Some years ago I managed to find myself in a comic book store called The Beguiling, located in Mirvish village in Toronto. I picked up The Sandman, and I was hooked instantly. I will confess that what initially drew me to the comic was the cover art work of Dave McKean, and this fact alone connects me to all the other geeks who are compelled to pick up a particular comic because of the cover. I am proud to call myself a geek, of course.
The Sandman is most assuredly one of the best-known works in the comic book genre, and Neil Gaiman is equally famous as a renowned writer, not only of graphic novels, but non-illustrated fiction, and children’s fiction as well.
Dave McKean is a cracking good illustrator (he does rock album covers as well); and a good writer (see Cages) to boot.
Two of my favourite examples of their collaborative work are Signal to Noise and Black Orchid written by Gaiman and illustrated by McKean. Signal to Noise is a living requiem about a man who knows he is dying and is not only trying to accept his coming death, but to accept the fears and anguish of his friends and loved ones. Black Orchid is about the death of a superhero, who does not really die, but is transformed into a more powerful entity after death. The writing and illustration are a lovely combination of the sublime, the dark and the surreal.
An illustration masterclass from Dave McKean is a very special thing indeed. As one of the most innovative illustrators in Britain, his association with Neil Gaiman has raised him to a near-deity among comic fans and goths, providing the covers for all of The Sandman’s 75-issue run from 1989–1996. This was a ground-breaking series that brought a literate intelligence to the medium. ‘Neil’s story was far more ambitious,’ explains McKean. ‘It was very much of its time but brought a new audience to comics, because people who weren’t buying comics were buying Sandman.’
McKean’s (much imitated) covers mixed painting, collage, sculpture and photography adding to an already unique package. ‘I was trying to clear out all the clutter of how comics are usually drawn. Getting back to what people really look like, to start from scratch then start to be more abstract and expressionistic from there. It’s an ongoing development.’
McKean also provided art for Black Orchid, Mr Punch and Violent Cases (all with Gaiman) as well as his own Cages project and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, while beyond the world of comics he’s created countless adverts, album covers for everyone from Tori Amos to Alice Cooper and is currently working on a project with chef Heston Blumenthal. None of which is to mention his children’s books, such as Wolves in the Walls, his film MirrorMask, and design work for the Harry Potter films. It’s been a visually rich career, that continues to branch out in new directions. ‘I like doing lots of different things really; I’m happiest learning a new skill.’