Picture Books

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A picture paints a deeper story

An old saying is that a "picture paints a thousand words." Anyone who has had the luck to see the work of Shaun Tan will agree, art can be used to tell intricate visual stories. His picture books such as ‘The Red Tree’ and ‘ Rules of Summer’ are visual masterpieces that speak more than the few small words that accompany them.

Often in society today we still privilege the written word to the exclusion of all else. I think it would be interesting to discuss the use of symbolism, allegory and imagery in "silent" graphic novels and picture books to tell a wordless story that is much deeper than any written version could have been. It might be nice to have a discussion of various picture books, graphic novels or even full size mural art pieces that are designed to tell a visual (wordless) story, and what this means for the viewer.

  • This could be absorbed into your Adult Picture Books topic suggestion, but I still like it so thumbs up from me :) – Amyus 4 years ago
  • @Amyus, I agree, I did write this one and then thought about it and wrote the other. I think there is a lot to discuss so it could easily be two separate pieces, but it absolutely could be incorporated into the other. I suppose one of the elements here could be to discuss the "universal/international" interpretations of these silent books and how different cultures would interpret the visual cues? – SaraiMW 4 years ago
  • Fair point, Sarai. I stand corrected. :) – Amyus 4 years ago

Adult Picture Books

Firstly, I am not using "adult" as an innuendo for pornography or erotica, I actually mean adult as in the state of being over 18. Picture books are often relegated to being considered only of value to very young children. Although recent artists and writers have been producing work that fits into the young adult category, there is very little that would be categorised as an adult picture book that does not then become a graphic novel. Largely this is a matter of categorisation, as publishers are uncomfortable with the idea of an adult picture book, and that many people too would not be comfortable purchasing one. Yet those picture books that end up categorised as young adult are usually very mature in their subject matter, dealing with issues as diverse as mental health, sexuality, grief and death, love and social responsibility. A prime example of this is Shaun Tan’s ‘The Red Tree’ shows the journey of a girl through a myriad of situations in a dark world that we would recognise: isolation in a crowd, depression and anxiety, feeling trapped by a situation, loneliness, a loss of direction, a loss of self, all without engaging in any writing and yet this is still considered as only a children’s book. Another example is ‘Meh’ by Deborah Malcolm about a boys experience of depression, and then there is ‘Michael Rosen’s Sad Book’ by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake that depicts a father’s grief and mourning for his son, it even comes with a warning about the serious and realistic depiction of grief. Graphic novels and comics used to suffer from this assumption of immaturity, but many are now comfortably accepted as being adult-only.

So why is it that we still cannot accept that a book that is primarily full of pictures can be for adults, and by extension may actually have something very real and important to say?

  • I love the take you're having with picture books. You may add how parents tend to read picture books for their child's benefit, yet they can also benefit from it. Also, there has to be adults that go back to the picture books they used to read. Perhaps you can find articles on that. – Yvonne T. 4 years ago