Jon Klassen - I Want My Hat Back(unfortunately, not out till September)
Congrats to Jon for getting a great review of his new book from Betsy Bird! Can’t wait to see it, it sounds fantastic.
“…his art is magnificent and now, with the release of his first author/illustrator picture book I Want My Hat Back, Klassen shows once and for all that his storytelling talents match his illustration technique pound for pound.” - Fuse #8
Last month, a long profile of the graphic novelist/children’s book illustrator Shaun Tan appeared in NY Times Magazine. Just a few days later, a great interview with Tan appeared over at The Millions. I was one of the many who was bowled over by his book, The Arrival, which was a children’s book on the surface, but a Kafkaesque allegory about alienation, foreign lands and exile in reality. Above all, it was one of the sincerest books on the meaning of family that I’d read; The Arrival was not remotely embarrassed about the value of what a family was, what a home was, which made the book all the more emotionally engaging.
Furthermore, Tan’s book The Lost Thing was adapted into a short film, and it won the Academy Award for the Best Animated Short Film last year. I’ve yet to see the film, but the book is, of course, very good. What makes Shaun Tan so satisfying is that his work resists categorization. Here’s Tan on “meaning,” when he is asked about how many versions of visual metaphors he worked through for the loneliness -
Part of the idea behind that book is that it is very dreamlike, and resists a logical interpretation, so the reader can only make an emotional assessment. I am sometimes frustrated when readers keep looking for “meaning,” as if every story has a fixed set of answers, so I wanted to create a book that obviously has none – only whatever you can bring to it using your own imagination.
How can you not buy into the guy’s modus operandi! -
The NY Times Mag profile likens him to Chris van Allsberg (The Polar Express) and Hayao Miyazaki. Sure, I can see that. But when I see Shaun Tan’s visual vistas, allegorical and densely lithographic, but accomplished with a deft and light sense of whimsy, I think of Brodsky and Utkin -
Brodsky and Utkin are Russian architects who were called “paper architects” during the Soviet years because they were avant-garde architects whose style remained radical, even after the Socialist Realist style was denounced as “over-decorated” by Khruschev in the ’50s and abandoned. Brodsky and Utkin, though, continued to produce a series of whimsical architectural etchings. They were influenced by the cosmopolitan architecture of the past (i.e. Byzantine, Egyptian) as well as the post-modern concept of the city. As a result, their work seems both utopian and dystopic at once.
Anyway, their etchings are usually accompanied by equally whimsical texts written by the artists. (My favorite is “Villa Claustrophobia,” the last picture above, clearly influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon; please check their small but fascinating body of work in a book published by Princeton Architectural Press.)
The picture below is “Crystal Palace” by Brodsky and Utkin -
Accompanying the image is a haiku by Basho -
Seaweed swarms with Transparent [minnows] Catch them - They shall thaw without a trace.
Brodsky and Utkin further augment the Basho haiku with their thoughts on what a “Crystal Palace” is -
Crystal Palace is a beautiful but unrealizable dream[,] a Mirage which calls you always[,] seen a the edge of [the] visible. But as each dream [is seen] in close examination[,] it will prove the other thing than it seemed [from] afar. [It stands on the edge of the city.] A person who wants to visit it will make a long way through the town borderland, blocks of slums and dumps but co ming at last to the Palace find neither roof nor walls - only the huge glass plates, stuck into the huge box of sand. A Mirage remains simply a Mirage, though it can be touched. Passing from one glass chink to another, a visitor will walk [through] the Palace… and find himself at the border of a small square, where the Landscape commences… Did he learn the very essence of the Crys- tal Palace[ W]ill he have a desire to visit it once more Nobody knows…
Funny thing is, much of what Brodsky and Utkin say about the visitor walking through the Crystal Palace can also apply to the protagonist of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.
“Pandora first thought they were butterflies, the dozens of winged creatures that flew from inside. She reached for them. Then she caught her breath. Horrified. Each winged creature had the face of a demon. Pandora was paralyzed with disbelief as they flew from the box, hovered a moment so she might look into their empty eyes, then disappeared through the window, out into the world.” – From Cynthia Rylant’sBeautiful Stories of Life: Six Greek Myths, Retold- Illustrated by Carson Ellis