Home > Books, Novels & Writing, Graphics & Illustration, People, Things I Like... > Synchroncity, Maurice Sendak & Shaun Tan

Synchroncity, Maurice Sendak & Shaun Tan

If you’ve read much of this blog, you’ll know that I’m quite drawn to the concept of synchronicity: when you get an idea about something, and then unlooked for, a series of other things occur that reinforce the original idea or suggest some previously unthought of connectivity…

All of which rather involved introduction is by way of an explanation as to why I’ve chosen now to write about one the greatest living American writer and illustrators, Maurice Sendak.

It all started when I found my original copy of Where the Wild Things Are at my mum’s house at Christmas. I remember as a kid I loved this book so much, with its beautiful pictures of Max dancing in his wolf suit and the Wild Things dancing on their island, that when I couldn’t find it about 10 years or so ago, I had to go out and buy a new copy..

Written and illustrated in 1963, Sendak’s wonderful book is rightly regarded as a classic, telling the simple story of a boy’s dreamtime  journey over the seas to a land of monsters where he becomes their king by taming them with magic and then gets everyone to dance the wild rumpus before sending them all off to bed without any supper…

The creator of over 100 books, Sendak’s work has always been deeply grounded in a respect for children, generally giving them more credit than their parents, as he says himself “The point of my books has always been to ask how children cope with a monumental problem that happens instantly and changes their lives forever, but then they have to go on living, and can’t discuss the problem with anyone. No one will take the time.”

Interestingly this (very) short story was made into a film a few years back by Spike Jonze, a film which I’ve only seen once on the back of an airplane seat when we were travelling, and which at the time I thought overly emphasised the darker elements of the story, missing the colour and joy of the original illustrations. I must get round to seeing it again, give it another chance.

Anyway a week or so ago we were in Edinburgh and as I was rooting about in one of the seemingly thousands of charity shops there, I came across a little Puffin book from 1971 written by Robert Graves, called The Big Green Book with illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

It seems that Graves was challenged to write a children’s story and asked Sendak to illustrate it. It’s rather an odd thing to be honest, in which Jack, a little boy who lives with his aunt and uncle, discovers a magic book, makes himself old and then invisible and then proceeds to con his aunt and uncle out of all their money and then their house by cheating at cards, hardly a moral tale then…

Needless to say though, the little black and white drawings are, as with all Sendak’s work, beautifully evocative, full of rich textures and wit… (apologies for the rather poor scans, I didn’t want to break the spine!)

The final piece in the jigsaw was when I read that the Australian illustrator Shaun Tan had won this years Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize in Stockholm, a prestigious prize for writers and illustrators of children’s books that was won in its inaugural year (2003) by, you guessed it, Maurice Sendak, when he was credited with “changing the entire landscape of the modern picture book – thematically, aesthetically and psychologically”

So three very good reasons to write about one of the most original and gifted illustrators of the last 50 years, I hope you agree.

And whilst we’re on the subject, Shaun Tan is himself a very, very gifted individual, and someone who has also been on my list of people to write about.

His work is layered and clever, taking seemingly simple ideas like unfamiliarity and uncertainty then creating highly original and beautiful images to illustrate these predicaments.

I especially like The Lost Thing and the truly excellent Tales From Outer Suburbia, an anthology of short illustrated stories, where something odd occurs in an otherwise familiar setting, causing ordinary people to act in surprising ways.  Check out the wonderful images below for a small taste of the man’s genius…

  1. wong
    June 14, 2011 at 17:32

    shaun tan rocks – didn’t know about him – thanking you

    • June 15, 2011 at 08:38

      Cheers matey, It’s about time I introduced you to something new… Jx

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