Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tales From Outer Suburbia book review

Another book from Aussie surrealist goes under the knife. I received this one along with The Lost Thing for Christmas 2009. This one’s a real pick ‘n’ mix of stuff, so here it is … a synopsis isn’t really applicable. It’s a collection of short stories, so see below for the lowdown. And I think that you're all really going this one!

SYNOPSIS: Tales From Outer Suburbia features, among other short stories:

  • BROKEN TOYS – A Japanese man in an old diving suit shows up in suburbia and brings happiness to a grumpy old woman. Painted in flat, Japanese print-style that fits the story perfectly.
  • DISTANT RAIN – a magical explanation for where all your unwanted poetry goes. Again, the change in art style (a haphazard collage) is tailor-made to perfectly fit the story’s subject.
  • GRANDPA’S STORY – A story of how things were done back in the day – though not what you’d expect (Wild televisions for one thing). Drawn in loose, expressive pen illustrations.
  • STICK FIGURES – photorealistic artwork tells of upside-down sapling people in a hostile environment. Poignant and more than a little eerie.
  • ALERT BUT NOT ALARMED – innovative suburbians find better uses for thermonuclear missiles. Done in Tan’s usual style.
    OUR EXPIDITION – two brothers discover the unnerving reason for maps stopping at a certain point. Loose, flowing pastel artwork adds to the surreal mood.
And several more I can’t fit in.

THE ART: Straying away from his usual surrealist/ steampunk painted artwork, this book is largely experimental; Tan plays around with different and varied media in each short story. It’s a very clever thing that he does; each story features different art styles that fit the story exquisitely. The wide range of media includes sgraffito, pastel, acrylic, oil, pencil and biro. The layout of the book is simple and elegant, in a mail package graphic style that goes well with the haphazard, compilation-style way the book is written and drawn. Tan blows newcomers away with his diverse range of art and deceivingly simple prose, while still adding in some references for regular fans – the textbook collage, hand-written layout for Make Your Own Pet (previously seen in The Lost Thing), the matter-of-fact, let-the-art-tell-the-story writing (Lost Thing again) and Arrival-esque art in Eric. All up this book is beautifully illustrated and stunningly packaged. An artistic masterpiece to be sure.

THE STORY: This short story menagerie is a clear demonstration of the different things Tan can do with words. The tales carry varying amounts of meaning; some are just fun and simple (The Water Buffalo, Make Your Own Pet, and Distant Rain) while others carry dense, deep symbolic meaning that really makes you think. There are themes of environmentalism and oppressive society (Night of the Turtle Rescue); cultural issues, societal hostility and racial differences (Stick Figures) and more. Tan is a sophisticated writer who delivers exquisite quality writing. Therefore, I say:

ART RATING: 9 out of 10
STORY RATING: 8.5 out of 10
OVERALL RATING: 9.5 out of 10

VERDICT: a meaningful and elegantly written book that shows the cred that Shaun Tan wields in the arts. Perhaps not as dystopian and postmodern as his other works (a la The Lost Thing and Red Tree) but still enjoyable. Rated 9.5 out of 10. Go to shauntan.net for info!

Posted by Fanbot at 9:34 pm, Wednesday 6 January

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