Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shaun Tan's unexpected details
The author of some of the most startling graphic stories of recent years is not what you'd expect of an artist, but then his are not your typical picture books
Michelle Pauli ,, Monday 27 July 2009

Shaun Tan. Photograph: Martin Argles

"Drawing a good picture is like telling a really good lie – the key is in the incidental detail," says Shaun Tan. Fortunately, the Australian artist's award-winning picture books are anything but short on detail. Each spread drops the reader into a surreal world of bizarre animals, skew-whiff buildings, dreamlike landscapes and invented languages, the magical realism and conceptual playfulness of Tan's paintings underscoring the simple language of the tales – "illustrated modern fables" as he calls them.

Tales from Outer Suburbia
by Shaun Tan
Templar (UK), Allen & Unwin (Aust/NZ)

In the stunning, wordless graphic novel The Arrival, sober-looking characters dressed in 1930s-style suits and bowler hats are accompanied on their journeys through a mysterious city by strange creatures reminiscent of Philip Pullman's daemons (only much, much weirder). The Lost Thing is a huge metal contraption from some other world, "hidden" by the boy who finds it in his parents' otherwise relatively conventional house; next to the words "nobody understands", the central character in The Red Tree is seen wearing a weighty diving mask, huddled in a glass bottle on a stormy shoreline, in one of the most unnerving insights into depression ever drawn.
"The detail adds an element of unexpected something," Tan explains. "All fiction is false; what makes it convincing is that it runs alongside the truth. The real world has lots of incidental details, so a painting also has to have that element of imperfection and irregularity, those incidental details. I'm constantly testing with the details. I go on a hunch and try it out. I might have a character and have a feeling that he needs to have a hat and so I put it in and it feels right and then I realise that he needs to have a hat because he's trying to hide something."
The result of this careful attention to detail is that Tan's worlds, however fantastical they may appear on first glance, have their own internal logic. It is what he describes as "groundedness", and he regards it as crucial to the success of the stories.
The full piece at The Guardian online.
And read more about it in The Bookman's earlier review here.

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