‘Beautiful’ would be an overused adjective for this magical visual narrative. There is literally nothing to read in the graphic novel, no written words, no colours, no page numbers; but each panel speaks a lot more than what a conventional paragraph would do.
It is the story of a man immigrating from his strange world to another in search of job and livelihood, leaving his family behind. New beginnings can be scary as well as exciting; the gorgeous art effortlessly conveys conversations, passing of time, flash backs and emotions through our man and people whom he encounters. Migration and multiculturalism are recurring themes in this book, with every character being like the protagonist sometime in their life, an immigrant looking for a new home, with his/her whole life and dreams in a suitcase. Worlds illustrated in this graphic novel are strange and steampunk-y, with monsters and pokemon like creatures. And everybody speaks distinctly different languages, but it is barely a barrier for the ‘melting pot’ they live in, like how the absence of wordings in the book isn’t a barrier for readers in following the story.
In the artist after note Shaun directs to various immigrant anecdotes as his thematic inspiration. There were subtle artistic throwbacks as well towards some of the world’s most famous pictures, like the panel of newsboy announcing Titanic catastrophe. Another aspect I noticed about the art was the meticulous attention for detail, for every time I revisited the book it offered something new, something that made me smile. The panels often panned out into a birds eye view, thus reminding reader of all others who follow protagonist’s same plight and insecurities. Analyzing even from a primitive artistic pov, the sketches are definitely nothing easily reproducible, and the usage of inanimate objects and single focuses to convey passing of time is rather phenomenal and unconventionally cinematic.
This extensive work of 4 years could easily be completed in 10 minutes, or one could dwell into the side quests for long absorbing it’s cycles of departure, alienation, fear, assimilation and growth. No matter which path you take, you are bound to revisit for the beautiful feels.
/Above video provides a good insight into the mind and artwork of Shaun Tan./