Shaun Tan's The Arrival (2007) is a hypnotic book, wordless and revelatory. Tan does astonishing things with narrative flow. He uses the energy of the white space between panels, as well as the size and scale of his images to pace the reader through this unusual tale. Tan is even able to seamlessly move in and out of flashbacks and memories, without making the story confusing or bloated. (Aside: Somebody should use this as a text in a class about narrative structure.)
The story, incidentally, centers on the immigrant experience. A man leaves his family, gets on a boat, and goes elsewhere. We are attached to his particular experience. But in that we are never sure exactly where he's coming from or where he's going, his story is elevated to the allegorical.
Tan's extraordinary art looks like historical photorealism, drawing from the iconography of old-style photo albums (even the large format of the book evokes this), but The Arrival is shot through with the fantastic. It is a strange and surreal world that the immigrant has arrived at, and it is a mesmerizing experience as a reader to share in his unfamiliarity.
"A visual feast," is how this book was described when it was put in my hands. That, and more.