Sabotaged by a low-key first volume, Hissing builds its relationships in this unusual story with care. This romance is sensitive and poignant, but not without humor.
Writer/Artist: Kang Eun Young
Translated by: June Um
Adapted by: Jamie Rich
What They Say
While Da-Eh and Sun-Nam take baby steps into couplehood, Ha-Ra has no intention of giving up on her ex. Intent on bringing Da-Eh down, she and her cronies corner the budding artist and prevent her from making it to her little brother's fateful reunion! But why do Sun-Nam's brothers show up instead?! To make matters worse, Ta-Jun's regularly scheduled harrassment of Da-Eh leads to a confession?!
Volume four opens with a problem involving school bitch, Ha-Ra, the girl whom Sun-Nam Kang allowed to pick him up during one of his "whatever" periods. The relationship is destroyed by Ha-Ra's clinging behavior and the increasing attraction of Sun-Nam to Da-Eh Lee. Ha-Ra has not responded well to Sun-Nam's directive to get lost and she is determined to get Sun-Nam back by further threatening Da-Eh.
She makes her threat good by confronting Da-Eh in one of the empty classrooms where she and her friends rip up Da-Eh's manhwa that Da-Eh worked on so hard and long to get ready to be submitted for evaluation. Ha-Ra then locks Da-Eh in the classroom. Da-Eh, unable to get out of the room, begins to reassemble the pieces of her manhwa, wondering how she will explain to her father why she missed that evening's very important engagement, the meeting with Da-Hwa's "other family", a family that she knows exists, but not anything about. She's finally released from the locked room by a school custodian and, in taking a shortcut through the school, happens upon Ta-Jun who has been sleeping at the school, unwilling to return to his home for reasons of his own. He can not resist teasing Da-Eh. In a moment of candor, he tells Da-Eh that he is attracted to her. She responds jokingly, thinking that this is the usual Ta-Jun harassment, that she would consider Ta-Jun only if her boyfriend, Sun-Nam Kang, dies.
The author has prepared the reader for the meeting of the Lee family with young Da-Hwa's "other family". She has carefully meted out just enough information about the Kang and Lee families that it comes as no surprise that Da-Hwa's brothers are surnamed Kang. It's Da-Hwa who is the little boy whom Sun-Nam has been missing, the little boy who was the product of an affair of Sun-Nam's father, the father whom Sun-Nam had wished dead in a moment of childish anger so many years ago. After his father and Da-Hwa's mother are killed in an accident, it's Sun-Nam's guilt and the desire to protect himself from the hurt that lead him to put on a tough guy persona.
The meeting is initially attended by Father Lee, Da-Hwa and the older Kang brothers, who provide a combination of comic relief and insightful background information in this manhwa. The meeting goes well enough with the brothers telling embarrassing stories of Da-Hwa's toddlerhood. However, the mood changes with the arrival of Sun-Nam, who had been determined not to come. In outbursts that are typical of Sun-Nam's confused and conflicting emotional states, he wails on the little boy, leaving Da-Hwa confused and not a little frightened. But the outcome that the Kang brothers wanted is accomplished. Sun-Nam and Da-Hwa have agreed to meet every other weekend to get to know each other again.
The volume closes with two key events. In the first, Sun-Nam has been unable to reach Da-Eh on the cell phone he has given her, so he calls her home. She doesn't answer, but the voice on the other end is familiar and triggers remembrance of a past event. In the second, Da-Eh, having become a bit friendlier with Ta-Jun, winds up going to a club with him. Her affect on Ta-Jun does not go unnoticed at the club, especially by the person Ta-Jun most wants to avoid - an older female cousin with whom he has had an affair.
Hissing is a title initially released by IceKunion at the end of 2006. Unfortunately, this was a time when so many titles were released that smaller publishers without bookstore connections got almost no press and no bookstore shelf space. Hissing was one of those titles that seemed to exist under the radar with three volumes issued as of early 2007 and the series was left in limbo until Yen Press resumed its publication this year.
EunYoung Kang lets this story of teenage love, hurt and confusion evolve slowly in the beginning, so much so that it is understandable how a reader could have been underwhelmed and confused as to what this was about at the critical first volume. It comes off as generic and easily dismissible.
But EunYoung Kang is deliberate, not dilatory, in her story-telling. Hissing, with its conventional high school setting and unconventional back story, is character driven. The pace at which she unfolds the past events that shape her characters' motivations and the new events that form their current actions, makes for greater emotional and physical realism. No where is this more obvious than in the romance of Da-Eh Lee and Sun-Nam Kang. Sun-Nam is a wanna be tough guy whose guilt ridden grief has closed his heart. Da-Eh is a young woman whose single-minded determination to become a manhwa artist likely suppresses deep feelings of hurt and anger. Neither happened to be looking for love, yet they fall in love with each other. EunYoung Kang gives her characters the time and space to show what they're experiencing rather than telling the readers of the romance as a statement of fact. "The heart has its reasons..." isn't a cliche for nothing and the considered pacing in Hissing makes the irrationality of love believable.
EunYoung Kang's art has its flaws, but it can be very beautiful and expressive. And while she does not neglect environment, she often places her characters in isolation in the panel, emphasizing the emotional experience and reflection of the character. She also uses it as a way to form an emotional bond between the reader and a character who is important, but not necessarily at center stage. This is certainly the case with Da-Hwa, Da-Eh's younger brother, a ten-year-old who looks much younger. EunYoung Kang allows him his panel time as a member of Da-Eh's family and makes a point of lingering on the small points in his daily life in the way he cheerfully does housework and cooking, and the way he interacts with the family. EunYoung Kang loves to draw this little boy. In a sweetly rendered panel, Da-Hwa is asleep on a banquette, his small head tilted back and slipper dangling off his foot. The reader sees this through Da-Eh's eyes, but not with her sensibility. Our privileged position allows us to recognize how fragile this little boy is and the emotional jeopardy into which he will be placed.
Hissing is a lovely and moving story. Recommended.