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Shaun Tan the Arrival

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Using a subtle blend of aspects borrowed from sequential and storybook art, The Arrival is a graphic novel which explores the journey of a migrant. The experiences are conveyed through illustrations that, through the monochromatic sepia color palette, crinkled texture and page layout, resemble old memories and photographs; lending the story the authenticity and inclusivity that are associated with family albums. The wordless nature of the story emphasizes the protagonist’s inability to communicate with those around him, and the term ‘alienation’ is realized in the literal representations of the new country with its alien creatures. Most of the surrounding peoples’ faces are in blurred and in shadow, suggesting the unwelcoming and impersonalized feeling the persona experiences. War-torn countries are depicted as under attack of giants bearing flamethrowers and gigantic tentacles; or a city that appears vast and labyrinthine. These visual metaphors represents the struggles of ‘finding one’s way’ through the hostile environment and the oppressive power of authorities.

The persona’s family’s symbol of their place homeland is an origami bird. This becomes a leitmotif as it appears in their kitchen and, later in the text, their letters to one another. However, as the persona and begins to find his sense of belonging in the new country, the bird is replaced with the creature befriended by the persona: which has, in itself, become a characterisation of the protagonist’s growing acceptance of, and by, the new society. The persona’s frustration and distress as he arrives in the new country are portrayed through body language, size and angles. He is initially unrecognizable in a full-page high-angle image of the tiny migrants, with the enormous city in the background.

Upon completing tests and being literally labeled by the examiners, twelve frames are devoted to his fruitless attempts of communication, punctuated by the scratching of his head, the burying of his face in his hands, the shrugging of his shoulders, and, ultimately, the resigned wringing of his hat and looking away. He is the only figure on the entire page, underlining his complete isolation. As the responder, we feel as though we are responsible for this lack of understanding, as it appears the man is talking out of the book at us, as though in the second person. This is juxtaposed by the persona’s body language and angles later in the text, as he finds a family to which he can relate. He finds himself sharing a frame with another man, in an uninterrupted sequence of eye-level shots. The man presses his hands to his chest in an understanding gesture, puts his arm around the protagonist, and invites him home. It is in this family’s kitchen that the images are once again, following a long era of bleak grey, illustrated in a golden sepia tone symbolizing the persona’s renewed hope, and this is the first time he is depicted smiling.

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