How Well Does Always Human Translate from Webcomic to Print?

cropped cover for Always Human by Ari North.

Always Human is a Webtoon comic by Ari North about two girls and their developing relationship in a near-future Australia where body modifications and space travel are part of the everyday normal. The comic updated regularly on Webtoon from October 2015 to June 2017, when it concluded with an epilogue. Now, Always Human is being published in print for the first time by Yellow Jacket in sponsorship with GLAAD. But does a comic intended for the web translate well to print?

Always Human

Ari North
Yellow Jacket
May 19, 2020

Cover of Always Human Graphic Novel

I started reading Always Human when it was still on the Discover (now called Canvas) part of Webtoon in summer 2015, before it was picked up and re-released as a Webtoon Original later that year. I fell in love instantly. 

The comic follows Austen and Sunati as they meet and fall in love while navigating the world around them. In a world where people can use nanotechnology “mods” to completely alter their appearance, Austen has a hypersensitive immune system that won’t let her use mods at all. This captures Sunati’s attention when she notices that while everyone else’s looks change every few weeks, Austen always looks the same. 

Despite the futuristic setting, Austen and Sunati both feel like real, well-rounded people, with hobbies and families and goals for their future that don’t revolve entirely around each other. They both have insecurities they need to overcome, and both work to make their relationship stronger and figure out what they want for themselves. The grounded character writing makes the fantastical environment feel plausible, like a future that could exist someday.

The worldbuilding is very interesting as well. The vision of a future painted in cool, serene blues and soft pinks is delightfully optimistic, with mods available to cure any human ailment from cancer to hay fever. The technology shown in the world feels both believable and dreamlike, with things like virtual reality environments and holographic screens made commonplace.

Another 2-page spread from the graphic novel of Always Human.Sunati talks to her helper-robot thing about why Austen might not be able to use mods.
The future as depicted in Always Human is a dreamily optimistic place.

What really drew me to the Always Human Webtoon (besides the fact that I am a lesbian starved for content about girls in love) was the bright, neon colors that seemed to glow right off the screen and the delicately rendered art. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of print, a lot of that brightness and subtle gradients are lost in the print edition. Also, on Webtoon each episode is accompanied by music that helps set the ambience for the scene, which creates a more immersive reading experience. The verticality of the Webtoon format doesn’t translate very well to print even with the formatting changes made for the new edition, leaving a lot of unnecessary white space on some page spreads.

panels from Always Human. Austen is walking away from Sunati, leaving Sunati worried and upset. The colors are bright and neon in this digital edition

Two page spread from Always Human. Sunati is watching Austen walk away sadly.
Compared to the Webtoon release of this scene, the colors in the print edition are noticeably less bright, and the white space feels unnatural.

If I’d seen the print edition of Always Human in a bookstore without knowing anything about it, I probably would have bought it and enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s an excellent, beautifully drawn and well written comic. However, having read this story as it was originally intended to be read, I don’t believe the digital format translated well to print.