History of the West Wing

The History of the West Wing by Jiayu Sun and Guo Guo

History of the West Wing is based on a classic Chinese play but the truncated story and lack of plot and character development failed to capture my attention even though it was bolstered by some lovely art. A wandering scholar named Chen Yuquing catches a glimpse of the beautiful PianPian at a Buddhist temple. Through chance encounters in the gardens, a dropped handkerchief and a rainstorm, they begin their courtship. Obstacles prevent the couple from achieving happiness. PianPian is already engaged to a dissolute noble who Chen knows due to his association with his equally infamous sister. Bandits threaten the temple and PianPian’s mother promises her daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever defeats them.

Chen promptly rides away and shows up with his own army to defend the temple. He’s then given the task of passing first in the civil service exams. He does that too! Then PianPian doubts Chen’s fidelity due to the sudden appearance of a woman from his past and one panel later after talking over the situation with her maid, she decides to trust him. Then they get married and the story ends.

I think some of the most interesting parts of the story were never shown to the reader. How exactly did Chen manage to find a handy army in the mountains? How did he manage to study well enough to pass the civil service exams with a perfect score? I had no idea how these things happened. Plenty of time was spent on PianPian and Chen’s initial meetings, but the rest of the story felt strangely abrupt. While the art in the book was gorgeous with soft colors and detailed costumes for the characters it didn’t make up for the lack of story in this slim volume.

The production quality of the book is great, as the cream colored paper stock set off the watercolor hues of the art. Several bonus illustrations of the characters are included after the story. If you need any sort of satisfying story, this isn’t the book for you. If you enjoy comics solely for the illustrations, History of the West Wing is worth a look. I felt that this book was much less satisfying than Bride of the Water God, another example of pretty art and patchy storytelling.