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» Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Fairytales
Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Fairytales
The cover of “The Arrival,” made to look like old, worn leather, establishes a family photo album motif that Tan faithfully carries through the entire book. Inside, borderless sepia panels are arranged in careful grids. Creases and unidentifiable splotches elegantly blemish many of the pages. Tan completely eschews motion lines, sound effects and any other comics storytelling devices that would not be found in photographs. Even the spaces between the panels suggest a photo album: instead of the pencil-thin gutters found in most graphic novels, he uses generous half-inch strips of yellowed paper.
The effect is mesmerizing. Reading “The Arrival” feels like paging through a family treasure newly discovered up in the attic. However, the sheer beauty of Tan’s artwork sometimes gets in the way of his narrative. His panels, like the best photographs, capture the timelessness of particular moments, which can inadvertently endanger the illusion of time passing that a graphic novelist strives to create. “The Arrival” would almost rather be looked at than read.
Still, that his biggest flaw is making his pictures too pretty speaks to Tan’s skill as a storyteller. In one especially effective scene, the protagonist opens his suitcase to find a ghostly image of his wife and daughter eating dinner. A chair sits empty at the table, reserved for him. A moment later, the suitcase’s actual contents replace the image. The protagonist pulls out a family portrait and nails it to the wall with his shoe. He sits back to contemplate it. A sequence of panels then carries the reader away from him and out the window, showing first his apartment building and finally his adopted city. The city teems with bubbling smoke, swirling highways and origami birds. The young father is lost, both in the quietness of his own memories and in the bustle of an alien land.
Such visual eloquence can only motivate readers to seek out any future graphic novels from Shaun Tan, regardless of where they might be shelved. -- New York Times review
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