Opening the Cages – Pádraig talks with Dave McKean

Published On October 8, 2010 | By Padraig | Comics, Film TV & Theatre, Interviews, Pádraig's interviews

Pádraig Ó Méalóid talks to another of Blighty’s top creators – comics artist, illustrator, animator, photographer, film maker, Dave McKean‘s endlessly fascinating visuals have crossed media to create some wonderful (and oft-imitated) images from Violent Cases and the beautiful Signal to Noise to MirrorMask and even some wonderful art for Heston Blumenthal’s cookery book. He is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting artists in any medium working in the UK today. Pádraig chatted to Dave on and off over the course of several weeks when Dave could squeeze some spare time into his incredibly busy schedule; FPI would love to thank both of them for taking the time to share some thoughts with us. Please note this interview took place a number of months ago, when we were still waiting for a revised release date for the new Dark Horse edition of Cages. With it’s release just recently it seems like the perfect time to bring you Dave and Pádraig’s conversation:

Dave McKean signing at Edinburgh Book Festival 2

(Dave McKean signing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, pic from Joe’s Flickr)

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: The first work of yours that I think I came across was when you did the artwork for Violent Cases, back in 1987. Were you doing anything before then, or was that actually your first published work?

Dave McKean: Before Violent Cases I had done some illustrations for a gaming book (I’m being vague because it’s rubbish), some illustrations for banking brochures, an Isao Tomita LP cover, and a few other freelance jobs completed while still at art school. My first professionally published comic, by a whisker, was a short story for Mr. X that I wrote, drew, coloured and lettered, and gave to Bill Marx while he was in London.

PÓM: I believe that Violent Cases led directly to both yourself and Neil Gaiman being offered work by DC Comics, is that right?

DMcK: Kind of. Neil got us an audience with DC Comics editors Karen Berger and Dick Giordano, and I only really had pages from Violent Cases to show them. It was a leap of faith to go from that book to tackling a DC superhero, but I think Dick liked some of the drawings quite a bit. Meanwhile Neil frantically pitched away until he hit on a character that wasn’t taken by another writer. Black Orchid came out of that, but also the Hellblazer covers, which do relate to Violent Cases in their collage approach.

PÓM: It really was a leap of faith, with an unknown author, an unknown artist, and an unknown, or at least completely forgotten character, Black Orchid. What sort of reception did it get in the US, do you remember?

DMcK: I don’t. I had my head buried in my hands at the time. If I could have driven around to all the comic shops in the world and confiscated all the copies, I would have; they would have made a colourful bonfire. I think it sold well, that was a time when ‘PRESTIGE FORMAT’ alone was a real novelty. I didn’t read any reviews, I’d already made up my mind, I didn’t need any more kicking to add to the self inflicted wounds.

PÓM: So am I to take it you weren’t happy with your work on Black Orchid?

DMcK: I was happy for the work, first proper job out of college. I was happy clearing away the dreary, recycled portrayal of people as usually illustrated in superhero comics, and getting back to what real people look like and how they move and talk. I never intended to continue drawing photo-realistically, I just thought it was worth starting from scratch, and then developing a more expressionistic style with future projects. I was happy that the big dramatic ending, was someone saying “no, I’m not going to kill anyone.” I was happy at the time to be doing something vaguely (very vaguely) ecological. I was happy with the humans-and-the human-world in grey/nature in colour schematic. I like the odd drawing of a frog, or the guys in the bar… I’m struggling now. The rest is pretty awful.

PÓM: There was a time when the prestige format stuff DC were trying out really was worth checking out, I seem to remember. There seemed to be a spark under their tails then that really made it a good time to be buying comics.

DMcK: You have a rosier memory than me. I remember Ronin and Dark Knight grabbing attention for their flashy, designy visuals, but that’s about it.

PÓM: After Black Orchid, I don’t think you did any other internal comics artwork for DC, would that be right?

DMcK: I wonder why?

Well, I did do Arkham Asylum and 2 issues of Hellblazer, but that’s about it.

PÓM: I can’t believe I managed to forget Arkham Asylum! I seem to recall that that was the first Batman original graphic novel, and also the first book DC published in hardback, and they really did seem to give you an awful lot of leeway on the design side of things. Are you going to tell me you didn’t like that either?

(one of the creepiest – and best – depictions of the Joker: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, published DC)

DMcK: Yes, I think it was the first HB, and yes they did give me a lot of rope, but only after Jenette Kahn was summoned by Warner’s to explain why the Joker was dressed in high heels and basque and pinches Batman’s bum (apparently Jack Nicholson was concerned). That all went away, the Batman film came out, and Arkham did very well. I kept my head firmly buried in my hands.

Again, I put a lot of love and ideas into it, I just can’t relate to superheroes, including Battyman, in any meaningful way. He’s a bloke dressed up as a big bat for god’s sake. It’s also the single worst print job (and worst binding job) I’ve ever had on one of my books. The illustrations do actually look much better in person (well, maybe not MUCH better, but…). The repro looks like 3rd. generation bad colour xerography.

PÓM: As you already mentioned, you were also doing the covers for Hellblazer and Sandman. The Sandman covers in particular were really like nothing we’d seen before on the front of a comic, and I think you were the first artist I remember specifically as a cover artist. How did this all come about, and did you have any problems getting them to let you do the kind of work you wanted to do – which I seem to recall included sets of shelves containing odd things framing the central image for some early Sandman covers?

DMcK: Karen wanted to raise my profile from ground zero, so I got the Hellblazer gig as I was working on Black Orchid. I remember assuming I would be fired with each rough I sent in. Sandman was launched to up Neil’s profile, and for some reason I got that gig as well. For a while I was doing both covers, but I had to get Arkham done to a deadline, so Karen wanted me to drop the Hellblazer covers. Actually I was gently removed from Sandman as well, but I didn’t want to leave, so I did 4 covers (9-12) over a long weekend, and got them out to DC. I couldn’t see them refusing to print them, as it was only the conflict with Arkham that was an issue. If I was 4 months ahead, I had a little grace time.

The only issue that came up during my run of Sandman was NOT featuring Sandman on the cover of every issue. “How will the readers know it’s a Sandman comic?” was the question, “because it says SANDMAN at the top of the cover” was my response.

This was a period of complete openness and freedom at DC. I really don’t think they understood who this new audience was. I think they just wanted to keep quiet and let us get on with it, as it seemed to be popular. It only took a few years for that state of mind to change to the more traditional “no, the reason it’s popular is because WE publish it, and it’s got a whizzy new VERTIGO logo in the corner, and…” you get the idea.

(just two of Dave’s deservedly acclaimed run of covers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, you couldn’t really imagine the series without these covers each month, could you? Art by Dave McKean, published DC Vertigo)

PÓM: Incidentally, do you still have the original artwork for those?

DMcK: I only kept the cover for number 3; my favourite of the first batch of Sandman covers. The rest I sold to Kevin Eastman for his comic art museum, which, along with everything else he initiated, crumbled a couple of years after it opened its doors. This is all sounding like a long extended moan. Hopefully happier times, and better work, are only a question or two away.

PÓM: Hopefully this’ll have happier memories for you: wasn’t it around this time you were doing things for Atomeka Press’s A1? I particularly liked your Mr X cover for Book 2. There’s also a Mr X story you did with Neil Gaiman in Book 1. Is that the same as the one you mentioned earlier?

DMcK: No, I wrote and drew a Tales from Somnopolis short story for Mr. X proper, not A-1.

I was friends with Garry Leach at the time (I guess I still am, but haven’t really talked to him for 18 years?), so was very happy to be involved with A1, especially as Garry was the most friendly and helpful of the ‘UK COMICS ESTABLISHMENT’ that I met in the early days of ’82-’86.

I always liked Mr. X, but I have a feeling the story I liked was more my version of the concept, rather than what actually appeared in the book. An architect whose perfect city had been built with all the tiny compromises that any public work entails, and it’s these irritating little imperfections that set up a dissonant visual hum that turns its inhabitants to suicide. A story about the impossibility of perfection, and the effects of chaos. I’m not really sure that’s ever stated, but that’s the Mr. X story I would write as a novel.

PÓM: Is there any other work from around that time I’ve forgotten about, before we get to Cages?

DMcK: I did some other short stories, and Hellblazer 27 and 40, and started working in other fields; a lot of CD covers, advertising, editorial, book covers. Performing at Edinburgh Fringe with The Unauthorized Sex Company, but maybe I’ll leave that alone.

PÓM: Well, considering that this interview is going into the FPI blog, which has its headquarters in a cave deep under the streets of Edinburgh, perhaps I should press you for more details on that?

DMcK: A series of writings in science fiction, dramatized on stage by Geoff Ryman, Colin Greenland and Simon Ings dressed in red jumpsuits. I composed and performed the music live, and created a simple set, and a series of projections that smothered the stage.

PÓM: I’m guessing that at this point you were pretty much done with the major comics companies. Was there anything from that time you look back on with any affection? The two issues of Hellblazer, maybe?

DMcK: No, not really.

I thought the covers for Sandman, The Dreaming and Sandman Presents got better over the years.

PÓM: I recently got a copy of the Vertigo Tarot, which has been re-released. How did that come about, and what’s your opinion on it all these years later?

DMcK: It was a project floated by Rachel Pollack I believe, I’m not actually sure where it started, but I remember I was due to fly to NY to sit down with Neil and Rachel to decide which characters would be which symbols, but my computer crashed, taking an unfinished job with it, so I had to stay and redo a week’s work. It was one of my first Photoshop jobs, so a lot of it looks pretty raw now. I loved researching the minor arcana especially, and immediately started my photographic tarot which I think is much more
successful. I should have realised at this point that DC were not interested in my work at all, only their own characters.

PÓM: Do you use a Tarot deck yourself, then, and if so, do you use it for your work in any way?

DMcK: No. Tarot is at best a way of provoking a conversation or eliciting a reaction from the subject of the reading. It’s all nonsense really. What I do like about the cards, is the completely ridiculous idea of cataloguing the entirety of human knowledge in 78 cards. It’s a classic mad human thing to do. And the iconography is wonderful, but they have no real use.

PÓM: Considering that I’m guessing you didn’t have the best of experiences with the bigger comics companies, what prompted you to decide to create Cages?

DMcK: I enjoyed working with Grant and Neil in their worlds, but I really wanted to do something in my own. I had started making notes for a collection of short stories, but they all seemed to exist in the same place, and many of the characters seemed to relate to each other. Also, at the time, there was an interesting air of independence among the illustrators and writers who started work in the 80’s. The distribution system was quite good, so there was no NEED for a Marvel or DC. Why are we giving away the rights, control and most of the income from our creations? Plus, I knew I wanted to do something that was more experimental than anything DC were interested in, and I wanted to expand into a few hundred pages, not just 64 or 96, in order to pay close attention to how my characters talked and moved and thought.

PÓM: I only ever got my hands on the first issue of Cages, so I’m not as familiar with it as with your earlier work. So, can you give us a brief overview of what it was about, and what you were trying to achieve with it?

DMcK: I wanted to spend some time in my world. I had written notes on various short stories, but they all seemed connected. I wanted to do a book that I would read, something that was more conversational than action-packed, something about our inner  lives. Something about belief, a subject I’m fascinated by. I’m completely anti-theist, but the reasons people have for believing in things, or not, and why we all continue to get out of bed in the morning and keep living, working… this is all fascinating to me. I was also quite shaken by the Salman Rushdie affair at the time, it was the first time I (being a creative person) would be considered a candidate for a death list (in the abstract), as I am very antagonistic towards all organized religions. So I wanted to put some of those thoughts into the project. I wanted to deal with my definition of fantasy, not goblins and hobbits, but our dream-lives. I also wanted to get away from painted comics, and find a simpler, more fluid way of storytelling. I also wanted to have the space to do it, to make a graphic novel at 400 – 500 pages, rather than a novella or short story at 64.

PÓM: One thing I certainly remember noticing in that first issue of Cages was that your art had changed quite considerably from what you were doing in those early books for DC and Escape.

DMcK: It was simpler, and paid more attention to the subtleties of human communication, how people move and talk. That’s basically it. I was disenchanted with painted comics as the storytelling seemed to drag. I was after a lighter touch. I wondered how few lines you really needed to explain a character, or an expression. Of course I could have simplified a lot more, but I’m also drawn to an illustrative approach, rather than a cartoonists approach. I love cartoons, but I’m interested in finding something new in
each drawing, rather than creating a ‘style-sheet’ of the character. All that said, I think the bones of the drawings in Cages can be seen under all that paint and stuff in Arkham and Signal to Noise.

(the artist struggles for inspiration, the cat watches in Cages by and (c) Dave McKean)

PÓM: There were ten issues of this over about six years, I believe. Were you just choosing your own schedule, or did you have problems with your publisher?

DMcK: I decided not to take an advance, as I wanted Tundra to be a sustainable, equitable, risk-sharing arrangement. Little did I know that, because it was set up by Ninja-Turtle guy Kevin Eastman, everyone else ripped him off mercilessly, and they sank in a sea of bills and squandered opportunity around issue number 7. (Not everyone obviously, but a surprising amount of creators who really should be ashamed of themselves).

So anyway, I had to make a living doing other work as well, so Cages took its time appearing. I also did Mr. Punch in the middle. When Tundra died, Kitchen Sink took over, and the remaining issues came out under that banner, but only after quite a pause.

PÓM: I work in the second-hand and bargain book end of the retail book trade, and I’ve seen a lot of the things Tundra published in that time turning up cheap, and there certainly seemed to be no sense of restraint or common sense on either side, either creatively or editorially, mostly because everyone got blinded by the idea of there being endless money flowing in from the Turtles, and nobody having to worry about whether or not there was a market for what they were producing, or even if it was any good. There seemed to be lots of full colour hardback things that no-one else would have gone near, simply because they were unpublishable. At least some of the blame is editorial, it seems to me, as there were things going through that no editor should have ever approved, badly conceived and badly drawn books that did none of them any credit.

DMcK: Yes, this is all true. It was a huge waste of money, opportunity and time. Tundra UK was a particularly lamentable episode. I had high hopes for an umbrella label that would bring together self-publishers everywhere under one weightier organization, but it was scuppered in all directions. These opportunities come along once in a very long while, that’s why I jumped at the chance, and that’s why it was such a shame to see it all squandered.

PÓM: I know there was a collected edition of Cages published, but it’s currently unavailable. Am I right in thinking it’s to be re-published in the near future?

DMcK: It was collected into hardback by Kitchen Sink, and then they went down. NBM rereleased it several years ago. Dark Horse will do the paperback edition this year (please note the interview took while we were waiting on the new puublication date for Cages to be confirmed, it was released by DH in September and is available now – Joe). They will also be releasing a paperback of Pictures That Tick (short stories) and the first hardback of Pictures That Tick 2.

(the cover to the new Dark Horse edition of Cages, by and (c) Dave McKean)

PÓM: You mentioned that you did Mr Punch while all this was going on. You and Neil Gaiman have been collaborating together for quite a long time now, on comics, graphic novels, children’s books, and on movies. I presume that the two of you must find the other easy to work with, to have gone through so many different forms over such a long period of time?

DMcK: Yes, we are good friends, and we trust each other. There is nothing better than growing up with someone, that experience can’t be replicated any other way. I think we both have healthy creative lives apart which fuel our interest in working together again. Also, we have approached projects in many different ways. Sometimes, the text dictates everything, sometimes words and pictures evolve together, occasionally I will get more involved in the writing. Mr. Punch was a very creative to-ing and fro-ing. Neil wrote the script, but I helped organize the story after the first draft.

PÓM: Did you say at one stage that, while you and Neil work very well together, you can’t do so in the same room?

DMcK: We only worked in the same house during the planning and scripting of MirrorMask, and, for that particular project, it was very difficult. I think it was the worst possible thing to work on together in retrospect. We had a brief, which I’m not sure we completely agreed on, we had very different ideas on what the script, and the film, should be doing. I think it would actually be possible to write something together, but we’d have to have a clear idea that we were both completely committed to, and clear about.

PÓM: Was it a big jump to go from working on paper to having to think in terms of the big screen?

DMcK: In some ways, not at all. They are basically the same, telling stories with pictures and words. The sound aspect is a big plus, but I’ve worked a lot with sound and music in the past. In other ways, it is much more chaotic and compromised, so that is tough. I tried to control it all too much, and didn’t get the best out of the situation. On the other hand, it was a complex shoot, with a huge amount of CG work to add later, so it had to be controlled through tight storyboards, otherwise we wouldn’t have had any idea where we were.

PÓM: Are actors harder to deal with than characters you’re making up yourself?

DMcK: Again, yes and no. Actors don’t want to be treated as puppets, and if you want the best from them, you invite them to participate and go with their instincts. It was really Gina McKee that made me understand this. During the shoot for Luna, I think I gave the actors a lot more room to play and be themselves.

PÓM: Were you happy with how MirrorMask turned out? I got a copy recently, and I must say I enjoyed it very much.

DMcK: Thanks, but sadly no. I was very disappointed with the film as soon as it was done. I think during production, it was such a chaotic and overwhelming task, it was hard to sit back and look at the big picture. And if I had questioned it too much, I might never have finished it. As it was, I only had to watch it a couple of times to realise it wasn’t very good. A few nice ideas, a good performance from Stephanie, but could and should have been so much better. The biggest problems are in the script, and it never really recovered.

PÓM: Do you think MirrorMask would have fared better if you’d had a bigger budget, or do you feel it was flawed from the beginning?

DMcK: Well, as I say, I think the generic nature of the story and script are the main problems. There are others, and some of those are related to the budget. There were plenty of technical problems that could have been dealt with by throwing money at the issue, but we could never do that. But there were also many mistakes made that were down to simple inexperience.


PÓM: You mentioned the film Luna, which I have to say I know nothing about. What is it? Is it entirely your own work this time?

DMcK: I have written it. It is a contemporary drama with a strange dream sequence running through it, like a parallel narrative. Two couples meet up over a long weekend. One of the couples has lost a baby in hospital. Emotions boil over, and the life of the dead child is lived out in a series of fantastical encounters.

I don’t know when I’ll get the film back on track, soon I hope.

PÓM: You’ve done quite a bit of other film work, including a few pieces with Iain Sinclair. How did you find yourself working with him?

DMcK: Many years ago I heard he was interested in writing a comic, and I was looking for interesting collaborators. We’re still doing odd things together, I just added titles and graded his short film Maggid Street. He’s a unique mind really, a library. A place to wander around in for a while. You’re never really sure what’s real and what’s not, and what being ‘real’ really means. I’ve enjoyed it all.

PÓM: Is that how you ended up doing Slow Chocolate Autopsy together?

DMcK: We first got together to talk about doing a book for the Victor Gollancz line that included Mr. Punch and Signal to Noise, but that project never happened, partly because VG disappeared. So we did a short story for a collection edited by Oscar Zarate called It’s Dark in London, and then expanded the project out to a series of illustrated short stories, three of which were done as comics. Iain has a very dense style of writing, so the challenge was to find a visual equivalent.

PÓM: Is the film making going to continue, or is this kind of creative work too expensive to pursue?

DMcK: Certainly it’s expensive in terms of wasted energy. I have several film projects either out with producers or at script stage, so I’ve decided I’ve spent enough time doing pointless meetings and power lunches. If any of them land, with money in a bank account with the name of the film on it, then I’ll go to work. But I’m not wasting my life any more, time is passing, I have books to do.

PÓM: Speaking of books, you recently did the Fat Duck Cookbook with Heston Blumenthal. How did you become involved with that?

DMcK: We share a publisher in Bloomsbury Press. The editor of the book showed my children’s books, especially Wolves in the Walls, to Heston who wanted a picturebook, Alice in Wonderland feel to his book. We spent several days over the year it was in development and  production, brainstorming and playing off each other. He’s a great character, and a completely engaged mind, interested in  everything.

(classic comics meets cutting edge cooking with Little Heston in Breakfastland in the Big Fat Duck Cookbook, art by and (c) Dave McKean, published Bloomsbury. Pic borrowed from the excellent Art of Dave McKean site)

PÓM: Did you try to persuade him that you needed to get to sample everything in the Fat Duck to help you with the book?

DMcK: Fortunately that was a pre-requisite so, much as I wanted to stay at home with my beans on toast, I had to schlep over to the Duck to try the tasting menu. It was a tough job as 4 hour lunches go. I’ve eaten there a few times and many times at his pub across the road, and I really can see why he’s progressed so quickly, and is considered to be THAT good. It’s a completely unique and utterly memorable experience.

PÓM: What other books are you working on, or have worked on recently? Weren’t you doing another graphic novel with Neil, I seem to recall?

DMcK: No, I’m doing another graphic novel and a book of short comics on my own. I’m doing two more books with David Almond after the big success of The Savage. A book of paintings and more sketchbooks from cities.

PÓM: The sketchbooks, now that you mention them, are something I wanted to ask you about. When we were in Paris last year we went to see an exhibition of your work there, which included some of the sketchbook work. How many cities are you doing, and do you have exhibitions to go along with them in each city, or was that just Paris?

DMcK: So far I have done Vienna, Barcelona, Paris and Brussels. Rome, Amsterdam and Bilbao are on the cards. I’m planning to do around 15, that would make a cube of books, I could then do a slipcase cover for them as a set and call it a square world of sketchbooks. Not sure if any will be outside Europe yet. Some have exhibitions attached, some don’t. I’ve learned so much about drawing from doing these books, I can honestly say that all my recent work has come directly from them.

(cover art for Postcards from Paris by and (c) Dave McKean)

PÓM: Do you think there’s a different attitude to your work in Europe, rather than in the UK?

DMcK: A little. Illustrated books and comics are so woven into the culture in France and Belgium, also to a slightly lesser extent Spain and Germany. But there’s still a distinct separation in the UK between the fine arts and the applied arts. I think those  demarcation lines are blurring, but not quickly enough for me. Also, I think the kind of stories I like to tell are more appreciated in the rest of Europe. The UK still has close links with the US.

PÓM: I saw you on one of those great shows that BBC Four seem to always be making, talking about The Savage. Do you want to tell me a bit more about that, as again I’m not that familiar with it?

DMcK: I’m hugely proud of this book. As soon as I read the manuscript it became very personal for me. It is a young readers’ novella, that is told in prose, comics and illustrated text. A boy called Blue has lost his father, and is encouraged to write about his feelings in school, but he wants to write about The Savage, a wild child who lives in the woods. Fact and fiction merge in a beautiful way, as the Savage helps Blue deal with a local bully. I’m doing two more books with David Almond, the first being Slog’s Dad (you can read reviews of The Savage here and Slog’s Dad here – Joe) .

PÓM: Can you tell us more about the graphic novel and short stories you mentioned earlier? When should we expect to see those?

DMcK: The novel is called Caligaro and is a recreation of the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It’s a long one, around 450 pages, so it won’t be out for a couple of years. The short story collection is Pictures That Tick 2. This should be out from Dark Horse late next year, if I can get all the stories done in time.

PÓM: I follow your Twitter feed, and you always seem to be immensely busy, both with work and with travel. So, two questions: Firstly, how many things are you working on at the moment?

DMcK: At the moment I have just finished another chapbook for Ray Bradbury, I’m doing 3 illustrations for a US magazine, a poster for a film festival in Naples, a book cover for Gordon Dalquist, animated illustrations for Heston Blumenthal’s website, and something for his restaurant. Postcard from Brussels sketchbook is just out, and Amsterdam, Rome and Bilbao are being planned. I have 4 scheduled exhibitions this year, so I’m doing 4 new paintings for the next show in Brussels in May, then preparing prints for a
show of my Nitrate paintings and Klimt’s folio prints in Chicago in July, then a collection of new work for a show in Rye, UK in September, and finally some new photos for a show in the Canary Islands in Dec.

I’m in the middle of Caligaro and Pictures That Tick 2, and reconstituting Cages and I’ve done a new cover for Pictures That Tick 1 for paperback release by Dark Horse. I’ve committed to doing Slog’s Dad for David Almond this year (again this part of the interview was conducted before some of these projects were completed – Joe), and Smoke and Mirrors for Neil as well. I’m trying to sort out MCPS for my DVD collection of short films, and finally complete the last few bits for my website to go live. My film Luna should come back on line within a couple of months, so then I have to edit and grade it, direct pickups, oversee animation and music.

There would be a Luna book to complete. Also, I’ve pretty much committed to another big graphic novel based on a major franchise, I’m pursuing another very interesting project for next year, and I’m still working with Henson’s on tests for Varjak Paw, and other more distant scripts and books. I’m sure there’s more as well, but I don’t want to think about it.

PÓM: And, speaking of Twitter, how do you feel about that kind of online presence, and the kind of feedback and interaction it gives you?

DMcK: At the moment, I’m enjoying it. As I said online, I work alone, sometimes not speaking to anyone for days, so it’s interesting to break occasionally and have a bit of ‘office’ banter. Also, I realise what a great way it is just to tell people what’s going on, and hear directly from my audience.

PÓM: Do you also pursue art privately for its own sake, as it were, as opposed to what is eventually going to become commercially available?

DMcK: Ha. Not really. Everything finds a place, in a book, a show, or a commercial venue.

PÓM: I know you’re also a jazz musician. I can’t help feeling that there’s a kind of jazz improvisation element to some of your work. Or is that just me trying to be clever, do you think?

DMcK: I think so, they always start with a clear idea, a clear melody, and then they evolve and change, but almost always finish on the melody again. They have to communicate what I intended at the start.

PÓM: And the last question: can you give us a quick round-up of what work of yours is out recently, and is coming out soon?

DMcK: In addition to the list above, I can only add Crazy Hair with Neil, Subterranean special edition of The Graveyard Book, both just out, and Nitrate, a collection of all the silent film paintings and drawings I’ve been doing, out next year sometime.

PÓM: Dave McKean, thank you very much.

DMcK: Thanks.

Like this Article? Share it!

About The Author

Pádraig Ó Méalóid has a long history of promoting good comics and science fiction works, from organising conventions in his native Ireland to extensive writings and interviews with creators such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Kevin O'Neill and more

5 Responses to Opening the Cages – Pádraig talks with Dave McKean

  1. Matt Badham says:

    Cheers for that interview, Pádraig. Enjoyed it a lot.

    It inspired me to go and order the new paperback of Cages!

  2. Rossco says:

    Dave McKean’s a legend. Cages is one of the strangest and artiest graphic novel’s ever.

  3. Matt Badham says:

    Good interview. Inspired me to order Cages.