Impressions on Hate Mate — by Kaitlyn McCafferty
I recently finished reading Hate Mate, a Korean comic by an artist of the pseudonym “Reck.” Hate Mate is a story navigating the agonies of one-sided love, sexuality, and friendship. The fluid, gorgeous line-work, poetic, thoughtful pacing, and realistic portrayal of a messy, confused relationship make this comic really stand out.
During the first couple of chapters, I had difficulty navigating the sparse backstory, bright colors, and the fact that many of the main characters have very similar faces, but I soon became immersed in the dynamic between Hyunwoo and Subin. The story begins with Subin’s long-term crush and roommate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-P0m0M_8pc) returning home from his two-year service period in the military. Hyunwoo and Subin have been friends for a very long time, but Subin wants to be more than friends. Although this theme is fairly hackneyed, the behaviors of Hyunwoo and Subin aren’t especially romantic; this ultimately separates this story from the trope.
Before his crush leaves for the military, Subin confesses his feelings to Hyunwoo, and Hyunwoo tells Subin that his feelings are “gross.” Regardless, both characters refuse to move out of their shared apartment and make misguided steps to rebuild their friendship, all whilst ignoring the glaring problems of their relationship. Both characters make selfish, messy decisions. The misled, desire-born expectations that they’ve constructed for each other constantly fall flat; they disappoint each other countless times. They struggle with understanding their own emotions, to a point where it seems they can’t even begin to understand each others’. The prolonged, torturous confusion between the characters is just as agonizing and addictive as this kind of dynamic feels in real life. The push and pull between hunger for affection and fear of intimacy is portrayed really well.
I was most moved by the character of Subin. Subin is thoughtless and chaotic. He wears his heart on his sleeve, but his heart isn’t necessarily loving. He’s very needy and slightly abrasive. He knows he’s annoying, but he’s perfectly confident in himself anyway. He’s simultaneously fragile and untouchable. The nuances of Subin’s personality made me fall in love with him as a character. The fact that he’s so spontaneous also made him exciting to read. I feel I’m not similar to him personality-wise, but his one-sided love for Hyunwoo really struck a chord with me. Though unrequited love is such a universal experience, I think this is one of the first times I’ve encountered it so intimately in a story. And despite the fact that neither characters are particular pleasant people and their actions are rather clumsy and lack empathy, the story remains tender all the same.
All of this emotion is articulated beautifully through the craft of the comic. The pacing is spectacular. Fargo positions characters and panels with grace and expertise. There’s more care put into expressing the inner dialogue of the story than creating flashy or consolidated panels. I’m also a huge fan of scrolling comics, in which panels rarely exist adjacent to one another. The motion of scrolling and reading is really immersive. I fell head over heals with the art style and line work, and–if I’m being honest–copied it for a few days after reading. I also really like the color palettes and flat shading; they’re so nice to look at.
The characters do exhibit very problematic behavior–at times, without critique–such as gaslighting, expressing homophobia, and non-consensual kissing (though the character who did so was punched in the face each time, it was played off as comedic). There are also some cliche elements at play, but they’re delivered in a way that’s fun and strong. Fargo seems to understand when the story becomes unrealistic, and is often self-referential about these elements for comedic effect. For example, the mutual best friend character of Hyunwoo and Subin very obviously acts as a release-valve, allowing for the characters to express to the audience what they are actually feeling. He constantly questions this relegation of purpose, complaining about why the two of them always come to him with their problems.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading this story. It was entertaining and meaningful, as well as beautifully executed.
(Huge spoiler) I especially like that the relationship between Hyunwoo and Subin falls apart at the end. That is the only logical end to their story, but it’s not necessarily a fantastical one, so I wasn’t sure if it would happen. But then, when it did, it felt right. I am so impressed by how vital each part of this story is to making it as a whole–from the extensive pining and sporadic arguments in the middle all the way until both characters decide to part ways in the end. It’s not often that the end of a comic is as satisfying as this one.