Book Club Review – Have you seen Elephant?


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Author & Illustrator: David Barrow

Publisher: Gecko Press

 

I happened across this little number while meandering through the web on an unrelated mission. I was drawn in to the, seemingly quite small, release by the curious nature of Barrow’s illustrations. He too has joined the ranks of the dirty digital army, utalising thick and organic looking textures and splatters into a digital landscape.

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As I’ve said in previous posts, purists flying the flag of ‘authenticity’ may scoff at this process, but let’s get real. The results are still beautiful and times have changed. FOR THE BETTER.

The illustrative possibilities are endless with the mouse at your fingertips, and I think Barrow has done a cracking job of proving that the digital pencil case is more than capable of capturing the heart, charm and ‘happy accidents’ (however contrived) of any paintbox.

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In it’s entirety, Have you seen Elephant is a story about finding elephant. Job done.

‘Would you like to play hide and seek?’

In the enigmatic manner we expect and embrace from children’s tales, Barrow makes no attempts to establish or formulate the origins of our curious playmate’s visit. And rightly so, the logic and reason behind why or how is joyfully irrelevant. This is about a game, be it real or imaginary…or even somewhere in the middle.

All that matters is that we, alongside our un-named seeker, have been very kindly invited to play in the very first spread. So who are we to decline?

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Singing to the same tune as the talented  and oh so trendy Klassen et al, Barrow’s approach to narrative is one of ‘less is more’. The short narrative follows a classically simple procedure as our seeker explores room to room of his house, hunting desperately for the cunning elephant, eluded by the creature’s hide-and-seek prowess.

‘Not under here…’

As ever, the richness of humor is what keeps this simplicity fresh, and Barrow keeps the hand-scrawled text sparse, instead building our little character’s personality visually, with the pleasing offset of image against word.

Offering a delightful frustration for readers, the incompetence of our seeking protagonist is developed through his mutterings of clueless asides, establishing his oblivion to the, very clearly positioned, elephant in the room.

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Our dear little seeker searches in entertainingly improbable places. There’s a really innocent charm about searching for a large elephant in a small plant pot. Not sure I could get away with it though.

The addition of a silent, clued in mutt, the classic device of the underappreciated sidekick, emphasises our protagonist’s inability even more, boosting the funnies through a little sub narrative for the keen eyed reader to decipher. Similarly, the latter introduction of animals, hidden in the minutia of the environment deliver more seeking opportunities for readers.

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‘I can’t find elephant’

I would have loved to have seen this quality developed further, with background creatures and interactions turning each page into it’s own game of hide and seek. As it stands, a lot of the spreads push the less is more approach a little too far, with only the base components of our hider and seeker and simple environmental touches.

For me, this dilutes the humor of the search when little more other than the core joke is offered from spread to spread, again and again.

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The invitation spread is a favourite of mine. I love the little, background  suggestions of family life that set the scene perfectly, while offering snippets of detail about our seeker’s life.

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That said, the art IS beautiful. Those textures bring a coarse, accidentally-on-purpose mess to the environments and an inspiring set of sunset colour palettes that don’t fail to delight as every page turn reveals a new one.

While the palettes are vibrant, the simplicity of content in every spread create a quietness that carries through the book. Environmental calmness is not at all a bad thing, although here there’s almost an overarching feeling of darkness within the artwork that seems to lean towards lonesome.

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The scenes feel quiet, almost a tad morose and there’s a suggested lack of interest from our seekers family in him or his activities. Heavy lighting in the artwork create dark, almost sinister shadow work which, while beautiful, seem to extract the ‘fun’ from the game.

Even the opening invitation from the elephant, drawn with a   very close positioning of elephant’s face as he warns us ‘[he’s] very good’, does have an almost cautionary air to it.

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‘I must warn you though, I’m VERY good.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way against a darker quirk in children’s books.

My position is that children are pretty hardy and more than capable of deciphering and enjoying more ‘grown up’ looking art styles, a bracket in which I would place Barrow’s work .My only concern in the context of this book, is that I can’t tell if it’s supposed to feel quite so lonely or if the heavy colours and sombre emptiness are simply a slight misjudgement.

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Either way, it is still a joy to look at. And any sense of the macabre are certainly circumvented by the book’s delightful close. Elephant is a gracious playmate and and the tale remains a great example of good, clean fun of children’s games.

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Perhaps if you were desperate to attribute a deeper moral to the tale, you could expand on the lonesome family unit. The lack of human companionship that drives you towards animals.

You could spend your time getting caught up in the perception of elephant’s surprising, opening boast that ‘[he] is very good’. You could assert not to judge a book by it’s cover, that even thought he is large, perhaps he IS good at hiding.

You could say a lot of things.

You, know. If you wanted to.

Personally, I wouldn’t trouble yourself with it. For me I can’t find Elephant is most enjoyable when seen as exactly what it should be. A  good bit of old fashioned, nonsensical fun.

And isn’t that what being a kid is about?

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One thought on “Book Club Review – Have you seen Elephant?

  1. Pingback: The power of pictures was strong in these ones… | Rebecca Bagley Illustration

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