Hartnett and Masciullo join forces to create an insightful critique of humanities biological vs. mechanical engagement with the world around them. In a subtle way these authors are challenging the x-box generation to reconnect with the living world. The Boy and the Toy is visually reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s work and also deals with the idea of an alienated object or ‘thing’. Interestingly, the fate of the Toy remains unresolved within the text and can be viewed as ‘the other’ within the world of the inventor. Much like Frankenstein’s monster the Toy is created and discarded, as it will never be “a good friend to you.”
The distinctly Asian design and layout of The Two Bullies creates a sense of authenticity within Morimoto’s work. Using an upright, calendar layout, allows The Two Bullies to retain vertical connection to the original Japanese script from which it has been translated. Within the picture book Morimoto explores the nature of fear and control and indicates that the appearance of power is often as effective as power itself. The use of subsequent zooming and low angle drawings accentuates the power of the two bullies and emphasises the dominant position they hold within their respective societies. By transforming a cultural myth into a picture book, Morimoto is validating the medium of visual text as a conduit for cultural construct.
Heffernan and Sheehan ask their readers, “How do we find happiness, and … how can we hold onto it?” Interestingly, the protagonist of The Island is a blind urchin who alone amongst the tribe shows insight into the nature of happiness. Much like Shakespeare’s King Lear, who forsook eyesight in order to find insight, the urchin gains an appreciation of the world that his fellow villagers lack. The creature, which embodies happiness within the text, is depicted in a myriad of colours. As the tribes people incarcerate the creature in order to hold onto their happiness its colour begins to fade into a grey shadow of its former splendour. Throughout The Island, Heffernan and Sheehan present the idea that sustainable happiness requires reciprocated freedom and joy. Once the villagers begin to feed on the creature for their happiness, it can no longer sustain them. Long sombre faces and black and white sketching are used to depict the unhappiness of the tribe in the absence of the creature. The Island uses a highly developed narrative to support the accompanying visual text, white space is minimal and readers are left with a content rich depiction of the urchin’s journey.
The Enemy is a timely reminder of the universal nature of the human spirit and the need for empathy in the face of conflict. Bloch and Cali use an expanse of white space to represent the futility of war and position the reader to appreciate the emptiness that results from hatred. The colour red is used to emphasis key moments of violence and hate within The Enemy. Interestingly, the “manual” is also coloured red highlighting the violence of false propaganda. In essence, Bloch and Cali’s picture book is a plea for readers to recognise the futility of war and see the “man” rather than the “monster” when looking at “the enemy”.
Having spent time with Shaun Tan in a small group workshop shortly after the publication of The Lost Thing, this picture book held great appeal to me as I re-read it recently. The layers of meaning and blending of visual/verbal text within his work, allow Tan to engage with a truly diverse readership. The Lost Thing within Tan’s picture book is emblematic of a number of social and political concerns. A social inability to appreciate the lost things in life, serves as the catalyst for Tan’s dystopic appropriation of Jeffrey Smart’s cityscapes. Tan himself acknowledges Smart on the final page of The Lost Thing, where in tiny upside down writing, we find “apologies to Jeffrey Smart.” Tan’s critique of modern consumerism and hyper industrialised living creates a vivid reminder that what is lost must be found.