Review: Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan caught me by surprise. My first exposure to Shawn Tan’s work was his graphic story The Arrival which had no words. The story was conveyed by the drawings. In Tales From Outer Suburbia there are plenty of drawings and, if you’ve seen Shaun Tan’s work, you’ll recognize the style immediately. However, this collection of short stories is one that will leave you spellbound, slightly off-center, and entertained.
Each story is a bit surreal. They begin with a strange event or happening and while seeming perfectly normal, take you in a direction that you didn’t realize you were going until you get there. The entire book is a bit different, the table of contents is a page of postage stamps. Each stamp is the title of one of the stories and the postage is the page number. The image on the stamp is a bit of one of the illustrations for that story. The signal is the journey you’re about to take when reading these stories.
One of my favorite stories was “Grampa’s Story”. Grampa is telling his grandchildren about his wedding. The story is an adventure that the grandchildren are not sure is real and after hearing the story they go to Grandma for verification. While the tale of their wedding is a wonderful light tale it is also more — a roadmap for all marriages or directions for maintaining a happy marriage. Wonderful illustrations highlight their wedding day journey.
“Eric” is the story of an exchange student and his exchange family. Eric doesn’t talk much and studies hard. The family doesn’t know what to make of him or even how to tell if he’s happy with them. They do their best to entertain and befriend Eric. When he leaves they’re not sure how they did or how he’ll remember them. Off beat and with clues to the true nature of friendship and understanding.
Two children have a terrible time with one of the neighbors destroying their toys if they stray over to her yarn in “Broken Toys”. When wandering the town they come upon a strange sight and a stranger that doesn’t seem to understand them. They believe they have the perfect trick to play but it backfires in a very surprising way. Again the drawings are surreal as is the underlying nature of the story.
“Make Your Own Pet” is a quirky set of instructions to follow to make your own special pet out of discarded trash. It’s a two page spread that is reminiscent of those huge foldout instructional sheets. I’d seen this one in an art show a few years back and I like it then and liked it now even more.
If you like the off-beat, surreal, and strange — especially when it is also entertaining, enjoyable and beautifully illustrated, find a copy of Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shawn Tan. I’m sure you’ll find it to be a bit different.