Shaun Tan on illustration as narrative

North Star artwork copyright Peter Reynolds/ FableVision The Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, an annual event of the Australian Society of Authors, was delivered by illustrator and author Shaun Tan on 28 March, 2009 at Redfern Town Hall, Sydney.

Tan, whose recent works include The Arrival and Tales From Outer Suburbia, speaks with great insight about illustration as a narrative device. He comments on a range of interesting picture books and graphic novels written by others, and also discusses some of his own work.

You can listen to the lecture online, or read a transcript (PDF). The audio is also available from TheBookShow on ABC Radio National.

Shaun Tan discovered the wonders of picture books as an adult after being asked to illustrate a couple of titles aimed at young adults. He discovered that “picture books seemed especially good at presenting a reader with complex questions in a concise way, largely through the imaginative play that can exist between words and pictures, outside of any simple or direct visual-verbal relationship.” The best may prompt the reader “to think about familiar concepts in an unexpected way, offering up a new and interesting perspective.” (p 3)

Tan says that many illustrators, including himself, are interested in ideas of silence and voicelessness. Illustrated books can invite “a great deal of speculation over repeated readings.” (p 6)

Describing his own approach to story and illustration as “an act of limited suggestion, heavily dependent on a reader willing to creatively find their own meaning”, Tan believes some images, when successfully created, “are able to tap into a kind of subconscious emotional intelligence.” (p.8)

“Photo albums are actually perfect examples of how illustrated narrative works most effectively. Their power is not so much in documenting particulars, but triggering memory and imagination, urging us to fill the empty space around frozen snapshots, to build on fragments and constantly revisit our own storyline, a kind of visual literacy we all understand intuitively.” (p 10)

Follow up the rest of this interesting speech to gain invaluable knowledge which may help you when analysing an illustrated narrative.

Quotes from: 2009 Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture by Shaun Tan, March 2009 

The North Star illustration in this post is copyright Peter Reynolds/Fable Vision



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