The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook

illus. by author. 128p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2013. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-545-46513-7.
Gr 3 Up—A collection of sketches, drafts, and scanned ephemera from the artist who created The Arrival (2007) and Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009, both Scholastic). The initial section, "untold stories," is a series of visuals and captions, sometimes inspired by the accompanying turn of phrase and sometimes only illuminated by it, like a particularly enigmatic New Yorker cartoon. The "book, theatre, and film" section contains images familiar to readers of Tan's other works, while the "drawings from life" and closing "notebooks" sections are excellent examples of the skill and practice required of an inventive illustrator. Not only can one see the breadth of Tan's technical ability here, but the reproduction of the originals is also top-notch; the marginalia of its origins intact with creases, scuffs, erasures, and signs of assembly all photographically preserved. These show the work and the physical reality of getting to an end product, as well as revealing, by implication, the gradual process of creative invention. While not so much a graphic novel or an illustrated book, this is an excellent archive of what might be found if one peeks into the recesses of an artist's portfolio. For those interested in illustration as a career, it could be a superb, if daunting, inspiration.—Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH
A fascinating look at the creative process of one of the most celebrated and inventive graphic novelists at work today. The short essays interspersed throughout the book provide helpful context for readers to understand how Shaun Tan uses his notebooks and sketches. For example, he says, “unfortunately the original ideas that inspire a project can easily be clouded or forgotten along the way. Quick sketches are an essential means of recording some of this source energy, like pinning ephemeral butterflies to the page, a library of fresh impressions that can be used for later reference.” Despite their simplicity, the drawings show a tremendous amount of variety. Some are in color, some are black and white; they vary in size; and they include a wide range of mediums, from pencil and ballpoint pen to oils, pastels, and more.

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