Author/Illustrator: Stephen Collins
My rating: 5 of 5
Dave lives on the island of Here in a neat, tidy house on a neat, tidy street. Every day he follows the same, orderly routine. In fact, he detests disorder, as do all the denizens of Here. But one day everything changes for Dave, one day all the disorder that haunts his nightmares seems to burst forth from his nearly bald body to form a beard. An enormous beard that won’t stop growing no matter how it’s trimmed and treated. A beard so disorderly and gigantic that is seems ready to devour the entirety of Here. So of course, the people of Here do what they have to do; they deem the beard “evil”.
I really enjoyed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil much more than I expected to. It felt like a mix of Shaun Tan, Dr. Seuss, and The Stanley Parable, not that that makes any sense but it’s true nonetheless. There’s exactly that sort of combination of silliness paired with a deep, unsettling underlying tension. Because this story really is a parable about us all, not one that I could spell out the moral to but one that’s valuable to consider nevertheless. It’s a scary but important reflection on human nature. The textured, stylized art and the sporadic, sometimes-rhymed writing work remarkably well with the theme. Actually, the entire graphic novel is just fitted together in every detail in a way that just works. If you’re at all of a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.
Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Eric came as an exchange student. He was . . . different, hard to understand sometimes. Probably because the place he came from was really different, but it was hard to tell. No one really knew whether he even enjoyed his time as an exchange student–not until they saw what he left behind in his room!
I admire and enjoy Shaun Tan’s writing so much! It’s endlessly original, insightful, whimsical, and fun–all words that describe Eric perfectly. This is a delightful illustrated short story. (I was truly surprised but also thrilled by how tiny it is when I got my copy in the mail–only about 5-6 inches tall) The exchange student in question is enigmatic in the best sort of way: odd, curious, paying attention to things we would never give heed to. He even chooses to sleep in the cupboard rather than a normal bedroom! The words of the story are simple but rich in a way that would make this a great read-aloud book for kids (but also a fun tale for older readers–it’s really not “childish” at all). It’s the illustrations that make the story complete though . . . it’s like, the words themselves have a meaning, but add in the pictures, and the words take on entirely new and vivid meanings. Truly brilliant. I especially love the use of contrasting grey-tones versus color to make the ending stand out. Because of the skill with which it’s created and charm it evokes, I would highly recommend Eric to readers young and old.
Authors: Shaun Tan & John Marsden
Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Somewhere, a girl struggles through her own dark reality, a world depressed and distorted until it’s nearly unrecognizable–will she recognize the gleam of hope that follows her through the day? Somewhere else, a boy finds a . . . well, a thing . . . on the beach. He and the thing have fun playing together until he realizes that it’s hopelessly lost–and he has to figure out what to do with it! Elsewhere again, a group of docile natives find themselves overrun by dominating rabbits, first a few, then an overwhelming flood that is an irrevocable tide.
I admire Shaun Tan’s work greatly–he has the combination of boldness, discernment, and art to be able to pull off things that would look and sound absurd if other people wrote/drew them. Lost & Found is a collection of three of his earlier short stories–“The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits” (which was written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan)–all of which were originally published individually. I really like them in this collection though; with the way they’re illustrated, they seem to just flow into each other quite naturally. Thematically, they provide an interesting look into his earlier work in all of its odd, groundbreaking strangeness. I love that he uses such earthshatteringly unfamiliar material to bring into sharp focus things that are in many ways quite mundane. Do brace yourself when reading these stories–I think there’s a fairly strong initial negative reaction to “The Red Tree,” and “The Rabbits” is certainly thought-provoking and maybe a bit disturbing. But I truly think there’s a deeper positive buried under the negative which is honestly worth the time to reach. I would recommend Lost & Found to readers of all ages who are willing to look deeper and change their perspective.