The Ordinary Life We Will Lose
By Li Shang-Chiao ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
Dec 27, 2022

The concept for Super Supermarket started coming together over a year ago. During the pandemic, Pam Pam was living alone and seldom went out. She was fixated on daily news reports on the rising numbers of confirmed cases. During this time, she also began having a recurring dream about visiting a department store or other store with a group of strangers. In her dream she followed the strangers around as they shopped, had a meal, and enjoyed themselves. Pam Pam didn’t normally enjoy shopping, but it seemed that her mind was using the dream to continue engaging in experiences that weren’t available during the pandemic.

Narratives from mainstream media were another source of inspiration for the story. For Pam Pam, the situation of the pandemic brought to mind scenes from zombie movies. Since she was a child, Pam Pam had fantasized about hiding out in a supermarket in the event of a zombie attack. She saw the supermarket as a symbol of safety, a doomsday refuge where one needn’t worry about having sufficient food and water. Additionally, since the primary activity in a supermarket is shopping, the meaning symbolically extends to include the comfort provided by retail therapy. In a time of when everything is uncertain, material consumption can help bolster our sense of self. We may not be able to decide our fate, but at least we can decide which brands we want to purchase.

Super Supermarket is a story of the future based in the abstract extension of our current reality. Throughout the pandemic Pam Pam listened with interest to the stories of her friends who were raising children. Many talked about their children pointing at picture books and asking why no one was wearing masks. Pam Pam couldn’t help but wonder if there would come a day when our current movies, books, and plays would no longer serve to reflect our reality simply because no one in them was wearing masks. She imagined her life if she had given birth to a child a year or two before the pandemic. Would she still tell her child about Santa Claus? What would be the point if there were no other children around to share the experience with? To share in a common belief? To share in the anticipation?

In keeping with Pam Pam’s unique approach to storytelling, Super Supermarket touches on a range of other issues: broken promises, mental illness, and emotional blackmail. The main female character relies on emotional blackmail to get what she wants, but the results always fall short of her desires. Her mood swings, excessive sleeping, and impulsive behavior all hint at latent bipolar disorder. Pam Pam suggests to her readers that they watch for signs of the character’s alternation between manic and depressive episodes. Rest assured that many of these issues will continue to appear in Pam Pam’s future works.

Speaking about Pam Pam’s approach to graphic novels, Huang Pei-Shan, editor-in-chief at Slowork Publishing, says, “For Pam Pam, the plot is just a framework. Once it is in place, she naturally fills it up with the things in life that interest her. It could be her own experiences, or her view of human nature.”

After receiving a proposal from Slowork, Pam Pam took one year to complete Super Supermarket. Pam Pam reflects that if it weren’t for the pandemic, she never would have created a graphic novel like this one. “I can’t draw things that are entirely made-up, or that I haven’t experienced for myself, so I’m always immersing myself in movies and novels. I want to try out all of the ways of storytelling offered by various media.”

Towards the end of the book talk, a reader asks whether the dark humor of the graphic novel was an intentional additional. Pam Pam answers that she loves joking around with her friends, so she is indeed conscious of her desire that readers will enjoy her books. However, she never tries to shoehorn a joke into a story just for the sake of a laugh.