There was a time in the 1980s/90s when tape recording was available on the cheap to consumers. Anyone with a tape deck would have the power to record mixed-tapes. You’d be able to record from the radio or other professionally recorded tapes or vinyl records. A certain type of sonic craft came about from this with what one’s imagination could conger up.
Arthur A. Levine Books has done something of a mix-tape with illustrator and artist Shaun Tan’s earlier works. These works hadn’t been released in the US market before the release of “Lost and Found.” Lost and Found is something of a compilation of three short-graphic stories of Tan’s, which is very personal and plays wonderfully together. We become better informed of Tan’s talents and his inspiration. If you’re already informed of his craft, you’ll see that it has only elevated since.
One particular story, “The Rabbits,” is a beautiful piece acting as a fairy tale engaged in elliptical references to haunting histories of foreign invaders, ecological damage, and an utter turnover of traditions well established before an intrusion that upsets a pre-historical balance. Intricate details Tan uses, create an undercurrent with imagery that can at first seem stark. The rhythm of the story just begins to build as details take a subtle time to be noticed and therefore beg for multiple viewing since all isn’t so straightforward at first. Along with iconoclastic antagonists that deliver a narrative weight that first appears to be a struggle between good and evil, the subtle injection of perspectives and position of items become a slight of hand that changes the impact of our narrator’s dialog.
Tan in The Rabbits is only the director. What is being told to us in written form is a story by John Marden. His text is an enigmatic interpretation of a mash up of histories. Simply put, foreign entities disrupt what was an idyllic harmony of the native inhabitants. Marden draws references to the indigenous peoples of North America and the Australian fauna and their frustrations with what could be considered their nemesis. Tan creates the many scenes and we become immersed in them.
He expertly balances the imagination of Marden’s story with his visual play into a serious narrative delivering a punch to the visual senses. The palette of visual tools he uses is uniquely his own. He’ll work a folio that looks lush by making thick strokes of what appears to be oil paints for the invaders when they first arrive to their new found land. While later, you’ll see what these rabbit invaders have in store — with their singularity manifested in the straight pencil marks Tan uses in creating a monotone world conveying a sort of order in which the native inhabitants don’t understand. These rabbits ignore all but their ambitions and the reader would be smart to pay attention to everything but.
Lost and Found is a rewind back to Tan’s early works that begs for looped reading as there is much to enjoy from these three stories. I am sure younger audiences who are familiar with “The Arrival” will enjoy this book as well considering it’s like a continuation of a great mixed tape you’d break out every once in a while to listen to again.