When I bought Eric on a whim the other day (as you do!), I didn’t realise that it had been excerpted from Shaun Tan’s Tales from outer suburbia which I haven’t yet read, but have given to others. That’s okay though, because it means that I’ve finally read a little of Shaun Tan, something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
Shaun Tan is an Australian multi-award-winning artist-writer (or is it writer-artist?) who has published books, worked in theatre and film, and had his work adapted by such luminaries as the Australian Chamber Orchestra. He is one versatile man! His best known works include The arrival (a wordless graphic novel about migrants) and Tales from outer suburbia (an anthology of 15 short illustrated stories about all sorts of strange things that happen in suburbia).
Eric picks up on what I believe is one of Tan’s common themes, that of being different or strange, an outsider. It is about a foreign exchange student who comes to stay with a family in – yes – suburbia, and how they all get along.
Tan’s is not a negative presentation – at least, not here. The mostly monochromatic drawings are whimsical and all focus on Eric, the visiting student, while the text is in the voice of a child of the house. The story is about tolerance and acceptance of what you don’t understand. It’s also about expectations that aren’t met – but accepting the things that happen instead. As Mum says in the book, “It must be a cultural thing”. Overall, it’s about the fact that other can reside with other – and yet it also allows discomfort and incomprehension to be an acceptable feeling.
This sounds like a simple book, and in some ways it is, but it’s not simplistic. Producing it as a gift-edition like this is a lovely idea. It will, I hope, introduce more people to Shaun Tan and his rather unique view on the world. It has certainly whetted my appetite.
Crow’s Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2010