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Tea For Well-Being

This is my project from Gail Simone's #ComicsSchool, originally held over Twitter in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was driving people on quests for things to do and ways to communicate during quarantine and social distancing. I'd never worked on comics before (other than playing with a fan comic adaptation of a favorite book) and this turned out to be a welcome diversion from a prose story I had gotten stuck on. The idea for the story was loosely inspired by a writing prompt from the Absolute Write forums: "Don't drink the tea".

I'm interested in turning this into a real comic at some point, though likely as a collaboration with an artist. (My drawing skills are very rusty.)


PAGE 1

PANEL 1

It's evening, not quite sunset, and the weather is gray with drizzle. In the city street of a Chinatown, a woman in a pencil skirt and an tan trenchcoat, pulling the coat tightly around her shoulders, is standing before a storefront selling kitchenwares.

Panel 2

A door to the side of the storefront with a sign in the window in Chinese and English: Wuxing Tea Shop - Downstairs.

Panel 3

The woman reaches out for the handle of this door, fingertips brushing it as if hesitant.

Panel 4

The interior of the tea shop, softly lit, looks very old with occasional hits of modernity. The walls are full of dark wooden shelves with canisters; a few display teaware or decorative vases. In the back is the shop counter. On the counter there is a modern cash register, a selection of wrapped candies, and a gongfu tea tray with cups. Behind the counter there is a curtained doorway. Also behind the counter is a man, the owner, Mr. Qián, drying a tea pot with a cloth. He looks young, approaching middle age, and rather "bookish"-looking with short hair and squarish glasses. He is of Chinese descent, but wears a Western-style dress shirt and slacks.

MR. QIÁN

Hello! Can I help you find anything?

Panel 5

We meet the woman face-to-face. She is white and also not-quite middle age, but she looks frazzled and tired. Her hair, pulled back in a bun, is disheveled. Her blouse, peaking out from under her coat, is wrinkled. There are dark circles under her eyes, though her lipstick suggests she is...or was...wearing makeup.

WOMAN

A-actually...I wanted to ask about your custom blends.

PAGE 2

PANEL 1

Mr Qián in close-up, looking somewhat surprised and somewhat concerned.

MR. QIÁN

Oh...of course.

PANEL 2

He pushes back the curtain of the door we saw behind him; the door is old and ornate with an old-fashioned lock.

Mr Qián: Let me show you to the tasting room.

PANEL 3

Cut to the interior of the tasting room. Mr Qián, very gentlemanly, helps seat her at the central table. From here, he starts to narrate to the reader.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

I'd seen her in here before. Once or twice a month, she'd come in and splurge on something expensive. Not lately.

(Description of the tasting room: There are more shelves full of canisters here; some of them are behind locking glass doors. On the wall is a decorative scroll with a "bagua" diagram (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagua#/media/File:Bagua-name-earlier.svg). There's a large round table in the center of the room with a lazy susan in the middle and chairs to go with it. To one side is an ornate antique sideboard table with several drawers. On the sideboard are stacks of small white porcelain cups, an electric kettle and a small altar with a framed photograph and an incense holder.)

PANEL 4

Mr Qián's hand is opening a drawer in the sideboard. It contains a stack of papers and some pencils. The paper is covered in writing and we can read the header:

Wǔxíng Tea Shop

Custom Life and Well-Being Teas

From here, we can see that the framed photograph is of an elderly Chinese couple standing in front of the tea shop counter.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

Those that know about our special blends -- however they find out -- rarely know what they need. My father taught me that what they need most is guidance.

PANEL 5

Mr. Qián lays the paper on the table in front of the woman, who is sitting with her hands in her lap, eyes downcast.

MR. QIÁN

I'll ask you to start with this questionnaire. It will help to clarify what you may be lacking in your life.

PAGE 3

PANEL 1

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

When it looks like she's struggling with that, I bring tea.

Mr Qián sets down a tea tray set up for a gōngfū tea service.

MR. QIÁN

Competition grade jīn jùn měi from Tóng Mù Guān. I remember you liked this one.

The woman looks scared.

WOMAN

Oh...I can't...

PANEL 2

Inset pannel: Mr. Qián pouring tea from the pot with both hands. (Gongfu tea follows a ritual and this is a gesture of hospitality.)

MR. QIÁN

Complimentary for special guests.

PANEL 3

TWO-SHOT: Mr. Qián and the woman are seated at the table next to and facing each other, tea cups in hand.

MR. QIÁN

I'm sorry not to have gotten your name before...?

WOMAN:

Melinda.

MR. QIÁN

Well, Melinda, I hope I can help you.

PANEL 4

He reaches across and slides the questionnaire paper in front of him to read it.

SFX

fwssssh

PANEL 5

Looking down at the paper, he frowns.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

I wonder briefly if I should send her to a doctor instead.

I'm not sure she can afford that. Puts me in a tough spot.

PANEL 6

He looks back up at her and speaks.

MR. QIÁN

It's obvious you are going through some hardship.

My help is not free, but I can accommodate you. I would hate to lose a good customer.

PANEL 7

TWO-SHOT: Melinda is staring down at her tea cup, resting on the table with both hands wrapped around it. Mr. Qián continues to speak.

MR. QIÁN

Perhaps this will help you: If you could change one thing about your life now, with no worry about how to get it, what would it be?

PAGE 4

PANEL 1

CLOSE UP of Melinda's face. Her expression is one of a person who looks like she wants to cry but has exhausted her tears.

MELINDA

...

Everything.

PANEL 2

CLOSE UP of Mr. Qián looking concerned

MR. QIÁN

...

SFX

*sigh*

MR. QIÁN

I'm listening.

PANEL 3

TWO-SHOT of Mr. Qián and Melinda talking. Mr. Qián is refilling her cup. Superimposed behind them are scenes of Melinda's hardship: being laid off from work, family members haranguing her, bills piling up, sitting in a waiting room next to people who look a lot harder off and trying not to look at them, etc.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

Over the next several minutes and several cups of tea, she lays her life out on the table.

Not uncommon stories, but none you'd want to be in.

PANEL 4

Melinda is holding her face in one hand and her teacup in the other.

MELINDA

...I'm stuck. I don't know what else I can do.

But I can't do this anymore.

PANEL 5

Mr. Qián holds his chin in one hand looking solemn and thoughtful.

PANEL 6

He stands up and goes back to the drawers.

MR. QIÁN

This is going to be a difficult order.

PANEL 7

CLOSE UP of his hands. He presses a disguised switch in the carvings of the drawers and a hidden compartment slides out with a shoft 'ssshk' sound. Inside is an ornate key.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

But as a wise man once told me, when nothing is working...

PAGE 5

PANEL 1

Mr. Qián opening the cabinet he unlocked with the key (the one that was behind the decorative scroll) revealing jars and canisters that are older, stranger and more varried than any of the others.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

...try everything.

PANEL 2

These panels are a series. Close up: He is arranging a ring of small white tasting cups (see: https://verdanttea.com/teas/white-porcelain-tasting-cup-dehua/ ) on the lazy susan.

PANEL 3

In front of Melinda's anxious eyes, he carefully dispenses some twisted leaves (which look like they contain other unidentifiable plant matter) into a cup with a pair of bamboo tongs.

PANEL 4

The electric kettle boils.

SFX

beep!

PANEL 5

Mr. Qián pours steaming water from the kettle into the ring of cups. Seen from above, their contents include a few cups with colors not normally found in tea - indigo blue, purple, magenta, etc - alongside the more common greens, golds and reddish-browns.

MR. QIÁN

You won't have done a tasting like this before. There are some rules.

One cup at a time.

Smell deeply, then sip.

Wait for the experience to fade completely.

PANEL 6

He picks up a cup hand holds it out for her.

MR. QIÁN

And be honest with yourself.

PAGE 6

PANEL 1

Melinda lifts the cup to her lips for a sip...

PANEL 2

Her eyes go wide. The background of the tasting room blurs into...

PANEL 3

She is on a stage (perhaps one that looks like the stage at a TED talk) giving a presentation for a large audience.

PANEL 4

She is back in the tasting room, looking stunned.

MELINDA

That...I was there. Really there, just now.

MR. QIÁN (OFF)

Yes.

How is the taste?

MELINDA:

...strange. Not one I'd think to pick for myself.

...but not bad either.

PANEL 5

Melinda and Mr. Qián in the tasting room. Melinda is continuing to sample the tea. Mr. Qián has a canister in one arm, another on the table, and the tongs in hand, preparing another cup. Superimposed images around them visions of different possible lives Melinda could live. They are varied; some with fame and renown, some quiet and obscure, some with love and family, some solitary. Examples: working with her hands on a farm, helping a child study as a teacher, reviewing plans at a construction site, dancing with a partner at a wedding.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

And so it goes for the next couple of hours.

In her excitement, she forgets her sorrow for a while.

MELINDA:

I don't know if I could pick just one of these.

MR. QIÁN

Ah, see, that's what blending is for. Let's see...

PAGE 7

PANEL 1

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

Though there are tense moments.

One of the porcelain cups crashes to the floor and shatters.

PANEL 2

Melinda is staring where the cup in her hands was seconds ago, enraptured, a tear leaking out of the corner of her eye. Her face and hands have gone slightly translucent.

MR. QIÁN (OFF)

Are you all right?

MELINDA

I...I'd forgotten. I never told that dream to anybody. They wouldn't have taken me seriously.

PANEL 3

Mr. Qián, looking worried, stands next to Melinda and gently takes her hand between his. Melinda now notices the translucency of her hands with shock.

MR. QIÁN

Come back to the present moment. You should not go to your next life unprepared.

MELINDA

Oh! My hands! What--

MR. QIÁN

Your spirit is reacting to what you saw. Your yearning is so great, it wants to drag you away right now.

MELINDA

I...

MR. QIÁN

Do you understand? This is the strongest magic for the most desperate situation. You said you wanted to change everything. You will leave behind everything you know...but possibly gain everything you want.

PANEL 4

An artistic close up of the tea pot as a backdrop for their dialog.

MELINDA

Just like that? Happy ever after?

MR. QIÁN

No. Not ever after. This is magic, not miracles.

You can still suffer. Your heart can still be broken. You can gain it all in an instant and fail to hold on to it.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

This is the point where many customers back out.


Fear of losing what they have...or fear of getting what they want.

MELINDA

But a chance I wouldn't have had...

PANEL 5

Mr. Qián has scooped up the pieces of a broken cup with a cloth and is holding them while facing Melinda.

MR. QIÁN

That is not necessarily true. There are always chances. Most people don't know how to see them.


The slow path has its merits. Builds character...


...if it doesn't break you.

PANEL 6

Melinda reaches down and carefully picks up a porcelain shard that Mr. Qián missed, examining it.

MELINDA

...

I'm not sure what I would do if I had it. Maybe I'm not ready for that yet.

PANEL 7

She looks up fiercely.

MELINDA

But all I need is a chance. Even just partway.

MR. QIÁN

That can work...let's try this...


PAGE 8

PANEL 1

Mr. Qián is working with antique brass scales, measuring tea ingredients.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

We fine tune the blend for a while longer.

A good life has many ingredients which must be in balance.


PANEL 2

Mr. Qián is pouring tea into a bag with a paper funnel. Melinda looks on.

MELINDA

So...when I go home...

MR. QIÁN

I have mixed the ingredients in with regular tea. For the full effect, you must drink it over a period of eight days.

PANEL 3

The bag of tea has been set on the table and Melinda is putting cash down next to it.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

She seems determined to go through with it. Seems almost too easy.

MR. QIÁN

If you have affairs to put in order, you'll have time. But once you start, you must commit. Being torn between two lives is no good.

Someone who shares it with you can be brought along with you. Do you have someone you wish to take with you?

MELINDA

...no.

PANEL 4

Mr. Qián pauses, looking thoughtful.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

Ah. That's why.

PANEL 5

Over at the shelves, he takes down a container marked with the Chinese character 乾 (Qián - literaly 'heaven', in Feng Shui it is the energy that attracts helpful people).

MR. QIÁN

This might be good for you to have as well.

This is different...not a transformation. But it can attract the energy of others into your life...

if you are open to it.

PANEL 6

Melinda, holding two bags, looking, perhaps happier, definitely hopeful.

MR. QIÁN (OFF)

Please take it as a gift. And if you find me again...tell me how it goes.

MELINDA

Mr. Qián...thank you.

PANEL 7

Mr. Qián sits at the table of the tasting room, pouring himself some tea. The tasting cups are stacked in a pile to his side for later washing. He is leaning back in the chair and smiling to himself.

MR. QIÁN (NARRATING)

If this goes well, I may not see her again after all.


That's fine.


Of course...there's always a chance.