This is Not a Book

This Is Not A Book

Jean Jullien

Phaidon board book,

9780714871127; AUD $19.95

So…if this is not a book, what is it?

With nearly half a million Instagram followers, Jean Jullien is among the most visible illustrators today. His work became even more widely known after the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015, when Islamist terrorists killed 130 people. Jean Jullien drew the Peace for Paris image of the Eiffel Tour in a circle, which was rapidly copied around the world as a sign of solidarity and support for the people of Paris.

Jullien’s work doesn’t usually has such political weight. More often there is a lightness and playfulness continually surprising the viewer. This Is Not a Book fits easily alongside the work of Hervé Tullet, master of the book as plaything.

Jullien’s work often has a trompe-l’œil quality, and he seems to delight in muddling perspectives as much as he thrives on mixing materials. In many of his pictures we are invited, or slyly challenged to ask, what exactly it is we are seeing? Jullien used this quality to brilliant effect in Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise (Candlewick 2015) his book with Sean Taylor.

This Is Not a Book sees Jean Jullien flying solo this time in a wordless picture book. The title is the first provocation and the images reproduced here can’t do justice to how this book functions. The title is the first provocation. Jullien’s curiosity for seeing will have readers turning the book every which way to participate in the scenes. The pages have to be encountered in three dimensions (time, space, shape) as they delight us with a series of visual puns and possibilities. Each turn of the page brings a new surprise and it just ain’t gonna work in iPad.


There’s no narrative (least not that I can discern), though perhaps the reader might make some connections and begin to weave their own story from the pages.

In graphic novel theory, “the blood is in the gutter” is an expression pointing to the role played by the gap between scenes: (The gutter is the space between the panels or scenes.) The reader links these scenes and thus supplies the ‘missing’ part. Jullien’s game is in revealing the variety of places and ways this ‘gutter’ appears in everyday life.

The book plays like a silent comedy and the wit and pleasure is in how the doubleness of things join together. It’s all about the hinge, or the pivot. There is also a clever circularity to the book that will beguile and amuse readers of all ages.  

Bravo, encore!

About Jean Jullien

This short film is the best introduction to Jullien's work, ideas and influences.