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Tan, Shaun

Entry updated 7 November 2022. Tagged: Artist, Author.

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(1974-    ) Australian artist and author. As a teenage artist with an interest in science fiction, the precocious Tan published his first illustration in 1990, a strikingly coloured image of a kangaroo staring at an enormous Moon, for the cover of the second issue of the Australian magazine Aurealis; he also entered the Illustrators of the Future contest (see Writers of the Future Contest) in 1992, finishing as a finalist, and began doing occasional book covers. After graduating from the University of Western Australia in 1995 with a joint degree in Fine Arts and English Literature, he began his career as a freelance artist and author. As an author, Tan has published several playful stories for younger readers, which he invariably illustrates; these tend to be strange, surreal, and difficult to categorize, and can excel in their ability to project a genuinely childlike perspective. Of greater interest is almost certainly his wordless Graphic Novel, The Arrival (graph 2006), an adult tale depicting the unnamed protagonist's emigration from an unnamed land (perhaps somewhere in Eastern Europe) to a land resembling a dream America and/or Australia (and a City that at least initially resembles an Iconic Steampunk New York), though the endpapers – which contain portraits of sixty separate individuals in a style evocative of the Rejects and Models series from around 1990 by Marlene Dumas (1953-    ) – signal the tale's strong focus on the intimate fates of humans caught in the world. As the protagonist slowly learns how to make do, the great megalopolis around him gradually morphs into an increasingly Animate inscape of urban life, a vision of Carceri (see Giovanni Battista Piranesi) at their most clement, its skies full of surreally elaborated Airships [for Animate/Inanimate see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. His family now arrives, having traveled by Balloon. The rendering of the city as meaningful to its inhabitants is here as intensely accomplished, and as challenging to the anti-urban bias of much Fantastika, as China Miéville's The City & the City (2009).

With the exception of The Arrival, however, Tan has garnered more attention in the field for his artwork, which has displayed remarkable versatility and creativity. An early cover for the twelfth issue of Aurealis, showing beetles crawling on a map of Australia, demonstrated a flair for meticulous realism, but he earned a Ditmar Award for his cover for the nineteenth issue of Eidolon, showing an Alien's face seemingly made up of butterflies. And for the cover of Steve Utley and Howard Waldrop's Custer's Last Jump (in Universe 6, anth 1976, ed Terry Carr; chap 1997), Tan carefully mimicked the style of nineteenth-century illustrations in depictions of General George Custer, a Native American, and an alien landscape. Shown these three, very different covers, few would guess that they were the work of the same artist. Regrettably, as writing and illustrating children's books increasingly occupied his time, Tan gradually stopped painting book covers for adult sf, although he did provide covers for several books by Sara Douglass (1957-2011) and Sean Williams, who evidently preferred his work. While continuing to produce children's books, including some elusive items from minor Australian publishers, Tan also launched a new career in animation with The Lost Thing (2010), an adaptation of his graphic story The Lost Thing (2000 chap), which earned the Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Short Animated Film in 2011.

Since he has not recently illustrated any adult sf, it might seem surprising that he earned the Hugo award as Best Professional Artist in 2010, though The Arrival had become well-known by that year, and 2011, when it indirectly but unmistakably honoured the animated The Lost Thing; these honours presumably reflect both widespread admiration for his artistry in general and the growing importance of children's and Young Adult literature to the field. His numerous other awards include three World Fantasy Awards, three Locus Awards, five Aurealis Awards, six Ditmar Awards, and a Spectrum Award – all earned before Tan reached the age of 40, indicating just how much his artwork has impressed his peers. [GW/JC]

Shaun Chi Yeong Tan

born Fremantle, Western Australia: 15 January 1974

works (possibly incomplete)

  • The Playground (Melbourne, Victoria: Lothian Books, 1998) [chap: young adult fiction: number 28 in the After Dark series: pb/Shaun Tan]
    • The Haunted Playground (United States: Stone Arch Books, 2007) [vt of the above: republished in 2007 as The Haunted Playground: hb/Shaun Tan]
  • The Lost Thing (Melbourne, Victoria: Lothian Books, 2000) [chap: young adult fiction: hb/Shaun Tan]
  • The Red Tree (Melbourne, Victoria: Lothian Books, 2001) [chap: young adult fiction: hb/Shaun Tan]
  • Tales from Outer Suburbia (Sydney, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin, 2008) [coll: young adult fiction: hb/Shaun Tan]
  • The Odditoreum (Sydney, New South Wales: Powerhouse Publishing, 2009) [coll: chap: young adult fiction: stories inspired by items in the Powerhouse Museum: "Powerhouse Museum" credited as co-author on cover: pb/Shaun Tan]
  • Eric (Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin, 2010) [chap: illus/hb/Shaun Tan]
  • The Oopsatoreum: Inventions of Henry A Milcox (Sydney, New South Wales: Powerhouse Publishing, 2012) [coll: chap: young adult fiction: "Powerhouse Museum" credited as co-author on cover: pb/Shaun Tan]
  • Tales from the Inner City (New York: Arthur A Levine, 2013) [coll: graph: hb/Shaun Tan]

graphic works


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