Shaun Tan is a storyteller who doesn’t need words. Asked to talk about his book, The Rules of Summer, he said, ‘This is not a linear story. It is a collection of images from which stories can be made by individual readers and viewers.’
The book is about two boys who interact with each other during their long summer holidays from school. Perhaps they are brothers. Perhaps not, according to the way you read the book. Their body language, the colours used in the art work, the various environments the boys are placed in, all have the potential to mean different things according to the life experiences the viewer brings to
the ‘reading’ of the book. Shaun describes this process as ‘leaving gaps’ and I for one believe that every story needs them. These gaps serve to invite the reader in to the story and allow them to make it their own, to apply their own personal interpretations and meanings. In the same way Shaun places anomalies and visual question marks within his pictures. He juxtaposes odd images and out-of-place creatures in the scenes leaving little puzzles to be solved – or not. Whether or not readers notice these metaphors and symbols doesn’t matter. The core image is enhanced, not diminished, and that particular reader will bring other meanings to the story. Meanings that are more relevant to their own needs. They will expand the story in their own way and make the experience more satisfying, not less.
It takes a certain type of genius to do what Shaun Tan does. I feel privileged to know him and have access to his work.