Shaun Tan, Eric

Shaun Tan, Eric cover

Eric bookcover (Courtesy: Allen & Unwin)

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.

Shaun Tan
Crow’s Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2010
ISBN: 9781742372921

12 thoughts on “Shaun Tan, Eric

    • LOL, it is a novel novel. Not a graphic novel, not a novella, not traditional short story – but lovely. It’s the sort of book that would appeal to people of all ages – well, late primary anyhow. It’s whimsical but not mushy.

  1. Shaun Tan is a very talented young man. Last year I heard him talk at the MWF and he showed some of his art work, and talked about his award winning The Arrival, a graphic novel which explores immigration and making your way in a new land.
    I thought I had everything he’d written at school, but I haven’t got Eric!

    • He certainly is, isn’t he. I’d love to see him – that must have been great. I did hear him interviewed on The Book Show and he was very impressive. I gave The arrival to my son a couple of years ago, and have been meaning to borrow it from him. Anyhow, if you have Tales of Outer Suburbia in your library you have Eric, so you’re probably ok?

  2. My library has both Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Arrival. I will get one or both when next I feel like a graphic novel. I’m always looking for smart graphic novels so thanks for the tip on this one!

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