An interview with Dave McKean
By Henrik Andreasen

Henrik Andreasen: How did you get interested in comics?
Dave 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 stories.
Henrik Andreasen: Did your interest for drawing come from reading comics?
Dave 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 about.
Henrik Andreasen: Could you tell us a little about attending artcollage.
Dave 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 possible.
Henrik Andreasen: Did you already in artschool get an interest for other medias?
Dave 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.
Henrik 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.
Henrik Andreasen: Was "Violent Cases" done while you were still in artschool?
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 posters etc.?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: Before starting on "Violent Cases", you went to New York to try and get some work. Could you tell us how that went?
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 turn.
Henrik Andreasen: Why did you go to American publishers instead of English publishers?
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?
Dave McKean: 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 proud off?
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 experiences.
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.
Henrik 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 much color?
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 do.
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 it,
Henrik Andreasen: One might say that you have created your own style and grown out of the copycat shadow?
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 that.
Henrik Andreasen: I guess this is a problem all new artists face?
Dave McKean: 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.
Henrik 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?
Dave 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.
Henrik Andreasen: Shortly after B.O. you went and did Arkham Asylum with Grant Morrison....
Dave McKean: .. I signed up to do it will doing B.O.
Henrik Andreasen: How come you signed up to do one of DC's big 2, after having "failed" in doing a minor DC character?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: 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 interested.
Henrik Andreasen: The character wasn't able to contain all the things you wanted to put into him?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: There was a couple of months where you did the covers for Hellblazer & Sandman, but then you stopped doing Hellblazer; why?
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 going.
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 art?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: So the covers show what you were feeling and going through that month?
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.
Henrik 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.
Henrik Andreasen: After your two commercial works, you begann working on Cages, a large personal project.
Dave 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 Face.
Henrik Andreasen: As small chapters?
Dave McKean: Between 4 and 8 pages.
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 story.
Henrik Andreasen: Were you not ready to write your own stuff, since you asked Neil to write this story?
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 Face.
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.
Henrik Andreasen: Would you say that with Cages you have build some of the characters on people you know, or know of?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: Was it hard starting to write something like that?
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 done.
Henrik Andreasen: So you went through some of the same emotions as the artist in Cages?
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 two?
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 cats?
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 relax.
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 human story?
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"?
Dave McKean: No, the cat doesn't die, it carries on.
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.
Dave 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.
Henrik Andreasen: Which instrument(s) do you play?
Dave McKean: 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 comics?
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 soundtrack.
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 sound.
Henrik Andreasen: Have you thought about doing some music to each issue?
Dave 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.
Henrik 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 know.
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 others.
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 interpretation.
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 mother.
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.
Henrik 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 comic industry?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: Instead of getting it served on a silver plate?
Dave 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 better.
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 luggage?
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 brilliant.
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?
Dave 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 fact.
Henrik Andreasen: Like some of the crazy black humor Monty Phyton stood for?
Dave 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?
Henrik Andreasen: 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 true.
Henrik Andreasen: Who will publish Mr. Punch?
Dave McKean: It will be published by a English company, a German company and by Vertigo/DC all at the same time.
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 unanswered?
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 control.
Henrik Andreasen: The biggest dictator in history is probably the church.
Dave 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 line.
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.
Henrik Andreasen: 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?
Dave 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.
Henrik 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 writers?
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 the pictures.
Henrik Andreasen: Trust is a very important thing when you collaborate on a comic?
Dave McKean: Yes.
Henrik 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.
Henrik Andreasen: Working so much with Neil you have probably developed some working habits?
Dave McKean: 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.
Henrik 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.
Henrik 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 drawings.
Henrik Andreasen: You use these different medias to try and convey a certain emotion to people?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: Keeping that in mind; did you see "The Piano" before doing the booklet to the soundtrack?
Dave McKean: No, I didn't. I got a very healthy synopsis of it and tons of movie stills.
Henrik Andreasen: Wasn't it difficult then to bring forward the right emotions?
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.
Henrik Andreasen: In the credits it said, "design and manipulation by Dave McKean". How do you feel about having your work described as manipulation?
Dave McKean: 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 illustrations.
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?
Dave McKean: 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 Kent.
Henrik Andreasen: Is it the eternal combat between form and content?
Dave McKean: 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 again.
Henrik Andreasen: Like a painting with layer upon layer, where you actually only needed the first one?
Dave McKean: Yes.
Henrik 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 uneasy.
Henrik Andreasen: Do you mind what kind of music they put on the CD's?
Dave 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 done.
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 it.
Henrik Andreasen: Do you listen to the music before doing a cover to find the right emotions?
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 it.
Henrik Andreasen: When could we expect to see Cages issue nine and ten?
Dave McKean: 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 that.
Henrik Andreasen: That's all. Thank you for your time.
Dave McKean: Your are welcome.