Tales from Outer Suburbia

Not so much a graphic novel as it is a collection of short stories saturated with mysterious illustrations, Australian author/illustrator Shaun Tan’s new book brings fantasy, magic realism, allegories, and absurdities to the subdivisions and strip malls of the postmodern suburban landscape.

As one might expect from the author of the wordless masterpiece , the illustrations and text are on equal footing. At times, plots are advanced and key details provided solely through the images. A prime example of this text and image tag team is “Grandpa’s Story,” in which an old man recounts the preparations for his marriage as a complex and nightmarish scavenger hunt/epic quest for various items required for the ceremony. The grandpa’s narrative is broken midway by a series of plates depicting scenes from the once-young couple’s quest, such as being chased by televisions with legs and teeth, getting stuck in a traffic jam of wind-up toys, and sitting on top of their car together in a flood as the rain continues to fall. “Distant Rain,” another stellar text/image fusion that conjectures upon all the poems that people write and never show to anyone else, is presented as a collage of torn slips of paper covered with handwritten words and sketches.

There is an abundance of silliness and weirdness in these stories and images, but with allegorical undertones. In one story, two boys find a man in an antiquated deep-sea diving suit wandering around their neighborhood park and lure him to their mean neighbor’s house as a trick. In another, the government distributes giant missile silos to the backyards of everyday households, where homeowners eventually paint them bright colors, converting them into birdhouses, flower pots, and dog kennels.

The illustrations are beautiful, diverse and detailed, and the stories intriguing. To a certain extent, this book does for graphic novels and young adult literature what Selznick ‘s The Invention of Hugo Cabret did in blurring the line between a picture book and a children’s novel. Recommended to anyone who enjoys intriguing illustrations and fascinating stories, and highly recommended to aspiring graphic artists, writers, illustrators and graphic novelists as a place to find some great new inspiration for their craft.

Review by Joshua Whiting, Granite School District Library Media Program
Rating: ★★★★½
Interest Level: Grades 6 and Up

Shaun Tan – Official Site

Tales from Outer Suburbia
Written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic
96 pages
Release Date: February 1, 2009
ISBN: 9780545055871 (hardcover)

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