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Bird King and other sketches by Shaun Tan

The Bird King and other sketches

a review by Nalini Haynes

The Bird King and other sketches is a collection of sketches or less developed works by Shaun Tan. Tan has retained artistic control of the publication in order to achieve a more casual, authentic, even understated publication. This collection of works includes images such as Summoning, which would be familiar to Tan’s fans. However, the focus of the book is as a visual art diary of sorts, showing undeveloped or developing works and even sketches done of landscapes on holiday.

I fell in love with Tan’s The Arrival when it was placed in my hands for an all too short perusal then locked back in a cupboard for safekeeping. It is Tan’s storytelling ability coupled with his artistic skill that makes his work such a pleasure. Never before had I seen images without words that conveyed a story so effectively. The pencil sketches are detailed with a beautiful, soft tonal quality.

The Bird King presents bits of story and characters in development or that have been left incomplete. Some of the works are more spontaneous, rougher than Tan’s usual published style, which is something he wanted to reveal in this publication. The works vary from pencil to pastel, pen and even paint. At the book launch, Tan said he wanted the book to be in the same moleskin style and size of his normal sketch book. In addition to this Tan appears to sketch on various available surfaces as is indicated by the scanned images of slightly rumpled pages that add texture and authenticity to this exhibition.

Water Buffalo perfectly captures the essence of The Bird King, by exhibiting an incredible imagination and artistic skill whilst revealing a delightful sense of humour. A child asks for directions and the monstrous water buffalo is pointing the way.

The Bird King and other sketches is a collector’s item for any SF/Fantasy or artistic person. The only downside – some images go across the gutter.


This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 1, October 2010, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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