Interview with Dave McKean

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Interview with Dave McKean

Interview with (Dave McKean)   25/10/2014

By Azadeh Nafissi   (at Gallery Martel, Paris, France,

Q:  How did you meet Neil Gaiman? From when did your collaboration with him start and how did it continue?

Dave McKean:  I met Neil nearly thirty years ago, I was still at art school and Neil was a struggling journalist interviewing people, we were both doing stories for a magazine that was proposed but the magazine actually never happened but we met in London every month so Neil suggested to do something together and we worked together ever since .

Q: You are one of those artists who have collaborated with other artists a lot; do you think collaboration affect the final work? Is it productive and creative?

Dave McKean: It is nice to work with the same person over a long period of time I think you get to know each other’s taste and you grow up together. Neil and I grew up together but I also worked with other people over a long period of time and it means you can evolve and do one thing and then learn from those works before going to the next project so it is nice to work with them for a long period of time.

Q: You also have a background in music and photography; does it influence your works such as screenplays, and illustrations?

Dave McKean: Of course, they all influence and help each other. So if I’m drawing a comic book, I find it really useful to hear the soundtrack of it even though comic book, bande dessinée, has no sound, has no music, if I can find  music that conjures up that mood, that place, that really helps. And if I have drawn pictures for a long time then go into making a film, well, they speak to each other and my experience working with actors on a film helps setting a scene in a comic book or doing drawings so they all help each other.  It’s all the same thing really, it’s finding a subject that is really moving or affecting and you really want to talk about and then finding the best way to express that.

Q: What medium interests you the most? Cinema or comic books?

Dave McKean: I don’t have to choose, I really like them all. I like being able to do them all and learn new things. You know, if you have to do the same thing over and over again every day, if you’re just drawing comics every day, well, it is fun doing comics but to do that for your whole life and never do anything else knowing that tomorrow, and next week and next month and next year will be the same, basically the same. Well, it takes your energy away I think whereas if you are not sure what you are going to do next, you can have a change. Those mediums regenerate each other, and when I get back to comic books I feel refreshed.

Q: What themes are you mostly interested in?

Dave McKean: Mostly I’m interested in the hard life lessons that real people go through, we all go through, we all have to relate to other people, we go through relationships with our parents, when we have children we go through relationships with our children, we grow up, we feel very differently in our 20’s than we do in our 40’s or 50’s and then we deal with the death of a friend or death of parents, these are big subjects that everybody has to deal with and I’m interested in finding new and interesting ways of talking about all these things. Sometimes the imagery is fantastical, you look at a very well-known subject from a different angle but it’s the reality of the situation that interests me the most. 

Q: Do you have a kind of working routine?

Dave McKean: Yes, when I am at home I have a routine. I get up quite late and deal with emails, phone calls and stuff for an hour then I work in the afternoon, evening till quite late and I usually watch a film at the end of the day to unwind and think about something else for a while.

Q: Who are the major influences on your style?

Dave McKean: Lots of People, almost everybody because you can find something in anything even in very bad things

Q: How do you usually get inspiration? From other works or from other people?

Dave McKean: The inspiration is all in the script, in the text. So whatever it is, either it is a film or a book to be illustrated, anything. Everything you need to know is in the text. So the thing is trying to find right tone and voice, the right style, the right way of expressing the emotions in a story or in the location of the story, but it is all in the text.

Q: Do you interpret any text and draw based on your own vision of a story or do you draw based on what is exactly there?

Dave McKean: Sometimes other people’s works are interesting to look at, if the story is set in Paris, it is interesting maybe to look at other artists who have drawn Paris, interpreted Paris to see what they see but mostly it is better to come to Paris, walk around and sketch and get the feeling of architecture, the way people move, the way they sit, eat and smoke, the way they walk their dogs. You can interpret everything from the actual source rather than looking at other people’s works. It’s better to go to the real source.

Q: For ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, did you read the text and then visualize?

Dave McKean: Smoke and Mirrors’ is a collection of short stories and they are all very different and were written over a long period of time, so it was hard to come up with one style that could cover them all, so I didn’t really. They are all in black and red but they are different styles because the stories are very different. Some of them are very hard and abstract and you are very aware of the form of the story and some of them are classic fairytale type of stories, some are almost like a diary, very personal, others are almost science fiction, so they are very different and I tried to match the image to the story as much as possible and tried to come up with a collection of images that still work together as a book.

Q: Do you have a favorite short story among them?

Dave McKean: Yes, I very much like Troll Bridge and The Price. In fact, I’m trying to adapt The Price into a film, actually there are a few, Chivalry is also very good. They are some of my favorites among Neil’s short stories.

Q: Do you think reading comic books help the writers’ creativity?  Should they start reading them for example from high school?

Dave McKean: It is always good to know what is out there, to know what the standard is and to know what very best is, I think that’s true in any fields. If you want to be a chef or a scientist, you’ve got to know what the current thinking is, so if you want to write comics or draw comics find out what the very best ones are and look at them all and then you’ll know where the bars are because the bars are often very high, if you are going to make a splash and make yourself known, you need to get to that level.

Q: Do you think the genre of graphic novels is well-recognized by people at the moment?

Dave McKean: The graphic novels in France have been always well-recognized, in England no, but in England it’s changed in the last 10 years. There was a big prejudice against comics and illustrated books in England, not in France and Belgium and a little bit in America as well but now it’s changed because there have been so many wonderful comics, mature and grown up comics and book publishers are publishing comics for the first time not just comic publishers, so a new audience has grown up and new artists and writers are coming through who have no childhood love of comics and they just really like the medium and see it as a way of self expression so it is a golden age at the moment.  

Q: What are your tips for new writers and screenwriters?

Dave McKean: If you are wondering about doing that as a career, if you are thinking, ‘I might want to write comics or draw comics but I could do other things,’ well then probably it is not for you. You have to absolutely need to do it and there is no plan B because it is hard to find your place in the world and have people pay you for your works, you will suffer a lot of rejections, and it is obviously great fun to draw but it is hard to come to it every day fresh  and do it the best you can everyday year after year so you have to be absolutely driven to do it and the other good advice is to start things, because lots of people never start anything, they plan to write a novel or film but don’t actually start it and the other thing is to finish things, lots of people start and do the first three pages of a great comic book or a great film script but they forget about it and they get too busy, you have to work through and finish it and even if you don’t sell it finish it and then start the next one and eventually keep doing that, something will get out there and reach the public, I hope.

Q: What projects are you working on right now?

Dave McKean: I am working on a few things. I have a new book of short stories out now Pictures that Tick 2 and I have been working on a new graphic novel a long story which is a sort of a horror story, it is called Caligaro and it is based on the German expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  and then my big subject for the next year is I’m working with a theatre company on a project in the woods. The audience will be taken to the woods and lost and they will be shown elements of a story that have a little fairytale about it but it is really about both the relationship between mothers and daughters in particular and also the animal nature inside us, some of the drawings and paintings here will be part of that project and it is about the raw animal nature inside us: the wolves or the bears or the birds etc.

That would a good year’s work and there will be a film, this theatre event, drawings and paintings of a book, some big projects.