’t seem to be Korean, so I think this is the first publication of this comic. Their name is Megan Stevenson and the vast majority of the dialogue reads very smoothly, so it seems probable they’re a native English speaker.
The Croaking has also been featured in character-pick graphics on the Webtoonofficial Instagram, including a congratulation from the company to all of the Webtoon creators nominated for Ringo awards this year. Echorise is nominated, under that name, for Best Cartoonist (previously mentioned True Beauty cartoonist Yaongyi is nominated for Best Colorist, as well as several other Webtoon creators in various categories).
Random Chat by Eun Hyuk Park
Joon-Woo, a high school student with low self-esteem, likes to use a random chat app (like Chatroulette, I guess? How soon such moments pass~) to assuage his loneliness instead of talking to his classmates. He unexpected matches with a g-g-g-girl, they keep talking, and through happenstance discovers that he’s textfriends with Seung Ah, a cutie in his class. He doesn’t tell her, “obviously,” and instead tries to be a sort of fairy godstalker. She tells him she needs dating advice on the app—he figures out who she likes irl, and asks the guy what he likes in a girl to feed her tips. Cyrano de Berger-app! Hahahahaha.
As of writing, Random Chat has only ten chapters published in English (again, about three or four issues of a monthly comic). Its plot is chopping along; Seung Ah tells her app friend about the previous app friend she made who is now her stalker, and decides she doesn’t want to chat to anonymous randos any more for her own safety. Joon-Woo decides he’d better protect her by figuring out who the stalker is, and all the while his social life is gaining minor points here and there. How to deal with various types of social predation is on the narrative’s mind, and so is how to get over yourself a little bit and start living well.
I have a couple of problems with this comic, and they’re both personal. First of all, it uses the same meme-face reaction aside visual language as True Beauty. Random Chat beats out True Beauty on age (2017 vs 2018 Korean debuts), so I can’t say Random Chat is derivative—unfortunately it feels derivative. It’s not as handy with its timing and these extreme expressions are not thematically notable in Random Chat as they are in True Beauty. It may be the forerunner, but that’s only a matter of fact.
Secondly … the teens in this story are just charmless! Text message language is dominant in establishing their characters and they all text abominably. I’m sorry! I said it was personal! There’s no grace to any of their casual typing and they end more than half their messages with “lolololol.” They’re not joking, they’re just insecure and subtextually indicating a dissociation with their chosen words in case the latter are received poorly—I understand it, it illustrates their fears and shortcomings and current lack of social integrity. It’s not technically poor storytelling. It’s just super ugly to read! Joon-Woo talks like an asshole, an absolute baby patriarch—he’s arrogant, bossy, demanding and smug in his text conversations with Seung Ah, based on absolutely nothing. She bends to his bullshit. Where above I said Joon-Woo unexpectedly “matches with a g-g-g-girl, they keep talking, and […]” I specifically didn’t say “they hit it off”—they don’t hit it off, he’s just rude and pushy and she’s all lolol, I’m dealing with u I guess. It’s not unrealistic, and that’s what I hate. Their interactions are suffused with spicy teenaged misogyny and I’m not at home to these flashbacks. Or, honestly, overjoyed by how they’re not the focus of Joon-Woo’s apparent need for growth.
An odd thing I notice in the Webtoon comics set “here and now”: the weird take on branding. Facebook uniformly becomes Acebook, except sometimes when it’s Facebook. Starbucks has some clever we-know-you-know rename. In Random Chat, a character starts talking about their rank on Underwatch … and then a chapter or so later, makes three mentions of Overwatch. Is this a Webtoon lawsuit-protection demand? Is it the assumption of potential lawsuits by inexperienced creators? If the former, why is it so poorly proofed for? If the latter, same question? It’s something that trips me up a little every single time.
The Croaking by echorise
The Croaking is an immediately compelling story in an immediately compelling world. Upon opening, the protagonist is a moody, built kid with floppy hair, big black wings, and a halter top. Later chapters follow the jockier-looking sweetheart who tries to befriend him: blue eyes, big arms, all shirts cut racerback to accommodate his own, lighter wings. There are plenty of leaning torsos and cocky smiles in this comic. Ten chapters in, what I’ve gleaned is that bird people all live on one island because of some sort of probably near-historic war. The characters in the story are young winged adults at a military academy full of ethno-classism and people are divided, at least aesthetically, by their bird-species, though the wings are the only apparent anatomical difference to a human (not that humans appear in this story as of yet. I just happen to be familiar with the basic differences between humans and birds). It seems it’s bad to be a crow, because of bigotry derived from the mentioned near-historic war as well as heavy pressure to join some sort of mafia, and the floppy-haired kid from chapter one, Scra, is a crow—and also our good-boy protagonist’s roommate. The titular Croaking is “coming,” and that’s threatening.
It’s not clear whether the interest either protagonist has in each other is romantic or not (sometimes the narrative eye ogles a character while another is in focus, which could indicate sexual interest or could simply be for the hornier reader), but it is clear that it’s enough in earnest to drive a series. Strong lines of friendship are drawn between blue eyes and the top student in his year group, Ree (a girl), and classmate rivalries and hatred are both woven in and out of the story to keep things on the move. The demographic lines between bird types are well and subtly drawn, mixed in with real-world style class arrogance, with a lot of clear thought having been put into the world behind the narrative. This comic feels like a very successful YA social-survival-then-combat-survival adventure.
The art is, ironically, down to earth and the colouring unflashy, leaving the focus on the interpersonal drama and characters’ process of thinking in quite a televisual sort of way. Costumes are underplayed, largely everyday uniforms and gym kits, though the wings are drawn carefully and weight and motion are all given enough attention to read as realistic. The majority of the colouring is darkly hued, brown-bird tones, which makes the whites of eyes (and the space between panels) stand out starkly. This gives an urgency to characters’ eye contact that very much suits the context.