Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Reader's Diary #1097- Shaun Tan: The Arrival

Shaun Tan's The Arrival was first recommended to me five years ago when I first started getting into graphic novels and I'm only just now getting into writing about it. Well worth the wait!

The Arrival is, for some reason, usually marketed as and shelved as a children's book. Could a child read it? Sure. There aren't any words (any!) and a child could probably be able to follow the pictures and understand the general plot. However, I think older audiences will appreciate the book more, especially the subtleties and symbolism and the theme of the immigrant experience. And while I don't believe a child always needs bright colours, the intentionally dated look of the book and grayscale, hyper-realistic artwork will likely not appeal to many children. There are dragons, killer robots, and cartoonish looking imaginary animals that may hold keep some kids interested, but they serve a more important role than mere eye-candy. It also revolves primarily around an adult male.

This is a beautifully rendered tale of an immigrant in a foreign land, learning to cope with the strangeness, bring his own strangeness, and eventually setting down roots. Readers are kept empathetic by the use of familiar but indecipherable signs and objects and customs. There are words that look vaguely like Russian, Hebrew, or maybe Tamil? There's an instrument that looks like a cross between an accordion and a tuba. If the man is bewildered and slightly overwhelmed by it all, so was I!

Plus the artwork is stellar. It's so richly detailed that I was forced to slow down and take it all in, but not to the point where the book still didn't have a flow. Everything is so meticulously and purposefully angled. Check out this page, one of my favourites in the whole book:
As much as I am in awe of the way comics are able to switch into 1st person perspective so seamlessly, I'm not always wild about it when a character suddenly stares directly at you, often finding it awkward. However, when Tan does it on this page it's brilliant. In this scene the man is going through customs and clearly very confused and frustrated with the communication barrier. But now, we're placed into the role of the customs officer and I almost felt like an interrogator, only frustrated myself by my inability to communicate back!


Kim Aippersbach said...

I adore Shaun Tan, and The Arrival is one of the most brilliant books I've ever encountered (read?!). Like you, I'm in awe of his talent.

John Mutford said...

Kim: I'm definitely in to explore more of his work!