Book Review: Creature: Paintings, Drawings, and Reflections by Shaun Tan
From the creator of THE ARRIVAL, a collection of essays illuminating his thoughts and advice for writers and artists, young and old.
Shaun Tan is one of the world’s most highly acclaimed narrative artists—his stories and images are loved by countless young and not-so-young readers around the world. Drawing upon 25 years as a picture book and comics creator, painter, and filmmaker, CREATURE explores the central obsession of this visionary artist, from casual doodles to studied oil-paintings. Beyond sketches for acclaimed works such as THE ARRIVAL, THE LOST THING, and TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, this volume collects together for the first time unseen and stand-alone illustrations, each resonant with unwritten tales of their own. Detailed commentary by the artist offers an entertaining insight into the endless allure of imaginary, non-human beings and what they might tell us about our so-called “normal” human selves. Artists, writers, students, dreamers, and anyone interested in the deeper undercurrents of creativity, myth, and visual metaphor will find inspiration in these pages.
Bear with me. This does turn into a book review.
It’s Sunday when I’m writing this and I’m sad. Mimi Parker, of Low, a band I have loved since I was 15, has passed away. I’m sad in a deep down way. While I have certainly listened to Low a lot in my adult years and seen them many times since being a teen, they are firmly a part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. From sitting on the floor at First Ave during their shows to interviewing them for my zine to seeing them on frigid Duluth nights in college, they were my everything. My son, age 16, will play me some new band he’s found and it’s when it’s the kind of music that, as he says, “makes me feel small” that we really connect over the music. I like music that makes me feel small. The top two bands for that feeling have always been Low and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. So it’s on this day, this sad day that I lament never being able to see a favorite band again, that I cry for the loss of Mimi, whose voice was such a gift, that I read CREATURE. Low plays in the background while I flip through the stunning and weird art, and I feel small. Shaun Tan’s art has always made me feel small—feel the vastness of imagination and possibility and the insignificance of being one tiny person in one of 100 billion galaxies of potentials. In a way that may feel strange to some, being made to feel small and insignificant has always helped my anxiety and depression. It’s relieving to feel tiny, like nothing, like just a thing in a giant swirling mass of things.
If you don’t know Shaun Tan’s work, the words I’d use to describe it are strange, beautiful, weird, otherworldly, alien. I spent a lot of time marveling over the tiny details in the pictures, wondering where ideas came from, what the story is, wondering about the lives and feelings of these very strange creatures. The art is delightful, moving, intriguing, and, at times, mildly disturbing. In writing about his “lost things,” Tan writes, “Into this world the lost things appear as strange extrusions, wriggling question marks, flowers growing from cracks. They don’t know what they are and have no real meaning or purpose. In short, they are moments of hope, of unconstrained meaning, of something new emerging in a discordant world, a reminder that life—and art—will always find a way” (12).
This book is beautiful. Mimi Parker was beautiful. Art is such a gift. Thank goodness it always finds a way.
Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Levine Querido
Publication date: 10/04/2022
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network