Tag Archives: graphic novel

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

11th October 2011

You have to page through this book to appreciate its breathtaking beauty. Crafted like an old family scrapbook, The Arrival by Shaun Tan is one of the most beautiful stories told: the immigrant’s story. It’s been told by so many people in so many different ways, but this wordless graphic novel illustrates the story in a very vivid way.

A young father leaves his family to move to a new land to find work. The animals, the people, the buildings – all are new and foreign to him, and Tan emphasizes this by creating buildings and machines and animals wholly unlike any you’ve seen before. The man is lonely but goal oriented, and he communicates with drawings and hand gestures. He comes home in the evenings to a picture of his family, waiting for the day he will be reunited with them.

Tan uses both panels and full pages of illustrations, and the endsheets are an amalgamation of faces – European, Asian, Middle Eastern. Many of the illustrations almost appear to stand out from the page, pasted in with care by a loving family member. Thumbing the pages in quiet, looking and appreciating the bravery and ambition it takes to pack up, leaving family and friends and culture behind, only to arrive somewhere so different, so unfamiliar, and often, so unfriendly, was a singular experience and one I’ll not forget soon.

The imagination and creativity in the drawings is key in depicting just how different the immigrant views the new country, but the genius (in my opinion) in this book is the choice not to use words. By removing any words, Tan reinforces the silence of the immigrant’s experience. As a new ESL teacher, this honestly stopped me in my tracks. Often, my beginners have no idea what I’m saying, and I have to strive, through word choice, gestures, and sometimes, badly-drawn pictures, to get my meaning across. Though it is certainly not easy for me, I know it is much more difficult for them, and I admire their determination to learn a new language. It can’t be easy.

For a small experience of The Arrival, scroll down:

What It Is by Lynda Barry

22nd September 2011

*I bought this book at the Strand bookstore when I was there for BEA in May.

In What It Is, Lynda Barry talks about writing – both personally and anecdotally. One part instructive and three parts creative, the book first talks about images, stories, characters, and monsters and where they come from, although in a very different way than Scott McCloud does in Understanding Comics.

When I brought this book into my ESL classroom a couple weeks ago to illustrate something we were discussing, several students wanted to share their opinions: “That person must be the crazy” and “Something is wrong with the writer’s head” were two common phrases.

No doubt about it, Lynda Barry is obsessive, though in my opinion, all good artists are. You could read this book and look at it half a dozen times and still miss something because each page is an elaborate collage. Some have her drawings on top of old letters. Some have old letters or ads or newspaper clippings pasted onto her drawings to illustrate her own creative exploration. Most often, the clipping adds to the meaning or interprets the meaning.

While this is interesting, and I loved seeing her evolution as an artist, I really loved the discussion of creativity in children. She argues that at some point in each of our lives, creativity is snuffed out and becomes something we either apologize for or do completely on our own. It’s an interesting concept and one I know I’ve read somewhere but cannot find support for. She also argues in the page below that “the time for [creativity] is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time. The kind of time I have is not for this but for that. I wish I had that kind of time.” This is and will always be, for me, what distinguishes artists from amateurs: choosing the time and using it for art.

What It Is is a beautiful, compelling book, and it even includes a section in the back to get you started writing or drawing or creating. This section is by no means small, and the only reason I haven’t attempted it is because the book is really too pretty to write in. What It Is is a book I’ll treasure and come back to again and again, and it’s one I would encourage anyone who enjoys writing, reading or creating to have on hand.

Read this: If you need a shot in the arm to write, draw, paint, sing, create. Be prepared to pore over the pages.

Review: Stitches by David Small

21st September 2010

Sometimes the medium of a story is so much more important than how that story is told: Stitches, illustrator David Small’s memoir, is one such story.

Set in a mostly-wordless black-and-white format, Stitches is about the author’s childhood, one in which speech is the last form of communication the family utilizes.

Instead, Mom slams cabinets and weeps quietly behind closed doors. Dad batters a punching bag, and Ted, the brother, plays the drums. What does David do? He, too, is voiceless, and only warrants attention through his many childhood illnesses. Dad, the doctor, puts his young son through all sorts of experimental treatments – shots, enemas, neck cracking, and multiple x-rays, hoping to help his sinus problems.

David’s only escape from his passive-aggressive mother and radiology-happy father is coloring and drawing. His figures become friends, a way to escape. However, David’s escape is simply another form of silence, separating himself further from his family.

As a young man, a family friend notices a growth on David’s neck and advises his mother it be checked out. What follows is probably the absolute worst part of this graphic novel. His parents wait three-and-a-half years before doing anything about it. David is told he has a cyst; a simple operation will remove it. Two surgeries later, David is left with an incredibly-long scar down the left side of his neck and one vocal cord, rendering him silent, although, as he says, it is “no longer a matter of choice.” He learns to cope but tunnels deeper into his self because “when you have no voice, you don’t exist.” For ten years, he can speak in nothing above a whisper.

The novel is heartbreaking, and it angered me to see the willful neglect on behalf of David’s parents – no matter how troubled they were. How he manages to survive and thrive is a testament to the human spirit. This is one of many graphic novels  I have read in the last few years, none of them happy. I’m not sure if the medium makes it easier to depict the anger, grief, frustration, and shame or if it is simply a means to an end. Regardless, Stitches is raw but effective, specifically in that there really aren’t many words, reinforcing the impotence David feels first, as a child and second, as a teen who cannot speak. Drawn frame-by-frame with an obvious nod to cinematography, the quiet isn’t pleasant but menacing, and the illustrations are incredibly successful in their execution. I recommend this book to those with an interest in graphic novels or a special interest in memoirs – just make sure you have something cheerful lines up right after it.

Other reviews:

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