SLCZF 2023! Mereida Fajardo describes one of her new projects Zayani Zam (Fate’s Road) as “a silent graphic novel about loneliness and connection on the Mongolian coal road”. Interestingly when submitting it for review for our South London Comic and Zine Fair coverage she also described this wordless, landscape format comic with tactile pull-out pages and constantly shifting page structures as “less experimental” than her previous work. It’s an absolute testament to her previous genuinely convention-defying practice that she can just about get away with that claim given that this is a story that continuously pushes at the supposed boundaries of traditional comics narrative.
Zayani Zam is the story of truck driver Bolormaa who spends her days going back and forth along the Mongolian coal road between the mines at Tavan Tolgoi and the Chinese border. It follows her through the solitary nature of her work driving through the vast, often featureless, expanses of the Gobi Desert and the realities of an existence where a small truck cabin becomes a home. Her world is a lonely one where the smallest moments of human interaction become all the more vital in their connectivity.
Ironically enough it’s the “silent” nature of Zayani Zam that allows us to inhabit Bolormaa’s experiences all the more empathetically. We see her world as she sees it with no need for narration or exposition. We are simply immersed in the moment, the environment, and the rhythm of her working day. It’s how Fajardo captures the daily routines and monotony of her protagonist’s repetitive lifestyle – the rituals of cooking, the dreams of a less oppressive life, the solitary majesty of the open road – that impresses here, constantly repositioning our perspectives from the personal to the observational as she juxtaposes one woman’s existence with the enormity of the natural world around her.
Sequential panels sit on wider landscapes to emphasise the isolation of the individual in such an all-encompassing wilderness, while parallel visual narratives give us simultaneous alternative views of trucks encountering each other on the road. Fajardo uses the landscape format to great effect here whether to provide individual tableaux of quieter, more sedate moments or to depict the relentless power of the trucks cruising through the desert. A fold-out centre section accentuates that quality while maps placed within the boundaries of panels also serve as a reminder of the journey and the remote nature of the area.
The level of research that must have gone into Zayani Zam should not go unremarked on given the complexity of the technical details involved – the equipment, the machinery, the mechanics and the engineering specifics involved. Zayani Zam is a very human story and a relatable reminder of how we can all find ourselves trapped within the confines of our own existences. Mereida Fajardo is inarguably one of the most exciting current voices in UK comics. I cannot reiterate that point enough.
Mereida Fajardo (W/A) Self-published
Review by Andy Oliver