The Arrival

Created by: Shaun Tan

ISBN: 0734406940 (Amazon)

Pages: 128

The Arrival

The immigrant experience isn’t the kind of monolithic thing that can actually be described using definite articles like “the.” It’s not as if every immigrant’s entry into a new culture follows a singular, well-trod path. The circumstances of each individual’s introduction to and incorporation into a new national heritage are as diverse and variegated as the expatriated themselves. Still, there are certain commonalities that often crop up in every new experience — every immigrating instance — whether moving from one nation to another or simply moving from L.A. to Seattle. Or taking a new job or attending a new school.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

What Shaun Tan does in The Arrival — and does marvelously — is propose a cross-section of these immigrant experiences in such a way that even the reader who has never breached his own comfort zone might empathize. Tan offers to involve the curious into an experience that is confusing, disorienting, and alienating. That is, Tan wants to make us all immigrants for the space of his book. And he succeeds wildly.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival, for all its pages filled with complicated, detailed artwork, plays only one note. It has only one theme, only one agenda. The Arrival is simple and will not be distracted from its only purpose. To say that Tan’s book plays one note should not be confused for saying that the book is one-note in any pejorative sense. It may not juggle two fistfuls of interweaving themes and character arcs. It may not demand seven consecutive reads in order to discover its meanings. It doesn’t need to. The Arrival does what it intends to and does it so very well that it doesn’t need anything else. In fact, the addition of more plot elements or thematic directions would probably only serve to detract from the compelling work that Tan has delivered.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival follows the experiences of a man who leaves his wife and daughter behind in order to pave a new path and new fortune for them in a land brimming with possibilities. He’s abandoned a country beset by grave ills but his road through his new home is anything but smooth. He does not speak the language, does not recognize the customs, and misses his family terribly. He is a man lost and Tan pulls the reader into his experience first by making the book silent, cutting all dialogue or narration. Then, mounting on this already sturdy platform of alienation, Tan introduces a world filled with bizarre contraptions, foods, sciences, and rituals — and then asks us shuffle along with his protagonist. It’s wondrous and frustrating all at once. We feel for the poor immigrant because if it’s hard on us (outside the book with no investment greater than personal interest), then it’s exponentially more difficult for him, with his wife and child and their survival on the line.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Silent comics have long struck me as a gimmick. One of the first Marvel comics I ever bought was G.I. Joe #21. It was called “Silent Interlude” and had no dialogue. As a young, inexperienced comics reader, I found it baffling and wondered if every G.I. Joe book was similarly quiet. The book demonstrated to me, even as a young reader, that silent comics were a cheap trick. This conclusion was drilled into me several times over the years as I encountered a handful of other silent books (e.g., the Spider-Man response to September 11th, 2001, Korgi, Eric Drooker’s Bloodsong, the silent work of Jason, etc.). None of these seemed to use silence to any narratively purposeful end and in none of these cases was the story magnified by its lack of words. The Arrival is the first work I’ve read in which silence is essential to the experience. Tan uses the absence of dialogue, narrative balloons, or sound effects to propel his story and any verbal addition would doubtlessly hinder his purpose.

The Arrival is one of the very best comics experiences I’ve ever encountered and is well worth your time.


Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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