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Archive for October 25th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

A picture paints a thousand words.

In some instances an accomplished poet may only require a few words to evoke an image, while others negotiate greater length and an abundance of detail to paint a convincing picture.  Yet for all the power of language and suggestion, there are occasions where the former, no matter how ornate or grandiloquent can equal the power of the illustration, which only the sense of sight can negotiate, setting the foundation for word corroboration.  There is validity to the old cliche “I must see it with my own eyes to believe it” though when communicative prowess is compromised by language incompatibility the visual image takes on universal significance, setting the bar for storytelling that eschews written interpretation for the unique power of the artist.  In Drawn Together by Minh Lee, with illustrations by Dan Santat, an Americanized grandson and an Asian patriarch find in short order that there is an irreconcilable cultural gap which can’t be bridged by language or interests but can be summarily erased by illustrative creativity.  To that end this assumed octogenarian and grammar school student engage in a shared activity that transports the mind’s eye to fantastical places ensconced in their common heritage.

After a dedication-copyright page where a mother watches her boy head off under a dazzling multicolored title Santat offers up eight rectangular vignettes in wordless mode, chronicling the boy’s chagrined if respectful arrival at Grandpa’s townhouse, a visit that appears to be far more appreciated by the elder, who sports the kind of glowing smile reserved for loved ones.  A cultural divide is introduced at the dinner table, where the erstwhile aficionado of traditional cuisine opts for a noodle dish while the boy’s main course is an American staple, a hot dog and french fries.  Grandpa will use chop sticks, the boy a fork to further differentiate Asian and Western preferences.  The boy’s rhetorical entry point is a line he’s no doubt employed many times in the past, one where his expectations are always the same.  So…what’s new, Grandpa?  The response is indecipherable for the boy, who in all probability has little felicity in the tongue mastered by his elders, so briefly unable to respond to each other the two eat quietly pondering their next move.  Thinking his grandson will connect with Asian sci-fi the two watch from a couch, but soon the boy is bored and requests that the channel be changed.  Grandpa eyes his charge wearily, but stays the course.  The boy rises and walks over to his knapsack under the inquisitive eye of Grandpa who remains briefly unable to figure out what the boy is up to.  The youngster soon draws a boy wizard, which the target readers may equate to a variation on Harry Potter, but the arc of Drawn Together heads off into a wholly original realm.  Finally Grandpa understands the proposal and in no time picks up the gauntlet.  This time it is the boy who is incredulous as Grandpa is more than equipped to respond in kind.  His own mode of transport is a black covered sketch book which he sets beside the boys paper short stack.  Le sets the central mise en scene as an innocuous equivalent of a warrior taking up the challenge of an opponent.  Right when I gave up on talking, my grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words.   (more…)

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