An interview with Dave McKean
Henrik Andreasen: How
did you get interested in comics?
By Henrik Andreasen
McKean: I always read comics as a kid. I loved the form,
but not really the content, it wasn't that interesting. I got
through a lot of different stages of comics pretty quickly. I
read Marvel Comics when I was pretty young, and then we started
getting Warren magazines Creepy & Eerie and that sort of stuff
and then a bit of Heavy Metal, but there was never really anything
substaining. Then I went to artschool and got sidetracked doing
all kinds of other things, but decided halfway through to bring
paintings, drawings, collage and photography back in, and I got
back to telling stories, because I always loved to tell
Henrik Andreasen: Did your interest
for drawing come from reading comics?
McKean: No, probably more than anything else it was my
father, because he used to draw. He wasn't an artist, he worked
for the airlines, but he used to draw all the time and that was
probably my main influence, and then there was movies. I was a
movie addictive from very early on, and my love from storytelling
comes from that. Those two things put together is what comics is
Henrik Andreasen: Could you tell us a
little about attending artcollage.
McKean: It was an artschool, a fine art section, where I
took a graphic design course because I thought I wanted to do
graphic design, but in the end it didn't make sense to me. I
ended up doing illustration, life drawing and video, and getting
through the course doing as little graphic design as
Henrik Andreasen: Did you already
in artschool get an interest for other medias?
McKean: Yes. Artschool is a great place to openning up.
If you are very closed and blinded, which most of us were, they
force you to toy and look at other things, because you have 4
years with no commercial pressure. You don't have to make a
living, just play and try a lot of things.
Andreasen: Is artschool good in order to keep you from
focusing on just one thing?
Dave McKean: It
is always down to the particulary teacher you get, it isn't the
building that does it. I was lucky and got two teachers who were
very good. It is just an appreciation of more abstract qualities,
problem solving, dealing and communication with people. All of
these things are basic fundamental human qualities, and in
artschool they bring them out in you.
Andreasen: Was "Violent Cases" done while you were still
Dave McKean: I met Neil
(Gaiman) while I was still attending artschool. When I left I
started working with illustrations, while Neil had spent the last
8 years as a journalist. He fancied writing comics and I fancied
going back doing comics, even though it wasn't my intension. I
was going to do illustrations for a living, and we just did it to
see if we could do it.
Henrik Andreasen: So
after artschool your main intend were to do CD covers, movie
Dave McKean: I wanted to do
everything, record music, make films, do comics, do all sorts of
things, but it is difficult to get out of artschool, and then try
to do everything. I picked illustrations as something I thought I
could get a grip of and that seemed very possible, so I started
to go down that alley.
Before starting on "Violent Cases", you went to New York to try
and get some work. Could you tell us how that
Dave McKean: I went by Marvel and they
were really only interested in X-Men and that stuff. I went by DC
and they were very interested, but they never got back to me. I
went to Continuity, who gave me a job and said they would mail me
the contract & script, but it never arrived. I went back and
nearly decided to forget about comics. But it was around the time
I was working with Neil, so things took a slightly different
Henrik Andreasen: Why did you go to
American publishers instead of English
Dave McKean: The comic industry
in England is dead. There is only 2000 A.D., which I always hated
and apart from that there is nowhere to go. We were on holiday in
New York, and I thought I could just pop in on these publishers,
while being there.
Henrik Andreasen: After
having done "Violent Cases", you and Neil talked to DC again. How
was the response this time?
Completly different. I saw different people and the work had
improved. It was another 6 or 8 months down the road, so it was
better and "Violent Cases" is a good portfolio piece. Complete
work, and it was a little different from regular things. Plus we
saw the right people, where Karen Berger at the time was starting
to look for other things, especially cover illustrations. It was
a case of being in the right place at the right time, good timing
for Neil as well.
Henrik Andreasen: This
leads us to "Black Orchid", which I understand you aren't that
Dave McKean: We went and saw DC,
and more or less winged it, by pitching them with some ideas.
Neil is a good hustler and one of the ideas he pitched was "Black
Orchid", which is a character I remembered vaguely to have seen
once. Afterwards we went down to the bar and tried to cook up a
story. It made sense at the time to do this for DC, which would
be a huge advancement in our career, and it was all very exiting.
We thought we could make some sort of ecological fabel out of it,
but we were doing it the wrong way around. It wasn't a story we
had to tell, it was a job. It wasn't a first choice, or a second
choice or any kind of choice, it just arrived and suddenly we
were in the middle of doing it, and I think we panicked. The
thought that this was actually going to be seen by hundred
thousand of people made us panick, and we then tried to do what
we thought they wanted, which is completly the wrong way around.
You learn, we were very young and you learn from these kinds of
Henrik Andreasen: "Black Orchid"
is very highly praised because of the color work. Was this a way,
by using all these fantastic colors, to cover that you didn't
have any story to tell?
Dave McKean: Not
really. There is nothing to the story. But as far as I'm
concerned, the fact that the climax is completly non-violent,
rather than having a fight, the characters just say no and refuse
to fight, as small as that is, it is the only thing that I'm
proud of. As for the color work, with all the jobs that comes in,
comics or CD covers, small or big, you try and fill it with ideas
and with as much of yourself as you can. All the man-made stuff
and the people being in B/W, and the natural stuff being in
color, seemed to be a nice little idea. It is years later now,
and it all seem very trivial and silly to me, but at the time we
just tried to fill it with ideas.
Andreasen: The thing you did with the B/W in "Black
Orchid", wasn't that a way to get down to the basic drawing like
you do with "Cages", and thereby not confusing people with to
Dave McKean: It is a difficult
thing. I'm still not resolved about doing full color comics. I
feel much more confident with the stuff I'm doing at the moment,
and I felt a bit more confident with the stuff I just did with
Mr. Punch. By the time, my feelings was that comics could use any
kind of images to tell a story, which was a resonable point of
view at the time. It was a reaction to the huge American comic
machine were everything looked identical. But I very quickly
found out that that was not the case. There are some illustration
styles that are just to statical, and they just don't work as far
as storytelling goes. There are still thousands of ways to do
comics, and it just so happens that some of them don't work.
"Black Orchid" didn't work and "Arkham Asylum" didn't really
work. But you don't know these things before doing it, you have
to go through it and learn, and afterwards try to be honest about
the fact. The fact that "Arkham Asylum" was a huge succes is
nothing, as far as I'm concerned it was a failure. I have my own
reasons for thinking that, and that's all you can
Henrik Andreasen: Since these were your
first commercial works, people who hadn't seen Violent Cases
might think that you were just yet another Bill Sienkiewicz
clone. Did it bother you, that not only did your point of view
not get through the artwork, but you were also looked at like
just another copycat?
Dave McKean: That did
bother, partly because I knew that Bill had been a great influence
and I was kind of worried that I wouldn't be able to shake it
actually. Of course it bothered me, 'cause I knew that to a
degree it was true. I would say that in the last 3 or 4 years, I
feel much more comfortable about what I do and feel I have shaken
it completly. I have not only shaken it, but a lot of the work
that Bill likes I dislikes, and I feel I have grown through
Henrik Andreasen: One might say that you
have created your own style and grown out of the copycat
Dave McKean: Yes, there is nothing
worse than having something that you might actually like to share
with people, being percieved through a filter of somebody else. I
knew Bill at the time, he was a good friend, a great guy and very
encouraging and it was wonderfull, but we were such different
people that it was ridiculous really. Our culture is so different.
I grew up in England, and he is very American, a Californian
beach bum actually. We were such different people that it seemed
inferiorating that I would always be seen through Bill. I really
had to do something drastic to get away from
Henrik Andreasen: I guess this is a
problem all new artists face?
Sure. You are the sum of all your influences and feelings, you
are the sum of the parts. It's really up to you to keep all these
things under control and remain true to yourself. When you start
out it is very hard to know who you are, if you are young and
haven't done much or lived much.
Andreasen: What are the Andy Warhool painting doing in
Black Orchid issue 1?
Dave McKean: That was
Neil's thing. Neil is a big Andy Warhool fan, I don't really know
why it is there.
Henrik Andreasen: I thought
he might be somebody you were influenced by?
McKean: I never really liked popart, and I never liked
this productzation of work. I thought it was a dead end, so it
was Neil's idea to have it in there.
Andreasen: Shortly after B.O. you went and did Arkham
Asylum with Grant Morrison....
.. I signed up to do it will doing B.O.
Andreasen: How come you signed up to do one of DC's big
2, after having "failed" in doing a minor DC
Dave McKean: As I said, it
happened during the time I was doing B.O. and started to see the
problems and thought I had a few new wringels that might work for
this new book. Karen had the script and wondered if I would read
it. I did, and thought I could do something with it. I didn't
believe in the characters, I didn't believe in a man dressed up
like a bat, and at the same time it had Robin in it too. Then I
had a meeting with Grant Morrison who is really wonderfull, and
he was very reseptive and willing to change it all into signs and
symbols, and having a man-animal rather than having a man dressed
up in a rubbersuit. Because of that, and only because of him
being willing to take it away and redo it completly, I thought
fine, lets try and do it. I knew that if I did this, it would be
the last commercial work I had to do, because it would be enough
just to have my name on it. I knew that as a job it would be fun
to do, and it would allow us a degree of security. All of these
things you take into account, you don't do anything for one
reason. A lot of the ideas I was working on at the moment, I
thought I could squeeze in there, and that was that really, and I
had a good time doing it.
While working on B.O. & A.A. you started doing these experimental
covers for Hellblazer. Did working on these covers help you get
rid of some of the steam/frustrations you got from working on
B.O. & A.A.?
Dave McKean: Yes, a lot of the
images I wanted to make seemed to work better as single page
illustrations, I simply couldn't get the storytelling to work
with comics. A lot of that I got to work better on Arkham, but
ran into a different set of problems really. The trouble with all
these books are, whether you are happy with them or not, they are
all to a degree your children, they are your babies. If you came
to this interview and asked me why is A.A. such a load of rubbish,
I would start to be defensive, 'cause they are my children. They
may be a pain in the neck, and they may be horrible spotty
teenagers, but they are still your children to a degree. I'm
their father so I'm allowed to say that they are horrible, but I
still think there is a lot of ideas in there that are kind of
interesting, some of the storytelling, the endpapers and the
introduction papers. Turning everuthing into a sign, the fact
that you never see the building, it is just a flat collage that
you enter like a rabbit hole. A lot of that was Okay, but the
biggest problem was the fact that it was a Batman comic. We tried
to bring in all these ideas and psycological underthemes, but at
the end of the day it is still a bloody Batman comic. It was
quite obvious that the Batman character was to weak to withstand
all this stuff, and in the end neither readers nor publishers was
Henrik Andreasen: The character
wasn't able to contain all the things you wanted to put into
Dave McKean: No. Batman brings with him
all these ridiculous trappings, and even through we reduced him
to a symbol it was still a Batman comic. We could have done the
same story much better if it had been a book just about madness,
with a completly invented catalogue of characters that didn't
bring all their baggage along with them, and that would have been
a better book and would have sold nothing.
Andreasen: There was a couple of months where you did the
covers for Hellblazer & Sandman, but then you stopped doing
Dave McKean: I was finishing
up A.A. and Karen Berger was afraid I was going to miss some
deadlines, and she actually wanted me to drop both series. I was
happy to let go of Hellblazer, but I really needed to keep Sandman
Henrik Andreasen: You still needed a
place to try out all your ideas, where if you failed one month
you could always try something new the next month, instead of
having failed with 10 or 15 pages of interior
Dave McKean: Exactly. It is a great
gig, because it is consistent. One every month and it is a diary
of where you are that month. We are going to do a book collecting
all the covers, and I'm really looking forward to seeing that,
because it really will be a diary of my development. I look back
at them and the loads of problems they had. I would find a
photographer or artist and fall in love with their work, and it
would probably influence the things I was doing with my Sandman
cover that month to much, but that was the things that was
happening to me that month.
So the covers show what you were feeling and going through that
Dave McKean: Yes. We sat it up so
that everybody knew that the covers for Sandman were going to get
abstracted and they are really functioning as an atmosphere. Neil
and me would be the only constant people through Sandman, the
artists would be changing all the time, so the visual side of
Sandman was really defined by the atmosphere of the covers. I
didn't want them to be literally, I didn't want them to impose my
view of the characters on the poor guy who did the interior, I
just wanted to create a world environment.
Andreasen: Are DC putting any restrictions on you, when
you do your covers?
Dave McKean: No, now
they just leave me alone. I can do whatever I want, obviously
within taste and traditional decentcy - nudity is of course out.
The hardest thing is to get abstractions through. I have done 1
or 2 covers now, they aren't completly abstract, they are just
symbol covers. One of them is practical all typographical and
that kind of things I love, but they are tricky to get through
DC. But they tend to leave me alone, they are very easy. The
thing is, they don't know why Sandman is succesfull and they
don't want to upset things. Karen (Berger) is bright enough to
realize that we must be doing something right, and assume a large
degree of intelligence with our audience and it seems to be
working. If it ain't broken don't fix it.
Andreasen: After your two commercial works, you begann
working on Cages, a large personal project.
McKean: I made Signal to Noise in-between. Towards the
end of A.A. I begann working on that, and it was published in the
Henrik Andreasen: As small
Dave McKean: Between 4 and 8
Henrik Andreasen: Did you do this job
to renew old friendship?
Dave McKean: I did
an editorial story for the Face on my own and they came back and
wanted a longer piece, so I enlisted Neil's help. It was a
commision job and we ended up doing a quiet little
Henrik Andreasen: Were you not ready
to write your own stuff, since you asked Neil to write this
Dave McKean: No. I'm not comfortable
about writing as a professional writer. Neil is a professional
writer and can write about everything. I feel I can handle
everything visually, but writing just doesn't come to me like
that. I have to feel a story or theme that just have to be told,
and I just didn't have that feeling for writing that story in the
Henrik Andreasen: But Cages was a
story you wanted to tell?
Dave McKean: In
the middle of finishing Signal to Noise and starting on Cages, I
decided to stop doing comics and pack it in and not do it anymore,
or at least give it a long break. While I was starting to do a
lot more illustrations and other stuff, I was just making little
doodles and drawings, and I started to make notes and story
ideas, and suddenly it all seemed to be there.
Andreasen: Would you say that with Cages you have build
some of the characters on people you know, or know
Dave McKean: There were certain themes I
wanted to get across, I wasn't interested in doing an
autobiography. They started out as small, very short stories, and
they seemed to grow, having the same interest and all going in
the same direction, and they all seemed to connect and that was
that. The characters aren't really based on real people, the
emotions are real, but the events aren't.
Andreasen: Was it hard starting to write something like
Dave McKean: To start with I wrote the
creations myths. That was wonderfull to write, it just came, and
I wrote them in 2 or 3 days. I had been reading about them from
all over the world, and I was just so full of ideas and it came
so easy to me. After that it became very difficult, I could spend
days just staring at blank pages and nothing happend. But
eventually something would come and I would get something
Henrik Andreasen: So you went through
some of the same emotions as the artist in
Dave McKean: That was one of the
things I wanted to get in there, because that was a very important
time for me, where I looked back at the last 3 or 4 years, which
I had spent working every day and actually coming out with nothing
that I was in any way pleased with. All of that frustrations came
out through the artist.
Henrik Andreasen: In
the first issue we have all these creations myths done in your
"normal" experimental style, but at the end of issue one we are
introduced to a new simplyfied and characteristic style. Was this
your way of telling the readers, these are the things to come, so
they wouldn't be surprised when they got issue
Dave McKean: Yes. It feelt to me like
drawing a line of what I had done before by creating a new world
to carry on from. It was also illustrated text, and that was
important to me. It was a way of saying, I still love
illustrations, doing paintings and mixed media stuff, but it is
illustrations and it works well with text as an atmosphere
surrounding the text, but it is not comics and it doesn't work
for comics. It was a way of saying stop, and this is the new
world I will create.
Henrik Andreasen: In
Cages we have this black cat popping up everywhere. Could you
tell us a little about your relationship with
Dave McKean: (Big smile) I do have a
cat, I have always had cats. They carry with them all these
associations, but the only thing I can think off to say is this
qoute; "A house can be a house without a cat. A house might even
be a home without a cat, but how would it know". There is
something about having cats around, that makes you
Henrik Andreasen: In one of the
Sandman collections, it is said about you that "if someone gave
you a margarita you would tell them why cats dream". Was that
Neil making a joke?
Dave McKean: No, it was
mine. It was a last minut thing, and I have been hoping ever
since that nobody would buy me a margarita and ask me why. The
cats story in Cages is just the one gentle fantasy element that
runs through the book.
Henrik Andreasen: To
give it a hint of mystery, while still being a straight forward
Dave McKean: Yes, it is a nod
to saying that you can read this as a literal story, but
everything here is a symbol, a metaphore. I'm not going to hit
you in the head saying this symbol represents this and so on.
It's open to interpretations and I just want a gentle fantasy
element to go through the book, something that might be
interpretated as somebodies dreams, or just an expression of
something. That is why the cat is there. The cat is also there
for another reason, because the cats story is another point I
wanted to make.
Henrik Andreasen: Which ends
in issue seven when the cat "dies"?
McKean: No, the cat doesn't die, it carries
Henrik Andreasen: In issue three we get
introduced to Angel who is a jazz musician. Could you tell us a
little about your relationship with jazz.
McKean: I have always played. I played in bands while I
was in school, and I always recorded music. Now I just play for
myself just as therapy.
Which instrument(s) do you play?
Keyboards, piano. There is a drummer I know that I play with
sometimes, but it is just a very important part of everything.
Even through I'm making my living doing illustrations and designs,
it is really music that seems to be the most important part. It
is such an extraordinary abstract language and it just goes
straight in, there is no filter. You don't have to interpretate
it, you don't have to read it, you just have to hear it and it
goes straight in, very deep. It is really the most important part
and that is what Cages is about; creativity. What we belive in,
and things we choose to believe in to get us through life, and
music is really my God.
Henrik Andreasen: So
you get inspired by music to tell the things you want to tell in
Dave McKean: Yes, but one of the
frustrating things about comics is that there is no sound, so it
was quite a challenge to make a visual
Henrik Andreasen: So people can
make their own sounds?
Dave McKean: Yes. The
rhythm of the storytelling, the atmosphere of it, the nature of
the lines, breaking and losing it up, improvising. Just as you
read, I hope you hear the voices in your head, I hope you sometime
hear the atmosphere. In the first issue with Angel playing the
Shakuhachi, even though you might not know how a Shakuhachi
sounds like, I hope you can imagen that lonely melancholic
Henrik Andreasen: Have you thought
about doing some music to each issue?
McKean: Yes, I thought about recording some music to do
as a seperate thing, a sort of a soundtrack. I don't know if I
will do it, but I have thought about it.
Andreasen: In issue two, Leo tries to make an initial
contact with his neighbour downstairs. When he finally gets in,
he finds a book that this guy did and tells him that he likes it.
But he just dismisses it as some crap he did 20 years ago, when
he was young. Knowing that you didn't like Orchid or Arkham, is
this Dave Mckean saying, if somebody reads this 20 years from now
and thinks it is a load of crap, you will just say - I told you
so in issue two?
Dave McKean: Your point is
valid. I'm aware of the time with people saying we love Arkham,
being aware of probably being to dismissive. I have done it to
other people, saying it is my favourite album by you and they
just dismissed it, and you can't help do it. Plus the character
Jonathan is a very bitter, not very socially, frighten man. He
doesn't deal with people very well, like a lot of writers that I
Henrik Andreasen: This also goes to
illustrate the title of this series, that all the characters live
in "cages", some build by themselves, some build by
Dave McKean: True. That is one of
the many things in there that I don't want to say; yes this what
it means. These things are just open to
Henrik Andreasen: In issue
four we meet this woman, who, I guess, is in part based upon your
own mother, which have build her own little "cage", illustrated
by the person on the cover who have a cage instead of a head, and
is trying to hide her shame by covering her cage/head with her
hands, which is quite opposit to your own
Dave McKean: But that is what I'm
saying; it is not autobiographically. Some of the emotional
observations is true, but none of it is biograhical. The woman
feels sorry for the life she have had, she obviously had a rough
life, but that story isn't finished yet.
Andreasen: In the color section you also tell us what she
did wrong, in terms of going after the superficially (i.e. opening
the shrine with the jewels and the note that says bitch). Was
this a point you wanted to make both concerning life itself, and
also in regards to the so called "flavor-of-the-month" in the
Dave McKean: Yes, that is
all true, and that is all your interpretation, which is exactly
what I wanted. The work I most love is when it is a conversation.
I give you 50% and you provide the last 50%, and the whole piece
is in your head as the combination of the two. Other people have
had other interpretation of that story, and they are all just as
valid. That is what it is all about, and that is what I wanted to
do, to get people to think.
Instead of getting it served on a silver plate?
McKean: Exectly. Because that is what I think my belief
is. I'm not a religious person, I don't belive in God and I don't
think anything happens to us when we die, we just become wormfood.
Life is a distraction, and I'm distracted. I'm interested in
conversing with people, finding out what their thoughts and
feelings are, what their beliefs are. I love to do it face to
face and in my work. I'm not interested in making something that
is completly docile, like sitting in front of the television and
let it wash over you. That is not what it is about, there is no
point, there is no moving forward. It doesn't get us anywhere,
and we don't get to understand each other
Henrik Andreasen: When talking about
television; with you growing up in England, you got to watch
Monty Phyton and all that crazyness it brought along. Do you
think it is something you carry with you as some extra
Dave McKean: I'm sure it played a
big part. I loved Monty Phyton when I was in school, I loved the
movies they made; Life of Brian etc. I loved Fawlty Towers and
all the stuff they went on to do afterwards, I even liked the
Goon show. Also when I was in artschool the new comedians like
Rik Mayall, The Young Ones etc., I always liked comedy of all
kind. Billy Conolly was one of my heroes and also Woody Allen.
The thing that was so great about Phyton, and something I hope to
do in my own stuff, is that they managed to do sketches out of
the most primal and universal themes. On one hand it was so
English, English frustrations, trying to get served in a shop,
but everybody can relate to these things. A lot of the stuff that
was done after that, just lost that universal and common touch
and went for much more specific satire. Monty Phyton were just
Henrik Andreasen: So far we
haven't seen that much humor in Cages. Could we expect a little
more humor from you further down the road?
McKean: The humor that is in Cages is just about as funny
as I get. I do not do slapstick. I like a very gentle
conversational human humor, black humor in
Henrik Andreasen: Like some of the
crazy black humor Monty Phyton stood for?
McKean: No, I don't think I would feel comfortable about
it, it is just not me.
Henrik Andreasen: I
have seen some of the pages from Mr. Punch, and some of the
characters actually look like some of the stuff Terry Gillian did
for Monty Phyton ...
Dave McKean: .. small
faces, big bulky eyes?
Yes. Is there any relation?
Dave McKean: No.
It came from the original puppet show, but it actually isn't that
accurate, only to a degree, it is more my memory of the puppet
show. I remember seeing Mr. Punch and Judy, and I made it into a
sort of nightmare, Charles memory of Punch & Judy. The eyes are
even bulkier, the cheeks are bigger and the smiles are even
nastier. Neil thinks that the Mr. Punch character looks like a
bad sort of mixture of all the really awfull seaside comedian and
these terrible television comedians, and I suppose it is
Henrik Andreasen: Who will publish Mr.
Dave McKean: It will be published by
a English company, a German company and by Vertigo/DC all at the
Henrik Andreasen: Another topic
in Cages is when a character goes to Heaven and is told he could
get the answers to all his questions, but he refuses to get these
answers. Do you think it is important that something is left
Dave McKean: I could expand on
that, but we are in exactly that situation now. I have the answers
to all your questions here, but I really don't think you want
them. Life is about interpretations and keeping things open and
moving forward. Wouldn't it be boring if I gave you a list of
answers and that would be that. And of course there are no
answers, so it is a completly ridiculous situation. But those
couple of little set-ups, where the first character he meets is
saying; "there is absolutly no point in going or looking any
further so just stop here, because I have looked already". Well
there is no point in doing that, you just rot up and die, might
as well blow your brains out. The next character says; "we will
tell you what it is all about, but there is no point in trying to
interpretate anything. I have no idea why the painting is this
way, the artist is not here to tell us, what is the point to even
try and interpretate anything. It doesn't lead to a conclusion,
it is just an endless interpretation, and if you found out, the
game would just stop". These are all sort of personifications of
organized religion as far as I'm concerned. Organized religion is
set-up to stop you from thinking, moving forward and to stop you
from asking questions. To keep you in line, to keep you in
control, and that is what organized religion is for, to
Henrik Andreasen: The biggest
dictator in history is probably the church.
McKean: Of course. It is in their interest to keep people
stupid, to keep people needing them, needing the church and
absolution. Religion is the perfect virus to keep people in
Henrik Andreasen: It punches at
people's bad conscienceness.
Dave McKean: It
is perfect because it relies on faith, which is something you can
never argue with. It is completly illogical, it has no base in
fact, it has no base in anything, and it doesn't matter that you
say when the opposing argument is that you don't have faith. If
that line is used to keep people in line, you don't stand a
chance, and they don't stand a chance. That is why I hate
organized religion so much.
In issue eight you leave us with a cliffhanger, but that was a
year ago. Why haven't we seen an issue since last year, what is
keeping you from finishing the series?
McKean: I have always know the story and what happens on
the last page. The things that have stopped me is publishers
changing hands, my schedules going up in smoke and then I had to
do Mr. Punch because there was a deadline for that. I also had a
lot of other work coming in that was to good to turn down. Since
everything around Kitchen Sink and Cages were in chaos, I just
put it on the back burner and waited until everything seemed to
be settle, which they are now. So I started writing on the actual
script for issue nine and ten on the plane over here, and it
feelt good to get back to work.
Andreasen: So far you have nearly only worked with Neil
Gaiman, except for Arkham with Grant Morrison and Hellblazer #40
with Jamie Delano. How come you don't work with some other
Dave McKean: I would like to work
with other people, but the thing is that I trust Neil and he
trusts me, and that is a big part of it. It makes it so much more
pleasureable to work with somebody where there is a mutual trust.
I'm working on projects with novelists, which is something I
really want to do. It is a little bit daunting, because there
isn't that history and mutual trust. While it has been fine so
far, I'm aware that they are novelists, they are in love with the
words they have written, where as Neil is very open with me. He
wrote the script for Mr. Punch and I used to scratch things out
all over the place, 'cause I was covering it in the pictures so
the words didn't need to be there. That is the process of doing
good comics, it is a complete 50/50 balance between the words and
Henrik Andreasen: Trust is a
very important thing when you collaborate on a
Dave McKean: Yes.
Andreasen: Would you work on a commision job with a
writer whom you didn't know?
Dave McKean: I
never makes rules about these things. It would completly depend
on what the project was and who the writer was. I would feel a
little nervous about it I must admit, but I would be happy to
work with other people, it just hasn't happend. There is something
about growing up with somebody whom you have seen totally green,
not knowing what to do, and they have seen you in the same way.
You have developed and grown together and that really can't be
matched by meeting somebody for the first time, it is about
relationship and a trusting friendship.
Andreasen: Working so much with Neil you have probably
developed some working habits?
Yes, that is the other thing. We can talk in shorthand, we know
what each other is thinking so we don't have to be polite. If he
writes something I think is crap, I would say it and vice versa.
That is fine, because that is what friendship is about. I hate
wasting time, life is just to short.
Andreasen: Aren't you just fighting the same wars every
time, since you each know what the other one is thinking, and
what he wants?
Dave McKean: No, because it
is never like that. It's funny really, because we are very
different people and we have very different taste. Our musical
taste are completly different, our reading habits and artistic
taste are completly different. But there is enough common ground,
where all these fractions is really positive and sparks. He has a
good idea of the sort of things I can really connect to, and when
he writes something I think I have a good idea of the tone of
voice in which he would like to be speaking. It is often Neil's
turn of voice with my interpretation. It worked the first time
with Violent Cases, and all though that book is full of flaws and
we both got better and have grown up, it continues to work for
some reason, I don't know why.
Andreasen: Do you think it is possible for anyone to work
with mixed media as you do?
Dave McKean: I
don't see why anybody shouldn't and couldn't experiment with
these things. But the mixed media thing, dealing with a lot of
styles is not the point, the point is always communication. How
to best speak to the audience, how to get your thoughts across.
It just so happens that I find it best to tell my stories by
using this particulary tone of voice, which envolves a lot of
different medias. I hope that the use of photography is there
because of the story and what needs to be said. The use of
photography in Mr. Punch are not there because it looks nice, and
this is what you see a lot of. Why did you do that, well it looks
good. In Mr. Punch photos is used because our expectations of
photography, we think that photography is being truthfull. We
take a photo and think it it the truth, and of course it is not
the truth, it is edited. For starters it is flat, it is a fraction
of time which is not how we see the world. The colors are sharp
and this is a insidious lie because it has such an illusion of
reality. That is why I used photography in Mr. Punch on all the
stuff that are most dreamlike, nightmarish and fantastic in the
puppet show and all the stuff that are most untruthfull. All the
stuff that are supposed to be real, I have drawn in a very simpel
puppet show kind of figures, with little strange faces, just to
play with people's expertations of the truth of photography, and
the interpretative personal side that is associated with
Henrik Andreasen: You use these
different medias to try and convey a certain emotion to
Dave McKean: I tend to try things
with media and illustrations, but with comics it always comes
from the script. I always read the script and see it as a
photograph, a computer image, a painting or a puppet show etc.,
it comes from the script. I never go into a comic project
thinking; I would really fancy trying this or trying that. If the
script demands to be told in the same way as I did the last book,
so be it, if that is what the script demands.
Andreasen: Keeping that in mind; did you see "The Piano"
before doing the booklet to the soundtrack?
McKean: No, I didn't. I got a very healthy synopsis of it
and tons of movie stills.
Wasn't it difficult then to bring forward the right
Dave McKean: It was, but you have
seen those stills. You get such a feeling for the place and the
characters and the emotions in the story through some of those
photographs, which are very exclusive. So it could not help but
to come out with those feelings.
Andreasen: In the credits it said, "design and
manipulation by Dave McKean". How do you feel about having your
work described as manipulation?
I call it image manipulation. I didn't take those photographs,
but I changed them in order to give them an atmosphere that I
felt was closer to what I felt the story was. It is not the same
if you print the film stills compared to what the movie is like.
There the characters move, there is sound and dialogue, you don't
get all that from a static photograph. So I blurred it, and
changed the tone and the proportions, just to try and make up for
these things that are lost in a static image. I will probably
never use the term image manipulation anymore, it is kind of
weird, I'm just going to say it is design and
Henrik Andreasen: A lot of
the things you did on Orchid and Arkham have been copied, while
your work on covers and your own series Cages haven't. Is it
because you have developed a personal style, which is not as easy
to copy as just plain artwork?
Obviously I don't like being copied, just as much as I'm sure the
people I was into didn't like to be copied either. The work on
Orchid & Arkham are easy to copy, and a lot of the people that
are painting comics are easy to copy, because it is all surface.
It is slick painted surface, and you apply all these images with
all this paint and texture and stick nails on them. That's easy
to do, it is the drawing underneath there is a bitch, it is so
hard. I really just wanted to strip Cages right down to making
the drawings say everything with just a few lines. There is no
formular there, either you can draw and do it, or you can't.
There are people like Kent Williams, who really can draw. Sure
you can look at Kent's pictures and see what kind of oilpaints
and paper he uses. The you can go home to try and copy some of
the things Kent does, but you will never be able to draw like
Henrik Andreasen: Is it the eternal
combat between form and content?
The form is part of the content to, but the main things are those
ideas and the immediacy drawings, getting these drawings down
accurately. If people can do that there is no reason to apply all
kinds of techniques, it is just distractions. After you said
those vital important things, any more conversations is just
pointless, you are just saying the same thing over and over
Henrik Andreasen: Like a painting
with layer upon layer, where you actually only needed the first
Dave McKean: Yes.
Andreasen: The newest thing you are doing is the Alice
Cooper project, where you are designing the whole package, CD
covers, comic book covers etc. How do you feel about doing
something like that?
Dave McKean: Most of my
time at the moment is spent doing CD covers, I have done some 40
odd covers, and I just love doing them. I love dealing with that
end of the music industry. I haven't done much as far as pop
music goes, it is a little bit silly, but I have been doing a lot
of other stuff like the Alice Cooper thing. I love talking to the
musicians and they are uniformally nice people. It is a great
job, and I love dealing with the whole package and seeing it the
whole way through. I never take on jobs unless I get complete
control, and they are very good at leaving me alone and let me
get on with it. It is great to see the CD's in a real CD shop,
not in a comic shop, which always makes me feel
Henrik Andreasen: Do you mind what
kind of music they put on the CD's?
McKean: I'm quite happy doing CD covers for music I
really wouldn't choose to listen to. It really only happens with
music, which is the peculiar thing about music. Some of the music
I have done covers for is just awfull, but because it is such an
abstract language you have a reaction to it. I have done these
Death-Metal covers, and be the content the afore-mentioned you
can still have a reaction to it. I played it very loud in my
studio, and you make a picture you wouldn't ordinary have
Henrik Andreasen: The reaction is
important, good or bad?
Dave McKean: It is a
raw emotional reaction. With a book I find it much more difficult
to do that, I can't really do book covers for books I don't like.
Because you have to read the whole thing and stay with it, and
you have to interpretate it, and if you feel it is a rotten book,
then it is a rotten book. With music you an immediately reaction,
and you make the painting according to that reaction, and it
works. I have a great time doing that, so I'm happy to do
Henrik Andreasen: Do you listen to the
music before doing a cover to find the right
Dave McKean: Unfortunately
sometimes the music isn't ready, but I like to try and get the
music as often as possible, and get a straight raw reaction to
Henrik Andreasen: When could we expect
to see Cages issue nine and ten?
As I said, I'm working on them at the moment. I'm up to my ears
with work, I'm organizing a gallery show, I'm finishing a Tarot
card set for Vertigo and still doing loads of CD covers. But
towards the end of the year I should be getting down to them
probably, so beginning next year they should both be out, and the
collected edition should be out sometimes after
Henrik Andreasen: That's all. Thank
you for your time.
Dave McKean: Your are welcome.