cover image THE VIEWER


Gary Crew, , illus. by Shaun Tan. . Simply Read, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-894965-02-6

Ominous words and violent imagery fuel this dystopia, which is equal parts science fiction and life-as-we-know-it. Crew and Tan (previously teamed for The Memorial ) introduce Tristan, a curious boy who tinkers with discarded objects. In the junkyard one day, Tristan discovers a box covered in obscure hieroglyphs. Inside are various lenses and scopes and an unusual bronze mask with glaring eyes. Three metallic discs, each with nine images around its perimeter, fit this apparatus, and Tristan cannot resist looking into it. The artist likens these concentric circles, which appear on the right side of each spread, to mandalas, compasses and cyclical calendars, and he matches the iris of Tristan's astonished eye—peering through the viewer (on the left page)—to a mechanical camera shutter. As the boy scans the first disc's snapshots of fighting dinosaurs, a roaring sabre-tooth tiger and a caveman, he hears "raucous cries of human beings." With the next disc, alongside the sound of "the grinding of stone against stone," the artist pictures ancient wonders (e.g., Stonehenge, Easter Island); the third shows bloody scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry and Bruegel ("He heard the clash of steel upon steel"). When he goes to sleep that night, Tristan feels that he is "no longer alone." The next day, Tan presents an Escher-inspired scene of the boy's room, as if viewed by the mask itself. When Tristan looks at the discs, their content has changed to haunting images of the colonial era, world war and present-day pollution. Crew's language is foreboding, while Tan loads his marvelous, shadowy images with post-apocalyptic clutter. The audience can almost feel the power that the mask exudes in this unsettling walk through history and its cautionary perspective. Ages 6-11. (Apr.)