DAVE MCKEAN SAYS…
based on an individual interview and meeting with the audience of MFKiG 2012.
about defining his work
I try not to. I don’t like the word “artist” at all and I try to avoid that one, because I don’t know what it means anymore. Most of my work is about storytelling, so you could say I’m a storyteller. The Italians have a very good word, “creativo”, for example Fellini was creativo. I like that, but it has no English equivalent. Maybe in the Polish there is the right word?
The terms limited me, the words works that way; if you say that I’m an illustrator, it means that you do not perceive me as a filmmaker or a musician. I don’t see any limits, for me it’s no difference until I have a story I want to tell. And some of these stories are expressed best as film, because they need music and sound. Some of these stories are expressed best as comics or the sequence of photographs in the gallery. Whatever is best for the story.
about comics as a medium
I love comic books, as a kid I was given some comics to read and I fell in love with them immediately. I think the reason why I love comics so much is that it doesn’t give you everything; there are pictures but they are static pictures, there are words, but you don’t hear them. There is a story, but it’s told in the form which hides some information. So, unlike the film that gives you everything, you have to use your imagination, you have to enter this world, explore it, hear the music and voices in your head. As a reader, you are 50% of the experience of comics. You can go back, you can read it quickly or look at the single image for a long time. You are involved directly in the story. Also it’s very intimate, unlike the film. The films are great, you go to the cinema, a lot of people, everybody shouts. It’s fantastic, it’s big. But comics is very intimate, like a book. The book is also great, but it’s only black text on the white background; comics has all these images, colors and textures.
When I went to art school, all I really wanted was for my teachers to leave me alone to draw my comics. But they refused to do that, they wanted to open my eyes to the rest of the world. Then I met a young struggling writer and journalist called Neil Gaiman, who was completely unpublished and desperately wanted to do comics for living. Neil had arranged an interview with some editors in DC Comics and told them about our ideas. They let us start working on our own book called “Violent Cases”. And so it all began.
about disappointment of “Batman: Arkham Asylum”
“Arkham Asylum” was just a script that DC sent to me. The thing I liked about it was the setting, this sort of strange, dark asylum, like the “Alice in Wonderland”. When I was doing it, I was really excited, I really loved meetings with Grant Morrison. I think Grant is a really wonderful writer and I really like him personally. I was very happy that he was willing to reconstruct what he written and allow me to do a lot of changes and make this story much more symbolic than a literal story about a man who dresses up as a bat.
Unfortunately, the fact that at the end of the day it is superhero story, personally for me weakens all the other interesting things that Grant wrote. I just think that the idea of superhero, the idea of a man who dress up as a bat, is silly. And no matter how many clever thing you write around him and how many pretty pictures you draw, it’s still a story about a man who dressed up as a bat. That’s why at the end I was a little disappointed, I wished to do a great horror story, I didn’t want to do a superhero story. And that’s why I never did another one.
About changes in “Batman: Arkham Asylum”
Yes, it was my decision to not use Robin; I barely understand the Batman, but I certainly don’t understand Robin at all (laughs). I was more interested in the transformation of the main character into the symbol, mythical figure. In particular, the idea of some sort of the spirit-cross between man and animal intrigued me. There is a real primal force in it, so I thought maybe we would go this way.
about symbolism of “Batman: Arkham Asylum”
Grant had very specific ideas of the symbols, such as the fish, the clock, the bat. There is a lot of psychology in this story, all symbols are there for the reason. Grant is a very in-depth writer, he may write very often fantasy or superhero stories, but they always have a lot of interesting, psychological backup. I added a few extra things, that were interesting for me. But I always do that when I draw. You know what is your goal, but these little details make this journey interesting and challenging.
about “Sandman” series covers
They function as a diary for me, because it was quite a chunk of my life. Every cover is like a diary entry of where my head was. When you create something, you really pay attention to the way you feel, the music that you listen to, where you are, what you looking at. So when I look now at these covers it’s all back, my state of mind at that time, what fascinated me, what I was thinking when I was doing them.
The idea of a comic book cover without the main character was indeed the revolution, but in comics only. In any other medium it’s a standard. This was my ongoing conversation with DC Comics; I told them that comics is a wonderful, open medium. The images could be about anything and story could be about anything. So why all comics look just this way? Why the character is always on the front? Why? Why? So I keep asking “why” all the time and the first thing I decided to do was remove the character from the covers.
I wanted to make covers much more a sort of interesting filter through which you enter into the comics. The cover is some kind of mystery, you don’t quite understand it all, it’s challenging, intriguing. I wanted to intrigue people who usually don’t buy comics, the people buying books or CDs. But they look at “Sandman” and think “what is this? it looks like a book”; then peeking up and think “oh, it’s a comics. Ok!” and then get into the story. Neil’s story is great, so the story sucked them, but I think covers did the good job initially, attracting people who usually don’t buy comics.
Neil is a writer, not only the comic book writer. He was always interesting in writing novels or screenplays. He has many other interests and he moved those influences to his comics writing. I did the same thing, I moved to the “Sandman” covers my interest in sculpture and photography.
about covers of the “Sandman” prequel
Sandman’s prequel does have nothing do with me. If DC ask me about it, then I’ll see. But they do not ask..
about work with Neil Gaiman
I’ve done a lot of staff with Neil, but I’m trying to split my time 50/50 between working with Neil and other people.
I hope I will always be working with Neil, we’re great friends and we enjoy working together. I think we have a good working relationship, because we have our lives without each other. Neil is doing a lot of wonderful things with other people, I too, so when we meet again we have fresh minds.
You can’t throw a writer and an artist with different sensibilities and different expectations in the single project. Neil has always been fair to me and put clear limits. We have one basic rule: if we disagree about the text – he has final word; if we disagree about pictures – I have final word. We only needed to do that twice, but I’m not telling you when (laugh).
about modern comic book market
I think that comics is going through an absolute golden age. However I wouldn’t look at the sales charts for masterpieces, I would look at the book publishers, who now run wonderful graphic novel lines. The cross pollination of influences from Europe, America, Japan, South America, Russia, everywhere. It’s fantastic. And the internet, the growth of net comics, new places for comics to be seen, in graffiti or advertising for example; comics is also used in the regular books design. I think the fact, that comics come out of its ghetto is fantastic. That’s what we hoped for, when Neil and I started. It just took about twenty years longer than we thought.
about future of comic books
Comic books will change, that’s the only thing we know for sure. Actually, there are three questions here. The first is about the physical form. Paper books are going through the crisis now, like the music industry 5 years ago. I love books, so I really hope that they will manage and I have reason to believe that they will. Secondly, the distribution: how will you buy a book, if all the book shops will be closed, if amazon.com withdraws the book tray, because the deal on them is so poor. And the third question, where are the new influences coming from, where are from new artist and new writers. There is now a generation of people who came to the comics, but they never read Marvel and DC, they are not interested in that staff at all. They read “Maus” or “Persepolis”, comics for them is a wonderful way of self-expression. Some of this guys do a superhero stories, but a lot of them will find their own stories. And that’s fantastic.
about romance between comics and the internet
I know about mobile web comics, but for me it’s a strange hybrid. Comics is beautiful because it doesn’t move. You have to create movement drawing. In this case we are talking about something else, it’s not comics, it’s a series of animated slides or the film.
about “Magic of reality” album
I’m a big fan of evolutionist Richard Dawkins’ books. One day I read in an interview that he wanted to do book for children. I made contact with his agent and told him that I really want to help him in this.
He had a couple of ideas, but one idea was particular: the structure of the book was a series of questions. Each question we answered at first with ways that humans answered that question in the past, using the mythology and theology. Then we give a most current scientific answer. My scientific approach is very poor, I want to do just pretty pictures, so some of them had to go out. They were pretty, but not scientific.
The great thing about working with Richard Dawkins is that whenever we had a problem how to show some specific phenomenon, Richard always said: I know just the person that work in this, here is his e-mail, send him a message, he will explain everything to you (laughs).
about shooting photos
I really try to do photographs myself, only occasionally I use somebody’s photos from databases. The rights are very important, you cannot steal other people’s work.
My first photo book was analog; I used darkroom, special paper, good old fashion printing. Since I got computer and starting to play with Photoshop I switched to digital. The photographs themselves are still analog, but they’re scanned and processed in Photoshop. Recently I use DSLR Canon 5d Mark II, really amazing stuff.
I have the travel exhibition of my photographs; it’s been in Europe a little bit, in England, France and Belgium, I’d love for it to come to Poland.
I often use my son as a model, he is cheap and always available (laughs).
about comics in the gallery
I’m not a big fan of ripping out something being creating for one medium specifically and putting somewhere else, out of context. So just hanging pages from the comics in the gallery is not a good idea. Ok, you will see the pictures, but it’s not very satisfying for me.
IEvery comics stories I did in galleries was designed specifically for those galleries, for those locations, those shapes of rooms. They are completely unique, like a theatre.
about Polish inspirations
I love Polish posters and Polish surrealist painting. It’s very unique surrealism, not romantic as the French and not deeply political as Czech. It’s first of all about people, about the absurdities of human life. I must admit with shame, that my Dementors project for “Harry Potter” movies is a copy from Beksiński. Oh no, I’d not copied it, I borrowed it with respect (laughs).
Beksiński is an extraordinary, amazing artist, as a lot of Polish artists; I’m also a big fan of Starowiejski, and Stasys.
about new comics
I’m working on a graphic novel called “Caligaro”. It’s a reworking of one of my favorite silent films “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. It has similar sort of basic framework of the story, but I wrote it as a completely different story. I’m preparing also a new book of short comics. I draw them all the time, then throw in a drawer and wait for proper time.