Dog by Shaun Tan

cover image

Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760526139.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Dog (2020) is a reissue of a story published in 2018 in Tales from the inner city, which explored many vistas of city life and the relationship between the city and its inhabitants. In this excerpt, Dog, Tan explores the relationship between humans and dogs, showing the continuous cycle of life and death, of rebirth and renewal, seen through the panoply of time and place.
'Every time I see people walking their dogs at my local park, I never cease to be heartened by the endurance and affection of this bond, its strangeness, its apparent naturalness' (Tan, included as an afterword in this book)
He goes on to tell stories of dogs mourning their owners' deaths, one waiting patiently at a railway station for nine years, underlining the bond that exists between people and their dogs.
Over millennia, dogs have been brave, loyal, trusted companions, and Tan shows this in his glorious images produced with thickly applied oil paint, covering each double page.
In the beginning a person and a dog see each other across the way and walk together side by side. Tan shows the pair walking across the yellow sun lit pages, a stunning contrast to the pages which follow: black, greys and dark blues showing a death, separation and a decline in the relationship between human and dog. Following, Tan's half dozen or so pages uncover the progress of history. In great luminous spreads of colour, Tan reveals a range of historical eras, fires, ice ages, the advent of agriculture, the industrial revolution, the rise of the railway and roads, the last unveiling a look passing between a dog and a woman on the other side of the road. They come together, appropriately on a zebra crossing, and walk on as if they have never been apart. In this way the pair seem destined to walk together for millennia to come, a natural place for both to be, a stunningly positive note on which to end.
Tan's images are stunning, with hints of Jeffrey Smart adding to their realistic portrayal of our surrounds. The swathes of colour across each page recall journeys, roads, destinations, pilgrimages, bridges, rail lines, as the person hunts, fishes, toils in the field, fights in a war.
Children will pore over the images, reading the sparse prose for greater elucidation, developing their understandings of how an exceptional artist works.
Themes: Understanding, Dogs, History.
Fran Knight