Welcome to the World of Shaun Tan: Creativity, Playfulness & Sheer Madness

Meet the Australian children’s books author and illustrator Shaun Tan.

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The Lost Thing is a 15 minute animated short film based on a picture book of the same name published in 1999. The Lost Thing is a humorous story about a boy who discovers a bizarre-looking creature while out collecting bottle-tops at a beach. Having guessed that it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but the problem is met with indifference by everyone else, who barely notice its presence. Each is unhelpful in their own way; strangers, friends, parents are all unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to day-to-day life. In spite of his better judgement, the boy feels sorry for this hapless creature and attempts to find out where it belongs.

The Red Tree: Published in 2001, The Red Tree is a story without any particular narrative; a series of distinct imaginary worlds as self-contained images which invite readers to draw their own meaning in the absence of any written explanation.  The Red Tree follows  the story of a lonely red-headed girl through her day as she passes helplessly through many dark moments, yet ultimately finds something hopeful at the end of her journey. The book can be downloaded here (although we do recommend you buy it if you can afford it).


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The Arrival: The Arrival, published in 2006, is a migrant’s story told as a series of wordless images that seem to be from some long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.

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Creativity, playfulness and sheer madness: “Books don’t come about from very clearly formed ideas but kind of from madness, nonsense.”

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Creativity: Tan discusses his work environment: “It is important that when you are doing creative work, do not worry about the quality of it, because often the best ideas that come to light are doggy-looking, bad drawings.”

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More of Shaun Tan Work can be found here.

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