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Cicada h/c

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Cicada h/c back

Shaun Tan


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Cicada work in tall building.
"Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.
"No sick day. No mistake.
"Tok Tok Tok!"

Deep inside one of a thousand, grey windowless skyscrapers - identical save for the amount of sky that they scrape - sits a solitary cicada, dutifully at his desk.

That grey disk sits within a grey cubicle, within a seeming maze of other grey cubicles, identical save for the fact that the rest are all empty.

"Seventeen year. No promotion.
"Human resources say cicada not human.
"Need no resources.
"Tok Tok Tok!

Quite evidently he needs no appreciation, either. Literally, it has been a thankless task.

While the humans clock off work on time whether their work is finished or not, our cicada remains until his work is done. He is diligent.

He's also homeless, living hidden in one of the walls. He's not paid enough to afford rent.

Nor is he allowed in the human washroom. Instead he has to scuttle downtown, twelve blocks, the timed docked from his wages.

Then there are the beatings.

"Human co-worker no like cicada.
"Say things. Do things.
"Think cicada stupid.
"Tok Tok Tok!"

That painting is particularly clever. The humans tower above the cicada, knocked down on his back and therefore helpless to move. The co-worker who doesn't like our cicada presses his highly polished shoe down on the data entry clerk's chest, bringing his full weight to bear, while the other bears silent, collaborative witness. We're looking in, as if through a door, as if in collusion. That element's ambiguous: it could be other workers or even the boss observing; or it could be signalling that the beating is being meted out in secret. Either way, that door or cubicle wall adds another unsettlingly element to the evidence.

"Seventeen year. Cicada retire.
"No party. No handshake.
"Boss say clean desk.
"Tok! Tok! Tok!"

And then it really grows worrying as the cicada, now homeless, heads for the rooftop, alone.

This being Shaun Tan, however, you're in for quite the surprise. In fact, you're in for several.

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL (also available as a smaller softcover), ERIC, TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, TALES FROM THE INNER CITY, THE RABBITS, THE SINGING BONES and so much more (please pop him into our search engine, and don't forget his sequential-art story in I FEEL MACHINE!), what is no surprise either is another poignant approach to how we treat each other, especially when they are 'other'.

That our cicada is not allowed in the human restroom and is made to travel miles speaks of segregation, of racism, as seen in the film 'Hidden Figures' starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.

Anyway, dear, dear soulless corporations, and their dehumanization and dismissal of those who work hardest to make them all their lovely money! Ingratitude is to take others for granted, and to fail to appreciate what they contribute to the world - even that of the workplace - and in this world of grey only the cicada harbours any colour, although he's had to hide most of it inside his shirt, suit and tie.

For now...