One of the reasons I wanted to become a writer is because I love stories. I see them all over the place in the everyday items people use; a well-thumbed book tells me its previous owner flipped through the pages, eager to go on an adventure with beloved characters they’d probably spent hours getting to know. The weathered Angry Bird I wear on my lanyard is a gift from my baby brother when he couldn’t find a keychain that had my name on it. Does my collection of toys and plushies scattered around my room dance every time I leave? Do they welcome each new occupant I bring home from an excursion, eager to see what stories they have to tell? This wonder of small magics has never left me and I was glad to come across a book that shared a similar concept.
I imagine artist Tango Gao sees the world in a similar way, but expresses the brutal beauty that exists in everyday life in a way that’s uniquely his own. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and not sure I ever will again. Backside of the Moon is a collection of these simple stories expressed simply in his expressive drawings, and isn’t a picture worth a thousand words anyway?
Stories can be shown through separate illustrations tied together, other times the artwork expresses itself with hidden lines and meanings that left me laughing with every turn of the page. There are changes of perspective like a turtle piling up sand by the ocean and seeing the sun rise up. When the sun is just high enough the turtle falls down to all fours and his shadow casts a camel on the ground and his pile of sand becomes a pyramid. Other times Gao tricks the eye with a lion wearing a crown at first glance, but upon closer inspection we discover it’s actually a hedgehog on his head with berries placed strategically along its back.
The simplicity of the magic Gao is able to cast feels altogether familiar and new each time a piece of artwork danced across my vision. I’m not artistically inclined myself, but the way he sees small stories and magic stored in the world around him made me want to pick up a brush and start drawing faces and gluing googly eyes to every wayward object in my room. Personality is given to a water cooler that sits dispassionately on its stool, making me imagine it’s idly wondering when it will be empty before something “exciting” happens. A wolf made of stars gazing down at one of its brethren speaks of times long past to me and an unwritten story sliding off the page.
There’s no set narrative throughout this enchanting collection to follow or capture in words, but therein lays Gao’s true talent. Each page kept me enraptured to the end, wondering what changes of perspective he would share or new delights were in store. For anyone who doesn’t have time to “read” a book, Tango Gao’s Backside of the Moon is just the thing to keep you entertained without having to slog through endless words needed to describe even one picture contained within its pages. Honestly, I’m not even sure they could.