I work with some amazing people. One of whom is Jesse Karp. Jesse is currently in library school, and he knows comics and graphic novels like nobody else. He is my go-to guy on most things illustrated. While I can say that I am a comic fan, he is an expert. He has been collecting comics for the last 30 years, is the leader of our in school graphic novel club, and recently was a guest speaker on the topic of graphic novels at CUNY's Queens College.
This is Jesse's take on The Arrival, by Tan.
I first set eyes on The Arrival by Shaun Tan in my colleague's stack of review books. Flipping through it was enough to ignite a spark of burning jealousy within me. This could easily have lead to a breakdown of professional relations had Booklist not sent me my own review copy shortly thereafter.
Tan's small but powerful body of work often depicts young children caught in surreal, super-industrial landscapes, sometimes trapped, sometimes oblivious to the dystopia that surrounds them. Have a look at The Lost Thing or The Red Tree to see what I mean.
The Arrival encompasses this sensibility but expands and deepens it to such a degree that the book reaches a level seldom seen within the graphic novel (or any) format: visual literature.
Using the tools of sequential art like a life-long pro, Tan employs visual metaphor, panel size, lighting and color to make the archetypal experience of an immigrant leaving his family and coming to a new land personal, emotional, heart-breaking, breathtaking and joyful. The fantasy landscapes Tan depicts are both terrifying and awe-inspiring for their size and complexity, and every person the immigrant meets tells an involving tale of his or her own. We are drawn into this journey, into this land as if we ourselves were the arrival, unable to read the writing, understand the traditions, comprehend the complexity of the city, heart-broken over the departure from our family. And Tan does this all without using a single word.
The silence makes every experience within it resonate more profoundly as this new world affords the arrival fear and confusion, but also new friends and a new life. A first-grader could look at this and get hooked on the simple story and complex images, but the older the reader the greater the understanding of the emotional, social and political nuances Tans plays out here. Expanding the potential of the medium itself, The Arrival is without a doubt the best graphic novel of the year and possible the best graphic novel ever (okay, in the top ten, anyway).
If graphic novels aren't your thing, or you only look at one or two a year, for God's sake, put this on your list.