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Picturing a World

Shaun Tan's Creatures

When I was a child, my mother had a rule that you couldn't buy a book unless you had first borrowed it from the library and knew you wanted to read and reread it. Well, as soon as I got wind of Shaun Tan's new book, Creatures, I borrowed it through interlibrary loan. The art work, of course, is terrific. I turned each page. At his comments in the final section, I started flipping back and forth. The more I got out of the pictures, the more I knew I wanted to study them again and again—and also to think more about what Tan has to say, not only about these pieces in particular, but about art and stories in general. Right. I bought a copy (from an local independent bookstore, natch).

Of "A Dangerous Game," Tan says that the picture draws on memories of playing cards with his grandparents but is more ambiguous, moodier, more dangerous. "My favorite detail," he writes, "is the distant boy visible through the window … calling out, either upping the stakes or urging, in vain, to fold and run." At first glance, it reminded me of the interplanetary bar scene in the first Star Wars. Glee and anxiety, yet closer to dreams and the unconscious. The rabbit—are he and the boy cheating? Are those three players on the right a team? If so, how, and what are the stakes? What might that huge monster do? What's with the tail out the window? How do the flowers on the windowsill affect the mood?
Tan urges readers to respond to his pictures with their own imagination. He has certainly given us plenty to work with.

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