starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
Tan, Shaun. Lost & Found. New York: Scholastic, 2011.

This was probably not the book to pick up to read when I was exhausted; any infelicities in the following are, even more than usual, entirely my fault, and as always, I welcome corrections and comments.

The Rabbits (1998). Words by John Marsden, art by Shaun Tan.

Shaun Tan's art is far, far more intelligent and perceptive than Marsden's text.

This is an sf-nal metaphorical story about the colonization of Australia. From the beginning, Tan's art does a wonderful job of, not just evoking, but depicting the differences between the native and indigenous perspectives on land, space, its usage: is the first panel (new to this edition) the ocean the rabbits are sailing across, or the land to which they are impending by night? A timeless scape of a wetland becomes, in the next page, a tiny watering hole against a vast desert landscape. In the next page, the water birds that stalked the wetlands are dots against the vastness of the blue sky, itself bifurcated by the crimson rocks.

When the rabbits come, they begin imposing their mathematics and their divisions and their science on the landscape almost immediately. Very quickly, it becomes hard to find the native creatures at all, in their own land. The native creatures fight back; the rabbits win. The rabbits steal the children. Might makes right, a building in the rabbits' new inhuman city proclaims. Tan brilliantly and deftly depicts the strategies of Empire, its information retrieval and its abstractions, the workings of the archive state, the all-seeing eye and the omnidirectionality of control. Who will save us from the rabbits? the final page asks, a rabbit and a native creature sitting across from each other at a dead watering hole under an ashen sky. The land is devastated. The stars have no answer.

Cut for long discussion of racism, colonialism, attendant fail )I do know, however, that what shape "reconciliation" and "the future" may take cannot be determined one-sidedly, not and have any validity.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
Tan, Shaun. Lost & Found. New York: Scholastic, 2011.

This was probably not the book to pick up to read when I was exhausted; any infelicities in the following are, even more than usual, entirely my fault, and as always, I welcome corrections.

The Red Tree (2001).

Lost & Found is a collection of three of Tan's early works; The Red Tree is the only one that I already owned. This time, having been primed by [personal profile] coffeeandink's review of it, I was able to find the red leaf in each of the paintings. Actually, in that respect, reading this while I was exhausted was good, because one of the things I still find most frustrating about reading graphic novels, manga, comics, picture books, is how I have been unconsciously trained to prioritize the text over the images, and how even when I'm trying to make a point to pay attention to the art, it's hard. Being very tired, and knowing that the girl-protagonist, in her depression, can't see the leaf that's always there with her, a spot of color in a grindingly drab landscape, helped me to be able to take the time to look for that leaf, and to appreciate finding it.

I am fortunate, as an individual, never to have suffered from clinical depression; others in my family, friends and people I love, have and do, as has Shaun Tan, from his afterword. But as someone who has occasionally felt, on the worst days of her life, that a black cloud had descended over me and that nothing (except maybe time, and I doubted even that) would alleviate it, the painting where the horrible fish flies over the girl, following her around, really struck me: yup, that's what it felt like. The painting in which she is onstage, unable to read the signs in Finnish, and she doesn't know what she is supposed to do, also struck me powerfully.

I suspect that as a visual depiction of clinical depression goes, YMMV. [personal profile] rushthatspeaks has yet a different viewpoint. This is Tan's depiction of his experience, and as someone who has only even approached that on, as I said, the worst days of her life, I can't really say how it seems to someone who has struggled with it day in and day out, or still does. I love Tan's art; it's gorgeous and clever and affecting, and that hasn't changed. In the end, the girl comes home to a tree that was never and always there before; but what about tomorrow?

The Lost Thing (2000).

I think I may have flipped through this in a bookstore at one point, because it seemed familiar, but taking the time to actually read it, both the text that makes up the background to the text and the images, and the images themselves, changed my opinion of it for the better. I think I'm now in the minority in thinking that this is a very good, subtly creepy, powerful book in its own right.

It's about, as those who have seen the movie will know, a young man (teenager?) who finds, on the mechanized beach of his mechanized city, a lost thing. In a fit of responsibility, he takes it home and feeds it, but he knows he can't keep it. Instead, he tries to take it to a lost & found, where a janitor tell him, if he cares about the lost thing, not to leave it there, and gives him a strange card: a wavy arrow. When the boy and the thing find the place it indicates, you have to turn the book a full 90º, holding it vertically, to see the place where the lost thing finds other lost things, enough to feel at home, or to be able to make a home. The young man leaves the lost thing with its fellows and goes about his business; these days he doesn't see many such lost things anymore, he says, maybe because there aren't many around anymore. Or maybe because he's just stopped noticing them; too busy doing other things, maybe. Like looking at his collection of bottle-tops.

This is, he tells the reader completely unaffectedly, the only story he remembers anymore--and that, for my money, is far creepier than any Elder God or whatever. Much like "The Amnesia Machine" in Tales from Outer Suburbia, the book is a pointed critique of global capital and the lies it wants to tell us, wants us to believe: today is the tomorrow you expected yesterday. Everything is as it should be. There's no need to notice those things that have a weird, lost, sad, look. They don't exist at all. What things? Everything is as it should be. Today is the tomorrow you expected yesterday.
starlady: Toby from the West Wing with a sign that says, "Obama is the President."  (go vote bitches)
Just got back from exercising my civic duty. It's a beautiful day for an election, way nicer than last year, when so much more was on the line and we had the feeling that we were on the right side of history, doing the right thing. That was a nice feeling. I do like voting, but that's partly because I like being in control.

GRE and a job interview (for holiday retail, but beggars, choosers, etc) tomorrow. I went running for the first time since I got that cold yesterday and was pleased with the results; we'll see if it holds up when I go again today. I honestly don't know if I'll be up for the 12K Sunday week, though, since I was sick for the weeks I should have been building from 4.5 to 5.5 miles per, and the race is 7.5. NaNoWriMo is coming along--haven't started in for today, but I have thought about where I'm going to go when I do crack open the word processor. Currently I'm at 6465, which puts me ahead of the curve, where I'm desperately hoping to stay. Seeing as I really should be writing my umpty-bajillion personal statements for grad school, we'll see how long that holds.

I read The Red Tree by Shaun Tan yesterday--it's a picture book, though the term seriously undersells the sheer giddy mastery of Tan's art, to say nothing of his storytelling--and I found it to be scarily applicable to my current situation. Tan just won a World Fantasy Award for Best Artist, and it was completely deserved. My copy of The Red Tree is a Canadian import by way of the divine Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, but The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia, which are even better, are widely available.
starlady: (jack)
The King of Pop is dead...death to pop.

I had a short, somewhat pretentious post on how amazingly awesome Shaun Tan's graphic-picture-novella The Arrival is (It is made of awesome!), but email posting ate it. But go read it anyway! Tan occupies the borderland between graphic novels and picture books with extraordinary ability and humanity--his book tells the story of a single family immigrating from an Old World to a New, and the stories of some of the other people (escaped slaves, survivors of war and genocide) they meet along the way. Tan deals with all these heavy, universal concepts very gently, so that children of most ages and adults can both read and get a very thought-provoking experience. Plus, Tan's art is just awesome, and very funny--in some ways, The Arrival is the child of Maus and the works of William Joyce. In any case, it manages to communicate vividly the defamiliarizing experience of the everyday, whether for the expatriate, the immigrant, or the artist.

I also read P.C. Hodgell's God Stalk, currently available from Baen Books as the first half of The Godstalker Chronicles, on [personal profile] coffeeandink's recommendation. C&I characterizes the book as a "fantasy of manners," which I definitely agree with, but to me, considering that the book was published in 1982, it is far more New Weird Lite, or perhaps Pre-New Weird; the first chapter in particular would fit very well in the "Influences" section of The New Weird anthology, as the main character, Jame, pursued by Haunts, enters the city of Tai-tastogon during the Feast of the Dead Gods, and proceeds to encounter some things that go bump! splash! slither! and lurk! in the very dark night. Her further luck at negotiating the internal politics of the city from various angles and in various guises varies. I liked Jame, and I thought the book was interesting, but she never really grabbed me as a protagonist, and having peeked at the ending of Dark of the Moon I feel no need to actually read the second book (though I wouldn't mind finding out what happens in the next book, Seeker's Bane). YMMV, but definitely worth checking out if you like the New Weird, Lovecraftian fantasy, or fantasies of manners played out in settings very far removed from our own.

starlady: (coraline)
First off, I still have three two Dreamwidth invite codes. Leave a comment to this post, or send me a private message on LJ with your email, if you would like one. Slight preference will be given to mutual LJ or RL friends, but I think on Wednesday morning I will release my codes into the wild if no one claims them before then.

So I went up to New York yesterday for the "International Graphic Novelists" segment of the PEN World Voices Festival. Over the course of three panels I heard Neil Gaiman, Emmanuel Guibert, David Polonsky, Shaun Tan, and Tatsumi Yoshihiro speak about comics and their work. It was quite an interesting set of panels (though I was sad that there didn't seem to be much crossover, and that I forgot my copy of The Graveyard Book to be signed, and that Kinokuniya didn't have any of Tatsumi's work in Japanese), though I was sort of miffed that out of the nine people total who appeared on the stage, only one of the interviewers and the interpreter were female. Alison Bechdel and Fun Home were name-checked in the second panel, but come on, where's the gender equity? Comics aren't just by (or for) men.
  • Both Gaiman and Tatsumi admitted that in some ways they miss the old days when comics were hated and feared; as Gaiman said, "there's a lot of freedom when you're creating in the gutter." Not, however, that the state of gekiga in Japan is really much better these days; when asked about it, Tatsumi attributed it to the lack of a readers' revolution in manga consumption, and lamented the freedom that the "rambunctiousness" of the weekly magazines afforded before their demise in the 70s.
  • While the subject of politics in comics, and in art in general, was more danced around than addressed, Gaiman did say that he thought that "At any point that you are saying things that other people do not want said--writing about people others don't want written about--it's absolutely political." Tan and most of the rest said that they thought that any time you write about people, the political is always there, but Tan said that he thought the responsibility of the artist is honesty, and that politics flows from that. Tan also said that the act of drawing is about defamiliarizing yourself with the everyday, to take nothing for granted, which he finds very similar to the immigrant experience. David Polonsky remarked that the artist's job is to make sense of things that most people only feel.
  • Tatsumi's monumental manga memoir 漫画漂流 has just been published in English as A Drifting Life (flipped, unfortunately, but otherwise gorgeous), but when asked he admitted that he changed the protagonist's name and the names of people in his life so that he could be completely honest about the events of his life. He cited the Japanese 私小説 (I-novel) tradition as precedent for this, but I was reminded of what Guibert said about biography (he's done graphic novel biographies of two his friends), which is that in a hidden way it is autobiography, since it's filtered through the biographer.
  • Shaun Tan said some of the most interesting things of the afternoon, to my mind, when he explicitly situated his work in the space between graphic novels and picture books--his wordless graphic novel The Arrival is printed like a picture book, but has no words (so that it would be universal, he said, and to lengthen the viewing experience) and uses panel layouts at times--which he said he lifted from The Snowman. He also said that he was inspired by photo albums, which tell a choronogical story but lack narration, which one fills in as one looks through them, so that the story resides somewhere between you and the photos themselves.
  • Similarly, Guibert said he was inspired to create The Photographer after noting the similarity between panel layouts and contact sheets of undeveloped photos, though, as he said, when photographs and drawings are juxtaposed (as he does in his work), "there's always one trying to kill the other."

They sold out of The Arrival right before I got to the sale table, so I bought Shaun Tan's new book Tales from Outer Suburbia for him to sign instead. I read it while on my way home on the train (side note: I ♥ trains so much), and I was utterly charmed. I've liked Tan since I first encountered his illustrations in Pretty Monsters, but he himself gives Kelly Link a run for her money in his strategic deployment of oddness, in his twisting reality just a bit differently from what we know. I'd say that TfOS is suitable for older children (8+ maybe? I don't know about children), since one of its stories, "The Amnesia Machine," is the most trenchant two-page criticism of George W. Bush's administration (or of John Howard's government, since Tan is Australian) that I've ever encountered, and its mordant humor only heightens its creepy effect.

I also went with some friends to the redhead, which is an amazing (and pretty decently priced) New Southern restaurant on the east side just south of Union Square. The fried chicken was glorious, my cocktail quite tasty, and the bacon peanut brittle pretty damn delicious. Check it out if you get the chance.

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