Deep sea divers. Little leaf men. Suburban water buffalo and lost dugongs. Giant mechanical penguins and getaway cars filled with turtles. All these arresting, ingenious images and so much more await the lucky reader who enters Tan’s whimsical world of “Outer Suburbia.” Not quite a graphic novel, not quite a picture book, this strange amalgamation of pictures and prose (some only a page long) reads like a collection of colorful and creative detritus Tan discovered in the crooked corners of his superior imagination that he then picked up, dusted off, and polished into small, perfect gems. “Eric,” which chronicles the adventures of a small exchange student who marvels at the complexity of his host’s home, will immediately bring to mind Tan’s gorgeously wrought The Arrival, his wordless homage to the immigrant spirit. Others gently emphasize themes of hope, peace and bravery in the face of adversity. Like “Alert But Not Alarmed,” where a neighborhood finds a way to humorously re-purpose the missiles the government requires them to keep in their backyards. Or “No Other Country,” where a family, fed up with the dry, arid environment of their new home, discovers a lush hidden courtyard that exists only in that sweet geographical spot, giving them cause to appreciate a place they used to loathe. In this celebratory season where I am part of a community that often argues over competing holiday symbols, I was especially moved by “The Nameless Holiday.” Here, Tan describes in both words and pictures a holiday that moves around the calendar and is characterized by everyone choosing the object they love most. These treasures are then left hanging on the television antenna as an offering for a giant reindeer, who carefully carries them away, making the participants feel special and chosen instead of regretful and sad. Depending on how you feel or where you are when you open this wonderful tome, the stories will seem sad, happy, hopeful or tragic. But they all share one thing in common—they are born of Tan’s unique and singular vision and therefore are simply not to be missed.
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan