Callum Waterhouse ’18 / Emertainment Montly Staff Writer
Story by Inwan Youn
Art by Sunhee Kim
Just in time for Halloween, Emertainment Monthly returns to continue our series on the most shocking, thrilling, and this week, terrifying webtoons the internet has to offer. This week, we will be plunging into the darkest of nightmares with Distant Sky.
Given the fact that this series exists in part to expose new people to a form of art that was invented and popularized in Korea, it seems appropriate that we should be getting around to reviewing a horror comic. After all, perhaps the only times when Americans are typically exposed to South Korean media, it comes in the form of horror films like The Host or A Tale of Two Sisters (which served as the loose basis for the film The Univited). People already familiar with these films should have a sense of the type of horror that writer Inwan Youn and artist Sunhee Kim are laying out for us: richly atmospheric, forbidding, and mysterious.
Distant Sky begins with high school student Haneul regaining consciousness after Seoul is hit by some unspecified disaster, which appears to have killed everyone around him. This is no ordinary disaster, however, as the entire city appears to be underground somehow, with no natural light. After uniting with another young survivor, a girl named Heyool, the two set out to try and find rescue, but soon become swept up from one nightmare to another as they flee from flesh eating worms, chainsaw-wielding madmen, and a world that seems to be literally crumbling in on itself.
Sounds like fun times, right?
Part of what gives Distant Sky so much of an impact is how perfectly it captures the sense of confusion and helplessness of being caught up in a natural disaster. To someone who is not very familiar with horror manga, this probably sounds like one of the most original takes on horror yet. To someone who is, however, Distant Sky cannot help but feel a touch familiar.
And here is where we must address the elephant in the room. Distant Sky bears an almost uncanny resemblance to the 1995 manga series Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki. Dragon Head is a horror title about a high school boy and his female classmate. . .who also regain consciousness after an unspecified disaster kills their friends and leaves them trapped underground. . .and who also have to navigate their way through a ruined wasteland populated by mad survivors. So yes, Distant Sky has not so much borrowed ideas from Dragon Head as it has lifted the entire premise wholesale. Moreover, this is clearly not accidental, as several of the early pages of Distant Sky contain direct visual homages to an iconic scene in the first chapter of Dragon Head.
So does this somehow make Distant Sky less of a comic? No, not really. It is something worth bringing up, but the fact that this comic has taken the story of another comic doesn’t make it aesthetically worse or somehow unethical. Art perpetuates art, and few mediums are as self-feeding as manga. Popular series rip off constantly and inspire new creators to do the same to them, and it is not as though Youn and Kim have tried to improve upon an untouchable masterpiece. Dragon Head is a great series and remains a classic of the horror genre for a reason, but it is not without its flaws. So if this new series can transcend those flaws and create something better than its own source material, would that not make it all the more laudable?
Of course, if Distant Sky does manage to surpass its inspiration, credit must be laid squarely at the feet of its artist, Sunhee Kim, presumably with much groveling and praise as befits a master. Kim’s artwork has a unique, hand-drawn style reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, which I guarantee is unlike anything you have ever seen before. On her characters, you can see every gob of dirt and every pang of fear, and her use of negative space ranks among the established masters of the craft, like Dave Gibbons or Frank Miller.
Speaking of characters, no expense is spared in that department either. At first, Haneul and Heyool seem like blank audience surrogates—little more than cameramen with which Inwan Youn can funnel the audience down his personal haunted house. But as the world starts developing layers, so do our two characters, and by the end, each has developed lives and personalities of their own.
The plot itself is fairly thin. It serves as little more than an excuse to railroad our two heroes from one terrifying situation to the next. The sheer volume of terror at play and occasional moments of absurdity make the comic feel like reading a nightmare, and like many nightmares, so much of it does not make any sense if you stop and think about it. However, the ending wraps the story up so nicely, and Kim’s artwork makes each page such a joy that it almost serves to plaster up several otherwise glaring plot holes that would have completely derailed a lesser series.
Distant Sky is a raw experience, and it is so lacking of extraneous pieces that it almost seems a fault. The comic is a comparatively lean—fifty-four pages—and it means to scare you. For what it is worth, we think you should let it. It would at least give you something to talk about next Halloween.