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Zhen is a resident in Shu, a city in the near future sci fi story Trees written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Jason Howard. The Chinese government constructed a wall around the city after a mysterious alien structure appeared near it and designated it as a “Special Cultural Zone” with the purpose of observing the structure and the people living within its walls. This structure is one of many all across the earth. Most of them are cylindrical and extremely high, hence the “tree” nickname. Freedom and creativity reign inside the walls, making for an experience quite different from the typical one for other Chinese citizens.

Zhen is a spontaneous and free spirited woman who lives in an apartment complex managed by an older man known simply as “Uncle”. The amount of frustration she felt in life before was the factor which motivated her to move to Shu with its laissez faire cultural attitude. She has a circle of close knit friends. At Uncle’s insistence, Zhen escorts a recently arrived farm town boy named Tian Chenglei, who feels overwhelmed by the city’s energy, around the neighborhood and to his new art/ media school. Along the way, Zhen runs into several of her close friends to whom she introduces Chenglei. After her friends depart, Zhen uses the meeting as an oportunity to have “the conversation” with Chenglei. Her dialog alludes to an earlier scene in issue #1 shortly after Chenglei first arrives in Shu and accidentally sees Zhen in an indelicato moment. The revelation of a person’s genitals is very often seen as an objectionable way to show a person’s gender identity. Ellis writes an affirming, upbeat, and direct speech on her philosophy of life and how she is happy being transgender, and exactly what her expectations are of Chenglei. What follows on the next page is a six panel grid with closeup shots of Chenglei’s face with various expressions as he internally processes through various thoughts until he smiles in agreement. Zhen and Tian spend the rest of the day and go to an impromptu party. We see Zhen and Chenglei and several other people amid a tangle of sheets. Some time passes. Chenglei talks about his feelings with Uncle and decides to tell Zhen the truth while Zhen expects that he’ll reject her because of her past experiences. She is delighted when she’s convinced he sees her for herself and as someone to fix or as a means to work through personal issues. While neither is willing to say they’re in love, they are both deeply attracted to each other. They begin to entertain the idea of spending their days together.

This profile is based on a reading of Trees volume 1 and will be updated after future readings. Please read the profiles for Uncle and Tian Chenglei.

Zeng first appears in and her gender identity is told in Trees #1. Her bisexuality is casually mentioned in a later issue.

All rights reserved Warren Ellis and Jason Howard.

September 29, 2021
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