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Book title: The Arrival

Author/Illustrator : Shaun Tan

I only have two graphic novels in my collection. Maybe more, I’m not sure I haven’t checked under my bed. I definitely know I have a few volumes of the Sandman series somewhere (I just saw it last week having a fine time under the summer sun by the window shelf). I also have manga books tucked between my science books.

I don’t know what point I’m driving at here, but what I’m trying to say is, I’m not really into graphic novels which is blasphemy in some circles. I guess it’s an acquired taste and also acquired treasure because have you seen how much a volume of your run of the mill graphic novel costs?

Having said that, I’m not sure what to feel about the surge in the graphic novel industry. As a reader between the lines, a fan of the mind theater, a believer of words, it often struck me as intrusive, images in a graphic novel. Because I’d like to imagine how characters look like by the mere mention of their name or mannerism. Or how sentences converge to form illusions of landscapes and lamplit alleys.

The cover for Shaun Tan's 2006 graphic novel, The Arrival.

The cover for Shaun Tan’s 2006 graphic novel, The Arrival.

But then I realized something while reading Shaun Tan’s critically acclaimed graphic novel The Arrival. There’s another form of tyranny- the tyranny of words.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you haven’t seen any of Shaun Tan’s works, well you should. He’s an Australian illustrator and animator who won an Academy Award for the animated film adaptation of his graphic novel The Lost Thing in 2011. And his portfolio is an amazing array of whimsy and originality which seems so bland and boring in this sentence but it’s magical beyond words.

Amongst his many graphic works, The Arrival stands out as one of the most emotional. A story told entirely without words. You can suspect sounds in the background- the gloom of giant monsters whose shadows mar an alien landscape, sounds of laughter amongst strangers in a foreign land. You could even hear foreign language being spoken and the painful incomprehension it affects. But those are just murmurs in the mind. The focus is on the emotional journey of migrants who don’t understand what a foreign language means, only the universality of human experience. One can imagine The Arrival with narration but the effect won’t be the same.

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Perhaps the only authorial intrusion that Shaun Tan put in the narrative was the title: The Arrival and those two small words were given meaning and shape through a series of powerful images, both alien and familiar.

The Arrival was Shaun Tan’s graphic novel published by Hodder’s Children’s Book in 2006.


  1. I never understood the big deal with characters’ looks. Literaturer is not a visual medium. It doesn’t matter how the character looks,just how certain features (Size, hair color, etc.) affect it. I don’t describe my characters but give them a few features that connect with their personality.

    I also heard of another novel without words called Flood. I forogt the author, but the band Faith No More used pictures from there in their album King For a Day, Fool for a Lifetime. It also has a very distinct visual look. I wonder whether these ‘wordless novels’ can end up as a great genre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Will certainly look out for Flood. Googled it and it looks impressive. Is there a trend for ‘wordless novels’ these days? Also true about character’s looks. Just read Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read and he’d graphically presented an accurate description of the phenomena.


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SFF Book Reviews

random thoughts about fantasy & science fiction books


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