The Weight Of Words
It’s been over twenty years since their debut graphic novel Violent Cases, a meditation on the illusiveness of memory, and yet Dave McKean is still probably best known for his fruitful partnership with British fantasy author Neil Gaiman, such as their children’s books and graphic novels, the covers to Gaiman’s Sandman series and their flawed but visually arresting movie Mirrormask in 2005.
McKean has a real knack for collaborations, shaping a true meeting of minds into extraordinary results. As a designer and illustrator he has visualised the autobiographies of the Velvet Underground’s John Cale and techno-chef Heston Blumenthal, complete with recipes.
Fat Duck Chef, Heston Blumenthal
McKean lost his father when he was fourteen and brought his sensitivity to the subject to his 2008 adaptation of The Savage, a short story by David Almond, author of Skellig. Part picture-book, part comics, part prose, this marked a further leap in McKean’s draughtsmanship, stripped down, physical mark-making with a life-force surging through the ink.
The one-off project grew into a trilogy, continuing with Slog’s Dad this autumn, again about a son’s loss of his father. “It’s an odd one, comprising just one scene and an event that at face value is a supernatural, return-from-the-dead story. I just couldn’t accept it as such, so the comic sections offer several alternate readings. By the end, you are not really sure what happened, you just know that the book is about a boy who really misses his Dad.”
A third Almond-McKean project is already underway called Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, “an original creation myth story about the dangers of irresponsible creativity.”
McKean is also tackling some of our world’s most foundational beliefs in a huge book with outspoken scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins entitled The Magic of Reality. “We take thirteen questions about the world and answer them initially in the ways we have in the past - myth, religion, folk stories - and then present our best scientific answer, which hopefully proves to be even more astonishing and magical than the others.”
The Magic Of Reality
But McKean is also a gifted complete storyteller, ever since his first full-length graphic novel Cages in 1998, in which an awakened painter realises, “The possibilities are limitless”. There seem to be no limits on McKean as he embarks on his second long-term solo opus, Caligaro, and continues to craft shorter stories for his second Pictures That Tick compilation.
The strip below, The Weight Of Words, first appeared in Art Review magazine. “It seemed for a year or two that most of my friends and parents at my kids’ school, were going through life-changing upheavals, which my wife would tell me about while we were making pizza or drinking wine. I started to think about how these tragedies became dissipated as they were past on from those in their epicentre, out to family, close friends, acquaintances, friends of acquaintances.”
A further new site-specific piece will fill one floor of the exhibition Hypercomics at the Pumphouse Gallery in Battersea Park, London, between 11 August and 26 September, 2010. “It will take a confessional story and follow three possible paths in this man’s life, how they take him in very different directions and how they inevitably lead to his involvement in the same event.” He will be giving a special Comics Masterclass at the gallery on 23 September, explaining his practices and processes. McKean continues to unlock the possibilities of comics.
Posted: July 25, 2010