We were big fans of Shaun Tan’s 2007 graphic novel The Arrival, naming it the best of the year – and we weren’t alone, as the book garnered accolades everywhere and became a surprise bestseller. But that solemn, silent tale of immigration didn’t prepare us for the wordy whimsy of Tan’s new book, Tales From Outer Suburbia. Short, outlandish prose stories are interspersed with Tan’s customary gorgeous, fantastical drawings. Is it a graphic novel? An illustrated book? Is it for children or adults? We don’t know – we just know it’s great.
In this tale, “Grandpa’s Story,” Tan illustrates the narrative of two grandparents’ courtship and marriage. “‘You know that big hill you can see from your bedroom window?’ says Grandpa, pointing. ‘Well, your grandma and I got married on the other side of it, long before you lot came along.’”
“‘Of course, weddings were more complicated in those days, not the short ‘n’ sweet kind you see today.’”
“Grandpa is a bit vague at this stage in his story, so it’s not clear where they actually went.”
“Somewhere ‘past the factories and landfills’ and ‘beyond all the signs and roads.’”
“When we ask him to show us on a map, he simply shakes his head in an amused way, as if to say ‘one day you’ll know.’”
“Frustratingly, Grandpa goes off to make a cup of tea at this point. We follow him to the kitchen and press for details.”
“Grandpa just shrugs. ‘It’s hard to explain the terrible things that happened out there.’”