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Read Shaun Tan’s commentary of this picture after exploring the illustration yourself:
This was one of the first images conceived for the book, before I knew what it might even be about. I originally sketched children cowering behind a fence, hunted by a big black dog, but the familiarity of fairytale wolves felt too ‘loaded’, so I transformed the antagonist into a big rabbit. This actually feels more unsettling to me than a wolf – a soft herbivore turned predator. The landscape evolved into a kind of residential area behind old factories, commonly seen around inner Melbourne suburbs where I live. The red sock was added later, adding a mysterious narrative to the picture and offering a natural (if inexplicable) title; and when it came to colouring the rabbit, a deep crimson felt right. It’s not necessarily a demonic rabbit, but might be part of a local mythology known only to these boys. All you know is that it’s probably not a good thing – a contemporary opposite of Clifford the Big Red Dog (a popular children’s character from the 60s).
The water tank and building are compositional details that suggest a fairly dry and bleak backyard, and I get a vague sense of drought when looking at this picture. The light illuminates the space but also seems to trap the figures, pinning them down like insects to a board: nobody can move. It’s like some kind of terrible deadlock, punctuated by restrained breaths and heartbeats, each waiting for the other to make a move. The biggest risk is that the younger boy can’t keep his mouth shut. I think this general feeling of domestic strife is open to all manner of interpretation.
Image credit: Shaun Tan
‘Rules of Summer’
Lothian Books/Hachette Australia