Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shaun Tan

I was already amazed by Tan's The Arrival, a glorious wordless graphic novel whose mix of fantasy and early 20th century immigrant stories is a subtle masterpiece.  Tan's newest book, Tales from Outer Suburbia is also amazing, and allows us to see the spectrum of materials and techniques he uses.  From the end papers made of a compilation of sketches to the use of stamps as a table of contents, this book contains not just wonderful illustrations, but very nice design.  

Like The Arrival, this is not a picture book for children, as indicated by the imprint (Arthur A. Levine Books is Scholastics' young teen group).  And I think it will soon find a broad crossover audience.  Though the stories contain Tan's mix of fantastical elements and characters based in reality, they have a bittersweet twinge- like a 75% dark chocolate bar with candied orange peel inside.  

And the illustrations?  I could go off in a string of wonderful words, but I will refrain.  From gouache to pastel, pencil, acrylic, scratch-board, pen , and collage each story has its' own distinct look.  All are distinctly Tan, though there are other influences ("our expedition" features Wayne Thiebaud influenced landscapes and "Make Your Own Pet" makes one think of Lane Smith (of Stinky Cheese Man fame)).  

The fractured nature of the stories (some are left very open ended) reminded me of some of Chris Van Allsburg's work, specifically The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.  This open-ended nature allows the time to contemplate, to imagine, to take the stories to a personal place for the reader.  And with such gorgeous illustrations, one will want to take the time to look at the pictures while contemplating the possibilities of the story.