Insta Made Me Read It is a bimonthlyish column covering a selection of those comics which are promoted on the official Webtoon Instagram account! Every time I take a look at two comics which I’ve seen on Instagram to get an impression of what’s a) popular and b) rewarded on Webtoon, a massive modern comics-reading platform usually accessed by their free app.
Midnight Poppy Land is a fairly new title, launched with fanfare: an animated, sound-on spotlight released on WebtoonOfficial on November 23rd, 2019, the same day that the comic launched.
Bluechair was featured regularly on the webtoon instagram throughout 2019, including in their announcement of which webtoon creators were Ringo nominated: Shen was nom’d for Best Humour Comic. It lost… to DC’s… Mad. Okay. Shen was one of several high-rolling Webtoon creators featured at their conventions booths last (2019) summer, such as Fan Expo Boston, appearing in Instagram stories and IGTV during his appearances.
Midnight Poppy Land by Lilydusk
Midnight Poppy Land is a fairly new title, launched with fanfare… that I have been avoiding. I don’t like the title. I don’t immediately perceive whether it’s “(Midnight Poppy) Land” or “Midnight (Poppy Land),” and that makes me feel like I’m being gamed. Either way, I don’t know what it means. But that’s personal. Plenty of people don’t mind a nonsense title. I know this because of Breaking Bad. That stupid title was successful.Why shouldn’t this one be?
So, moving on. Having read four chapters, Midnight Poppy Land is not really an easy comic to follow. To summarise:
There’s a crime boss, who may or may not be a crime boss, I can’t remember if it confirms he’s involved in crimes, but people call him “boss” and he has tattoos, so…?? Anyway. This big hot beautiful beefcake with really long hair, whom people call boss, receives a text from someone who has previously disappointed him. It claims that without Mister Sultry’s help, the text-sender will die. He goes to help him, despite dissuasion from underlings. Upon arriving, he discovers only a single bloody shoe and one piece of paper. For some reason he determines that the paper must be something to do with disappeared-shoe-text-guy, and because of that when he sees Poppy, clutching many papers, he’s like “she must be involved in this vanishing, maybe.” Poppy is not involved in the vanishing. she simply crashed her scooter shortly after discovering her boyfriend is a tacky cheat and dropped her dissertation. Mister Sultry takes a picture of Poppy so he can (criminally?) investigate her, but UH OH he does it just as she accidentally flashes him her cleavage and bra. Now they both feel some kind of way about their brief meeting.
These events aren’t presented exactly in this order, as from the beginning both Poppy and Mister Sultry are given parallel scenes as the plot prepares to bring them together. I don’t think it’s as successful as it could be, but it’s not actively confusing so much as needlessly bitty—it doesn’t seem like it’s being told straightforwardly, sacrificing structural satisfaction for structural equity.
I don’t really know where all of this is going, but three obvious paths of potential present themselves to me based on the comic’s presentation as a romance. One: Poppy and Mister Sultry fall in love, and he ruins her life because of his crime association. Two: They fall in love, and the crime stuff doesn’t matter because this is a story and the author gets to make that choice. Or three, which is far and away my favoured option: we go full Crying Freeman. They fall in love, and Poppy comes out of her timid, dull shell, to rise as a phoenix of crime and see Mister S percolating in eternal gratitude. Please join me in a finger crossing.
The art is the primary draw here. Lilydusk has a Jen Bartel-ish approach to textured shading, without the rainbow palate or absolutely refined precision. Some graininess is left, which ups the intimacy: always great for a romance comic. They favour a warm, warm, golden hour range instead. Hair defies gravity in a beautiful, dream-whirlwind way. Their greatest talent is in depicting attraction, though—Poppy’s pin-upish emergence from a hedge, combined with Mr Sultry’s appreciation of her physicality… even when working with easily problematisable plot points such as “the shy heroine accidentally, embarrassingly flashing a stranger,” Lilydusk doesn’t present individualised body parts conceptually separated from their wholeness or personhood. Poppy seems to be “found beautiful” by the character who is textually looking at her, instead of a semiotically erotic construction. The texture of the colours help here; these are warm feelings rather than cold use of visuals. Panel after panel is given to his awed yet stoic response; he burns himself, distracted from his lighter flame.
Sultryboy himself, on the other hand, is certainly here on a silver platter for YOU, the reader, to ogle. He gleams with sweat. His shoulders are so wide. His eyelashes are sparse but dark as he frowns while he smokes. He has a neck tattoo. He wears Halle Berry Y2K jeans-and-a-nice-top outfits AND then casual hoodies—it’s a gallery of man. There’s a little glimpse of nipple here and there. When you see him from the side, the bulge is drawn.
Midnight Poppy Land probably isn’t a series I’ll continue to read regularly. I lack the serenity to follow a series in week by week chunks when I’m not one hundred percent sure it’s going to become a story that rewards what I look for in a romance. But it is certainly one I’ll keep in the back of my mind to ask about once it’s further along, and one I’ll find easy to recommend on its strengths.
Bluechair by Shen
Bluechair is the comic with the shortest chapters of any I’ve covered in this column—my impression is that it’s far shorter week by week than the majority of the Webtoon Originals. Meow Man, as I covered before, features multiple four-panel comics per chapter, whereas Bluechair features one four or so panel comic per chapter. Creators publishing or republishing via the Canvas creator-owned/self-upload half of the platform are much more likely to be found putting out very short updates. The difference seems to be that Bluechair regularly updates multiple times a week (Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday), driving up its weekly panel delivery number and how often a reader can check in with the title, while also meaning that somebody catching up on the archive has to do a LOT of clicking. Sure, this was normal in the olden days, they heyday of strip-based webcomics… but this is 2020. I’m ready to click less, scroll more, read forever. The danger of RSI might be approximately the same with both methods of content access, but a reloaded page is more disruptive than a scrolled one.
The gist of the comic is “a decent guy makes puns or surreal associations or pretty funny rimshot gags, with a fair bit of self-deprecation but no visible contempt.” Shen’s lines are nice, full of motion, well reduced cartooning, made with a pleasing, uneven digital brush. Having been running since 2014, the visuals have developed a long way. Early strips relied much more on shading and a 3d effect. Recent strips favour delineation and appear far more confident, with both body language and hairstyle loosened notably. Bluechair comics are presented through the fourth wall by his cartoon self—stand-up comedy in strip form, with no pretence at narrative despite the occasional use of a supporting cast of monsters or serial entries.
The only real difference between Bluechair and a 2000s strip-based man-on-sofa webcomic is that it’s stacked panel on panel, rather than left to right. A potential second difference is the apparently total lack of bad will towards anyone—no dickwolves here, if you know what I mean. Video games come up, because video games are normal, not because Bluechair is an commercial-identity wars concern. The worst thing I can say about it is that sometimes it reminds me too much of its predecessors—but only because the “flat expression while something wryly ironic is said” format is burned so regretfully into my memory.
Unlike unmentioned format ancestors, the character Shen never seems like a dreadful wanker. This is because Shen infuses his avatar’s apparent sense of self-ignorance, or lack of definition, with a basic acceptance that feels like it’s there because the creator has a code of ethics. Something in the atmosphere reminds me of HBomberGuy, and I think it’s that. Both seem to wade out of the gamerlyfebroBROOO social content morass of the past couple of decades and work (more overtly in HBomber’s case, less overtly in Shen’s) to stand as a breakwater. There are Bluechair jokes about his incompatibility with various symbols of trad or aggressive masculinity, but they always swerve away from “and that means I’m bad, which makes me good because I know it, heheh, give me my man trophy anyway” to the implication of a big shrug. The strip doesn’t define itself by hatred or disgust, to any degree. The more I consider this aspect, the more Bluechair stands out from its lineage.
This isn’t the type of strip I need any more, but it’s clearly serving a purpose and looks like a pretty good, influencer-responsible place for kids to get laughs. If you crave that before-I-knew-Penny-Arcade-was-bad nostalgia, or if you blessedly missed that era altogether but like looking at guys doing jokes, Bluechair is there.