An Interview Without Words Illustrator Shaun Tan Draws Conclusions

Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan recently won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, described as the Nobel Prize of children's literature. He granted an interview to SPIEGEL -- and answered the questions by drawing pictures.

How does an award-winning children's book illustrator answer questions? With drawings, of course. Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan recently gave SPIEGEL an interview -- and expressed himself using just pen and paper.

Tan, who was born in 1974 in Perth, Australia, lives and works as an artist and author in Melbourne. His books include "The Rabbits," "The Red Tree," Tales from Outer Suburbia" and "The Arrival," an acclaimed wordless graphic novel about a migrant who leaves his home country for a better life. He has also worked as a concept artist on animated films, including "Horton Hears a Who" and "Wall-E."

Tan is the winner of this year's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in children's literature. The award, administered by the Swedish Arts Council, comes with an endowment of 5 million Swedish krona (about €544,000 or $777,000).

Read the full SPIEGEL interview below.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Tan, you recently won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, a sort of Nobel Prize for picture book authors. Your success as an an illustrator and author is being celebrated around the world. But you are not yet a household name. Could you please introduce yourself?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Hollywood

SPIEGEL: You worked together with director Andrew Ruhemann to transform your book "The Lost Thing" into a short animated film. The story tells of a strange and seemingly useless being that is constantly overlooked by everybody. As co-directors, you and Ruhemann won the 2011 Oscar for best animated short -- congratulations! As a laid-back Australian, what was your impression of Hollywood?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Readers

SPIEGEL: Your children's books are beloved by kids and adults alike. How do you picture your readers?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Good and Bad Drawings

SPIEGEL: What differentiates a good illustration from a bad one?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On the Workplace

SPIEGEL: What does your workplace look like?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Honors

SPIEGEL: At age 37, you have received the highest honor in your field. What's next?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Skills

SPIEGEL: What skill do you wish you possessed?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Success

SPIEGEL: How does success feel?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Loneliness

SPIEGEL: Your protagonists are, for the most part, lost souls in strange worlds. Is it necessary for an artist to be lonely?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Words

SPIEGEL: Your work generally doesn't use a lot of words. In fact, your story "The Arrival" doesn't have a single word in it. Do you manage to use words so sparingly in the real world as well?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Inspiration

SPIEGEL: Where do you get inspiration for your stories?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On His Vocation

SPIEGEL: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Unused Sketches

SPIEGEL: You once said that your stories often develop from little scribbles and that you create hundreds of these every year. What happens to all the sketches that don't end up becoming part of one of your books?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Love

SPIEGEL: Your books frequently touch on themes like colonialism, depression, loneliness and alienation. But how do you draw love?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On Things that Are Difficult to Draw

SPIEGEL: Is there something that you have tried to draw over and over again, but that you can't seem to get just right?

Foto: Shaun Tan

On His Characters

SPIEGEL: In "The Arrival," you tell the story of a family that leaves its homeland to move to a utopic metropolis. You yourself grew up in the Australian city of Perth as the son of a Malaysian immigrant. The main character in the story is a shy man who is both modest and ambitious -- characteristics often attributed to yourself. How much of Shaun Tan goes into your characters?

Foto: Shaun Tan
Interview conducted by Daniel Sander and Maren Keller
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