HCZF MONTH! Shiqian Pan describes her comic Waiting Room as “a story for those girls who have been crushed bit by bit by neverending anticlimactic waiting.” It begins as something more akin to a slice-of-life comic but with accompanying hints of the fantastic before slowly transitioning into something altogether more surreal in its symbolism.
A young woman sits awaiting a phone call, the importance of which is immediate even if the exact nature of it isn’t. Though the amount of time passing between panels is indistinct it hardly matters – whether it is seconds, minutes or even hours our connection with events on the page is so direct from the outset that it feels just as interminable to the reader as it does to the story’s protagonist.
When the call does come we understand its tone by the girl’s reactions rather than experiencing it for ourselves; a slowly wilting flower consumed by darkness seemingly representing her hopes turned to disappointment. As the call comes to an end she appears to retreat into a fantasy world that symbolises her perhaps naïve view of romantic love, before we slowly return to reality and the revelation of the phone conversation’s both mundane and yet, in its own way, devastating content.
What works so well in Waiting Room is Pan’s ability to present universal themes of first love in a manner that incorporates both elements of the recognisable and the everyday and those of an eerily and visually metaphorical nature. There’s so much tension in those early pages – a landline phone being studiously observed as if it were prey rather than a household facility, fidgety nervousness apparent, and panels feeling claustrophobic and confining.
Waiting Room is pensive and insular then, and yet oddly expansive as well when it shifts into those dreamlike environs of inner reflection. Pan uses white space surrounding panels to great effect in emphasising her main character’s solitary wait, with the move into sudden vibrant colour later being all the more emotionally jarring for the limited and muted palette that precedes it. Lettering and sound effect tricks are also used proficiently. The ring of the phone feeling portentous and ominous; the lack of interpersonal connection when we finally hear its conversation using overlapping dialogue to mark abruptness and disappointment.
This is powerful storytelling, taking what may seem like a relatively insignificant moment in someone’s formative years and imbuing it with an importance that reminds us that some rites of passage stay with us in our memories indefinitely. You can find Shiqian Pan in Hall Two at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair.
Shiqian Pan (W/A) • Self-published, £18.00
You can also find Shiqian Pan’s online store here.
Review by Andy Oliver